Chances are, the current childcare crisis has been a major source of frustration for your practice over the past two years. If the calls coming into our Solution Center are any indication, leaders feel wedged between a rock and a hard place, both sympathizing with the plight of employees and frustrated because they need those employees on the front lines if the practice is going to run. You aren’t alone in your frustration. Working parents are exhausted from trying to solve issues that include the staggering cost of daycare and public schools that open on Monday only to send their child’s class home on Wednesday due to Covid protocol. Sometimes the only option left is to approach their boss, hat in hand, and say, “I’m sorry but my kids are back at home, and I need to be there to take care of them.” As we head into the school year it appears that managers and employees are going to have to, once again, find ways to help one another.
What does that help look like, though? The good news is there are options, and we are seeing moderate to absolute success among our more than 2,500 member practices as they try a wide variety of solutions. While some solutions work and some don’t, we’ve noticed employers tend to be happier with the outcome when they, at least, try to accommodate working parents at their practice. That’s why we’ve decided to share some of the reasoning behind why it’s best to provide some accommodations for employees who are struggling with childcare, along with some suggestions from our Solution Center that, hopefully, might work for your business.
Can’t I just hire people without kids from now on?
Before we begin, there are a couple of questions that need to be addressed such as, “Why not hire people without kids?” Just a reminder, no matter how many problems the current childcare crisis has caused your practice over the past couple of years, you still can’t discriminate against those with children. If you’re thinking about asking whether an applicant has children during an interview, or thinking about posting a job ad for young, childless candidates, that’s a very bad idea.
This is not an issue of political correctness, rather, if you make hiring and firing decisions based on whether or not the employee has children, you will inevitably wind up stepping into unlawful territory across several categories including perceived leave needs, gender, and age discrimination. What’s more, who is to say that someone you employ, who is childless today, will not have to unexpectedly or expectantly have to care for a child that comes into their life tomorrow?
An even bigger point to make here is that hiring an outstanding person who may also need some child care accommodations is far better than having a full-time person who is not good at their job but happens to have no child care responsibilities. Also, we at CEDR have noticed that if you take care of your good people, they will, in the long run, take excellent care of you and your business too!
Why not just let them go?
When it comes to parents in your office, as long as you take into account some state-mandated protections for those with children, you can certainly keep the same policies and standards for attendance you’ve always had. There’s no question you can ultimately decide that your practice cannot function if you accommodate too many time-off requests provided, of course, that you already have professionally written and expert-reviewed policy acknowledged and in place.
In the past, it was common for a boss to listen to an employee who was having too many childcare issues, and the common HR Guidance at that time was to tell the employee she or he (most commonly she) needed to figure it out and be at work during the required hours with no exceptions. In today’s environment, though, it’s becoming clear that letting someone go because they are having child care issues is not a realistic solution and might become more expensive in the long run.
From a business perspective, the cost to hire and/or replace someone has tangible costs. Retraining and having other people cover is not free. The average fixed cost to hire across all industries is four grand. The highly skilled nature of a clinical worker at a medical and dental practice raises that cost significantly, with some figures estimating turnover costs for dental practices at $60,000 per employee. If we look at a highly skilled and experienced receptionist, patient coordinator, or insurance billing team members, the cost to hire, train, and mentor them adds up too. What’s worse, right now it takes an average of 40 days to fill a position across all industries. The numbers for healthcare are much worse ranging from three to four months. Not only is that a long time to keep piling all the extra duties of a missing position on your team already exhausted by the pandemic, but the current labor shortage may also make that search time even longer.
Turnover also takes a toll in other areas, particularly company culture. Losing a teammate because they had no choice but to quit, and, then, immediately being saddled with all of their work due to a staff shortage is bound to take the wind out of even your most upbeat employee’s sails. Any which way you look at it, there is a very good case to be made for trying to find creative ways to support your existing employees rather than to lose them.
