HR Can Cure the School Holiday Blues

February 15, 2002

 The glut of school holidays can be the bane of a working parent's existence. When schools are closed on regular business days, parents must devise backup child-care plans or -- more often than not -- use their vacation time to care for their kids. For companies, this means lost productivity and understaffed departments on days when parents of school-age children must stay at home.

Few employees today have doting grandparents living nearby who are able to baby-sit in a pinch. That's where HR can help. Companies like The Vanguard Group, Verizon Communications, and DuPont have come up with solutions that improve employee attendance, productivity, and overall frame of mind during school holidays.

The Vanguard Group, based in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, offers Great Escapes for Vanguard Kids, a program that takes employees' children on daylong field trips to local attractions -- such as museums or historic sites -- on school holidays. Vanguard partially subsidizes the trips so that the cost to parents is reduced; costs vary according to the nature and destination of the outing.

"One Less Distraction"
Verizon Communications offers Kids in the Workplace, a vacation and holiday care program for school-age children of working parents that is administered by Ceridian LifeWorks and customized for each work site according to the schedules of area schools. Kids in the Workplace is sponsored and funded by joint committees of Verizon and its unions (who got the money through bargaining). Typical days covered include Presidents' Day, Good Friday, Spring Break, Columbus Day, the Christmas holiday week, and other times when schools are closed but companies are open, says Heidi Daly Guy, account executive for Ceridian LifeWorks.

Experienced licensed providers that operate in compliance with local and state regulations and codes provide care at the company -- usually in an empty conference room or other large space. And while parents are working, their children are not just watching videos, Guy says. Kids in the Workplace "is a planned program with structured activities and a specific curriculum throughout the year. It is not meant to be just baby-sitting."

Verizon is currently implementing Kids in the Workplace in 60 of its locations nationwide. "We've actually helped improve attendance, because parents know they have the support they need when schools are closed," says Fred Jenkins, executive director of WorkLife Strategies for Verizon. "It's one less distraction they have to deal with."

The cost of Kids in the Workplace is $20,000 to $30,000 per work site for 20 to 24 children, covering up to 17 days a year. It is offered to Verizon employees as a free benefit.

Referral Groups
Another option is Just in Time Care, offered by The Family and Workplace Connection, a nonprofit dependent-care resource and referral organization based in Wilmington, Delaware. Just in Time Care can be used by employees on school holidays and whenever regular child-care arrangements are not available, including the few weeks in June when school has ended and summer camp has not yet begun -- a period that many working parents have difficulty covering. Just in Time Care will contract with a day-care vendor to offer on-site holiday care at workplaces, or it will refer parents to several area day-care vendors that will accept kids on a "just in time" basis, e.g., on a school holiday.

Just in Time Care administers work-site programs similar to those of Kids in the Workplace for DuPont, Citibank, and AstraZeneca. The program is covered by employer subsidies, for which employers choose the level and cap. Most companies elect to subsidize 80 percent of backup-care costs -- usually up to $300 per family per year, says Gerri Weagraff, vice president of marketing for The Family and Workplace Connection. The employees pay the remaining 20 percent on the day of the service. The cost of Just in Time Care is around $50 per day, though Weagraff says that "the employee usually only pays 10 to 20 percent of that, depending on the level of subsidy their company has chosen."

School holiday child-care programs may not come cheap, but the payoff to employers can be huge, especially in terms of increased employee focus and productivity, says Verizon's Jenkins. "Based on the feedback we've received, the program is a tremendous success. It offers peace of mind for parents -- so they can be more focused while they're at work."