7   +   8   =  

Recently, Starbucks announced its investment in a new employee benefit: subsidized backup care. According to Starbucks’ VP of Benefits, backup care for children and adults was the “last piece of the puzzle” in providing holistic benefits to its workforce.

Indeed, it is often the last piece of the benefits puzzle for a lot of companies. Companies have been beefing up their benefits programs in the fight for talent, offering onsite childcare, fertility benefits, paid family leave, and breastmilk shipping for traveling moms. But these benefits are all tailored to help working parents at time of birth, not all the way through the 13+ years someone’s kid or kids will likely need a sitter.

So why does backup care matter? We’ve all heard the phrase ‘it takes a village.’ This is especially true for parents who work.

Even with full-time daycare, nanny services, or extended family members living nearby, oftentimes working parents need more coverage. A lot of parents with demanding jobs find themselves missing networking events or business dinners to make strict daycare pickups. Or they’ll need to scramble for coverage when their kid comes down with a fever, and daycare can’t take them. It’s especially difficult for households with two working parents, who have to screen different sitters in a pinch when their primary providers aren’t available, and work or travel schedules conflict with childcare duties.

Beyond ensuring pure coverage, this is a health and wellness issue for parents as well. Some studies show that more than 60% of working parents suffer from burnout due to stress and anxiety caused by the pressure of balancing quality family time and work demands. And a study from the American Psychological Association says that 1 out of 7 of new moms experience postpartum depression as they’re returning to work, which can be debilitating to their focus and general ability to work.

Unsurprisingly, burnout and overextension as a result of childcare gaps have negative side effects on employees unable to fill their potential, and companies unable to fully tap their potential. In more corporate settings, parents often face a dilemma: charge ahead aggressively to keep up with their childless peers, or prioritize family time and reasonable hours and risk losing promotions or opportunities at work. This trade-off is often more acute for women.

Childcare voids may be even more problematic in hourly work, where lack of coverage might cause employees to miss critical shifts, leaving companies in a bind to find a replacement — and leaving employees vulnerable to poor performance reviews.

Take the case of Starbucks: if a barista needs to call out of work last-minute because of a sick child, that incurs loss for the business. Finding an affordable, safe back-up babysitter through a company-sponsored program solves that problem for both Starbucks and the barista.

Although backup care is an initial upfront cost for companies, its long-term ROI lies in the productivity gains and retention of top-performing parents. In 2016, 1.2 million millennial women gave birth to their first child, which contributed to the 17.3 million total of millennial mothers. As more millennials become parents, companies must create the conditions that allow soon-to-be parents, returning moms and dads, and parents of elementary- and middle-school kids to grow and contribute. Otherwise, talented workers might search for more family-friendly policies, or even drop out of the workforce altogether.

Today, companies like Helpr, Care.com, and Bright Horizons provide employers with customized backup childcare programs. Depending on the program, employers can provide up to 120 hours annually. Parents only need to pay a copay of between $1 and $6 each hour, serving as a welcome alternative to the exorbitant childcare costs they need to foot the bill for during the day.

With services like Helpr — the company I started — parents can book the same screened back-up sitter via an app. So if they’ve found someone they’re comfortable with, they have that continuity of care.  

As one of few nations that doesn’t provide mandatory paid maternity leave, the United States in woefully behind in its governmental support of family policies. It’s become incumbent on employers and communities to pick up some of the slack.

We’re already seeing parents decide to have less kids, fearing that they don’t have the time or resources to devote to a bigger family. And we risk having mothers drop out of the workforce. According to a recent analysis, the share of women in the United States labor force has leveled off since the 1990s, after steadily climbing for half a century.

Employers need to support working parents in their entirety — from the time they realize they’re pregnant until well after birth. They may not all get to Patagonia’s 100% retention of moms. But they can create the environments that signal to even a 25-year-old male software developer that they can pursue a family when they’re ready.