Raleigh, N.C. Evett Kornegay-Washington was facing a dilemma familiar to many working parents. The school that her 6-year-old daughter, Morgan, attends was closed for the holidays. Kornegay-Washington must work.
Her options are limited.
"My parents are deceased. We don't have any family here," she said.
Taking that much time off from her job in staffing would be hard.
But Kornegay-Washington had another option: the Bright Horizons backup day-care center. Even better, the center is close by, in her Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina office in Durham.
Kornegay-Washington has arranged for Morgan to stay at the center during that time.
"If I didn't have the center, I would be in real desperate mode right now," she said.
In a recent survey of 326 workers by Public Policy Polling, 80 percent said they have missed one to five days of work because they lacked backup care. The problem, long an issue for working parents, is more pressing as more employees become part of the "sandwich generation" - those juggling school-age children and aging parents.
Now some companies, searching for ways to reduce employee absences and low productivity among workers with hefty personal demands, are coming up with ways to help.
The services they help provide run the gamut: backup care, in-home care for family members with minor illnesses and referrals to day-care services that offer weekend, night-shift or late-evening care.
Workplace Options, a Raleigh company, provides tools and resources for child care, adoption, elder care, wellness and education for companies around the country. It has seen the demand for its services grow, CEO Dean Debnam said.
In August 2006, Workplace Options partnered with Bright Horizons, which has child-care centers in major cities across the country, to start the Back-Up Care Advantage Program, which arranges care for employees with children and aging parents.
The services are in demand, Debnam said.
Since the companies began offering the program, 100 companies have signed up nationwide, covering more than 1.1 million employees. Among the clients are American Express, Ernst & Young, PepsiCo, Starwoods Hotels and GlaxoSmithKline.
"Today companies are having a new realization," said Mary Lou Drake, president of management consulting firm Drake & Associates in Chapel Hill. "In the '50s and '60s, you checked your life at the office door. But the younger generation are very attached to their families. If they have resistance, they will check out of the work force and start their own company and become a competitor. Companies recognize that offering these services is now part of doing business."
Bright Horizons manages 600 child-care centers nationwide and has partnered with an additional 800 day-care centers, said its senior vice president of partnership services, Gary O'Neil.
The cost of the service varies depending on the size of the company, O'Neil said. Most companies set an employee co-payment of about $20 a day, and limit the number of times an employee can use the service each year to between 20 and 30 days.
Benefits for companies
Companies say they are seeing positive results from the program.
Annette Byrd, the U.S. manager of work-life solutions with GlaxoSmithKline, said the drug maker has been using the backup care program for 10 months. So far, 2,847 employees have registered for the program.
"We just looked at the savings from absenteeism," she said. "We have already made back our investment. We know that we will more than break even."
Byrd said the company will also look at the savings it gets from not having to replace or recruit new employees.
The benefits have been most evident among salespeople, who say that having access to backup care allows them to make their out-of-town appointments. Byrd has also heard that employees used the elderly in-home care, which costs $6 an hour.
At least one top executive, a single mother with an elderly mother and young children, has been able to continue working full time because of the program, Byrd said.
"She was going to ask for a leave of absence until we found her a way to get in-home care for her children and her mother. : Given the nature of her position, the company would have lost a great deal without her."
Fara Palumbo, vice president of human resource business solutions at Blue Cross and Blue Shield, said her company has reaped benefits since its backup care center opened more than a year ago.
In 2006, after a Durham school closed because several children had been exposed to toxic mercury, several Blue Cross workers were able to collect their children from school, drop them at the backup center and return to work.
The program has helped in other situations, including teacher work days and when schools closed because of bad weather, Palumbo said. Nearly 1,000 Blue Cross employees have registered to use the program.
The backup center at Blue Cross has a 40-child capacity and takes children from six weeks old to 12 years old. Most days, it operates at 60 percent capacity, Palumbo said.
Many companies are resisting offering more flexible child-care services, said Drake of the consulting firm. "They want to stay with the old model. Right now, I'm hearing more and more employees requesting this."
Eventually, companies will realize that the benefits of offering backup care outweigh the costs, Drake said, "especially if you have good workers that you don't want to lose."