How to deliver a cost-effective emergency childcare strategy

In order to deliver an emergency childcare strategy cost-effectively, employers need to be sure their employees understand the differences between their overall childcare provision and emergency options.

If you read nothing else, read this…

  • Employers must carefully communicate emergency childcare benefits to staff.
  • Making employees aware of their emergency childcare options is pivotal to cutting costs.
  • Emergency childcare provision can support employees with childcare commitments and help organisations to retain talent in the workplace.

Emergency childcare services can help to support working parents if their regular source of childcare is unavailable, if they have to work unexpectedly or their child becomes ill and cannot attend school. Emergency childcare can include services ranging from flexible working and parental leave days, through to nannies, childminders and day nurseries that are set up to help employees specifically in these situations. They can often be sourced through an employer’s childcare voucher provider.

Ben Black, managing director at My Family Care, believes that there are a few key components of an effective emergency childcare solution that employers need to bear in mind. “It needs to be cost-effective, trusted and accessible for working parents.”

Although emergency childcare may be viewed as an additional cost for employers, it is worth the spend for the engagement it generates, says James Malia, managing director of voluntary benefits provider P&MM Employee Benefits. “Emergency childcare is notoriously expensive and very resource-heavy, but employers offer it to show staff they are aware of the importance of family life,” he explains.

Employers that are based in close proximity to other organisations, for example, on a business park, could team up to take advantage of their bulk-buying power and invest in a nursery for employees whether onsite or close by.

Highlight the cost savings

To get the most from a workplace childcare scheme, employers should highlight to employees the value of benefits they receive from their employer, and how these compare if a member of staff were to source them outside of a workplace scheme. The average total cost of childcare has been estimated at £87,000 from a child’s birth to when they turn 11, according to the Halifax cost of children research, published in October 2015. 

Looking after working parents can go some way to creating a worry-free workplace, says Malia. “Part of the reason parents go to work is to provide for their children, and if they are not well looked after while the parent is working, it can be very stressful and disruptive, so it’s paramount that employers ensure working parents can function in the workplace without worrying about childcare.

Cost-effective communication

How a childcare strategy is communicated can make or break it in terms of how cost-effective it is for employers and employees. Laura Czapiewski, product manager at wellbeing, motivation and childcare products provider Edenred, says: “HR teams need to think like marketing teams to communicate effectively to segmented staff, whether that be through the age of their children, their gender, or location. This will make sure the right information reaches the right workers. It’s just not enough to put up some posters and hand out a few leaflets, employers have to facilitate two-way, bespoke communication between them and their staff.”

The way employers highlight their emergency childcare strategy is key to its success, says Jo Dalby, finance director at childcare vouchers provider Busy Bees Benefits.

It is also vital that emergency childcare arrangements are monitored by employers to ensure the provisions they put in place for staff remain suitable and the best fit for their workforce’s needs.

An organisation’s intranet site, newsletters, internal email messages, roadshows and webinars can all be effective ways to communicate to employees and ensure that they make the best use of the emergency childcare opportunities available to them. 

While the investment in emergency childcare may seem like a significant cost, calculating the costs of not offering emergency childcare can be an eye-opening exercise for employers, says Jelf Group’s Herbert. “Employers need to work backwards and figure out how much it would cost to lose a member of staff if they left the organisation because of childcare commitments, and counteract it with good childcare.”

Alternatively, employers could include emergency childcare within a flexible or voluntary benefits scheme.

Providing emergency childcare, therefore, can give employers a head start in the race to becoming a destination employer by retaining and motivating working parents. 

EB_011115_043.pdfCase study: Deloitte creates quality culture for working parents 

Deloitte aims to create an inclusive culture to support its working parents, particularly when it comes to emergencies.

It intends to keep its childcare costs low for its mobile and versatile workforce and the organisation. Caroline Hunt, director of HR and head of client service HR at Deloitte, says: “Of our 15,000 staff, many work from home or overseas, so we need to consider their needs and match what we offer to those.”

Deloitte has an emergency childcare scheme provided by My Family Carewhich offers both short- and long-term benefits such as after-school clubs or nannies. Hunt says: “It allows us to ask employees to come into the office last minute without having to worry about childcare, because it’s all funded by us.

“Staff need access to emergency childcare in case other arrangements fall through or they need to do some client work, which is good for the business and our workers.”

Deloitte also offers its working parents shared parental leave and agile working, which can help them cope in an emergency. The organisation also provides practical advice for its working parents through its Working Parents Transitions Programme, which offers employees support before they go on paternity or maternity leave. 

karen thompsonViewpoint: Childcare emergencies must be flexible 

With all the legislation surrounding what working parents are entitled to when it comes to childcare arrangements, it can so often be confusing to say the least. However, an employer, regardless of what legislation dictates they must do, should instead consider the benefits of being flexible, and perhaps offering tax-saving schemes such as a salary sacrifice arrangement for childcare vouchers to help to cut costs too.

I can utterly understand some of the frustration, particularly for smaller employers, because there are so many childcare, and emergency childcare, options available now.

One option is working from home, and while I am not suggesting that employers should, or can always accept, that a person can work with children running around, often parents will use some form of daycare facility and work around their commitments, such as school hours and housework.

But emergencies will arise when it comes to children and no parent is likely to be able to ignore the school saying they must collect them, or the pleas of a sick child, so should employers?

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Employers can offer employer-supported childcare facilities, for example, an on-site crèche, or perhaps get together with a group of employers to provide a nursery within a complex. This means when there is an emergency, working parents are on-site and the best bit is it is not taxable, even if offered for free.

Karen Thomson is director, group payroll services at Armstrong Watson