Students in Dr. Stephen Sweet’s Sociology of Work and Family course at Ithaca College were encouraged to write editorials on how work-family practices can make sense not only for working families, but also for employers. The blog posts in this “Millennial Voice” series were identified by their instructor and peers as offering strong cases for the business benefits of work-family practices.

Each post is informed by 35 articles read as part of class assignments, as well as an additional 10 to 20 articles independently researched by the authors.  Links to relevant references offer additional exploration for interested readers.

Today’s post was written by Alexis Barbag. Alexis is a senior sociology major at Ithaca College.  Currently she is applying for her masters in social work. Her career plans are to become a marriage and family counselor and ultimately to own her own practice.

Did you know that women are fast becoming our most educated workers? They are attending school at higher rates than men, and they are entering a wide range of careers and deepening their work experience. Women’s educational attainment grew during the 1970s and 1980s, catching up with college-going rates of men. In the early 1990s, women were as likely as men to graduate college, but women’s growth in educational attainment has continued, and today substantially more women than men attend and graduate college. This fact may not seem believable at first because the highest paid positions in our society are held by men—which suggests that employers are losing out, limiting their access to some of the most skilled workers in society.

Two-parent dual-earning families, and single-parent households who are in the paid work force have increased dramatically in the past 50 years, without an equivalent change in work patterns. Working parents represent 40 percent of all workers in the paid labor force in the United States, and of those working parents, 86 percent work full-time. Workplace policies need to address the needs of child care support, and in return employers will benefit.

Today, more than 60 percent of U.S. women work for pay, as compared to 30 percent in 1950. However, women drop out of the labor force, or from highly demanding jobs, in part due to responsibilities in the home, including child care. Times have changed, but many policies and practices have not caught up with the reality that most parents work. One study of 2,000 women found that only 34 percent of mothers who had experienced serious problems arranging child care reported being very satisfied with their lives, compared with 49 percent of mothers who experienced no such problems arranging child care. Dissatisfaction with existing child-care arrangements has been associated with higher levels of stress, more stress-related health symptoms, more work-family spillover, and tardiness.

In fact, we should encourage women to work because it benefits our economy. Most of the growth in family incomes over the past several decades has come from women’s rising earnings. In 2013, the income of employed married women comprised 44 percent of their family’s income, up from 37 percent of household income in 1970. Therefore, if we want to increase the pace of economic growth we should make it easier for more men and women to participate in the labor force. And clearly a booming economy brings benefits to employees and employers.

Parents who do not have child care support offered in the workplace have higher rates of employee tardiness and absenteeism, an estimated 5-9 days per year of work missed due to child care problems, and decreased concentration and productivity. There are several benefits to employers when they offer their employees child care support. Firstly, there is a higher degree of employee engagement: studies have shown that employees who have positive attitudes about their employer are more likely to work harder (improve performance) and remain in place longer (increased retention). Providing employees with benefits that meet their specific needs generates a positive response. In addition, employee productivity increases: with access to more local resources, employees have fewer daily distractions and can focus on their assigned work. And lastly, employee loyalty increases: employees are more likely to remain with a company that takes care of their special needs, particularly if they fear they cannot get similar services elsewhere. Even co-workers are supportive of child care services in the workplace, not only because they prevent them from having to absorb the workload of an absent co-worker, but also because the practice ‘humanizes’ the workplace and makes it a more enjoyable place to be.

It is important to note that there are a variety of ways employers can facilitate child care, which can include providing schedule flexibility to work from home. So employers, the choice is yours: provide options for child care in order to have a productive and efficient company, or run the risk of having unsatisfied and absentee employees representing your company name.

photo credit: thinkstockphotos.com