There is even some data that suggests remaining flexible and working with your employees can provide returns for employers in the form of goodwill and employee retention. In fact, employees cite employer support for societal challenges as one of the main reasons they stay at their job. What we are hearing from managers and owners is that they fear that some employees, often one or two, will try to take advantage when they see you are loosening the rules. One employee in particular may even be popping in your head right now! The fact is someone most certainly will try to take advantage of these necessary changes in the workplace.
Remember, though, you’re trying to adapt and create a good workplace for your best employees and make allowances to account for a very difficult moment and challenges that we are currently facing right now. With consistent policymaking and distribution, you can loosen the reins while still maintaining full control. With all that in mind, what can good employers implement to accommodate working parents?
CEDR’s Solution Center is made up of and supported by our experts in HR, but, honestly, no expert has ever faced the kind of challenges that you are going through. So, what we’ve done is taken the thousands of calls about this subject coming in from your peers all over the United States and compiled the results of our suggestions and their ideas.
- Consider adding members to your team, but not hours.
The childcare crisis of the past two years in and of itself could be enough to justify the addition of a new team member, part-time or full-time. Any extra hands on deck can be a safety net for the predictable absences that school season (and the subsequent arrival of flu season and COVID outbreaks) saddle your practice with. There might even be some cost-benefits to giving some employees extra hours or hiring a new team member. If you are able, adding to your team is the easiest and fastest way to provide relief to overstretched parents at your practice. There are often outstanding candidates that want only part-time work. Add “part-time” to your job ads, and watch the applications start filling up your inbox.
- Be open to restructuring positions.
Job sharing or offering a temporary part-time role to a parent may allow you to retain talent that feels backed into a corner by child care demands. You might also consider reassigning certain tasks to those who are open to a challenge. During performance reviews, it’s always a good idea to ask each of your employees if they feel there are any talents they have that you aren’t fully utilizing– a question that could help you restructure some roles in your practice. By reassigning the duties of a frazzled parent to an employee who feels they have more to offer, you might be able to lessen the load of working parents while, at the same time, better engaging an employee who doesn’t feel challenged. If you’re feeling stuck trying to reshuffle tasks in your office, the Difference Maker Inventory can help you assess your current team’s performance and determine the best way to reassign duties and look for talent within your team.
- Explore remote work possibilities.
It’s absolutely true that most things that essential workers do, like treating a patient or face-to-face meetings, simply cannot be done from home. It’s also true that most medical and dental jobs have specific duties that keep most of its workforce physically in the office during business hours, but, as we learned in 2020, some positions can be performed at home. The challenges of this year dictate now is the time to consider making those tasks remote. If you can give an employee even half a day working at home, that could help reduce at least some of the cost of childcare.
- Plan for known needs.
Require your employees to think and plan ahead. You can safely bet multiple employees will be requesting off around fall break and other times the kids are not at school. Can you work collaboratively and look ahead to those dates? Require your employees to work with you to come up with a plan for their schedule during those dates and times? This can help you feel supported without being blindsided.
- Split the shift, alter the hours of operation, or change the treatment schedule.
More than one of our members, after talking it over with the team, figured out that splitting the shift was a good solution. One practice started opening at 7 a.m. instead of 8:45 a.m, and continued closing at the same time. This allowed the practice to accommodate parents by allowing one set of team members to come in early so they could leave early for their kids at home, and another set to come in later so they could be available in the morning for their children.
In another variation, we saw a practice use an associate to enact the tried and true method of split shifting– expanding hours across the entire day, resulting in opening earlier and closing later. We could give you several more variations of these approaches. The point is, your unique set of challenges could be solved in part through temporary, fixed, and agreed-upon scheduling adjustments.
- Make them aware of the new tax credit payments for each child.
Most parents are already familiar with the changes to this tax credit benefit. If not, explain that, beginning last month, changes to the Child Tax Credit allow families to receive half the total credit amount upfront to help with childcare costs starting in July. Your employee can claim the other half when they file their 2021 return. If your employee has additional questions about this benefit, you can direct them to the IRS site or seek guidance from fellow employees taking advantage of this program.
More than halfway through 2021, this is shaping up to be the year of major life changes. In the HR world, turnover is an enormous issue. Add this to a still unrecovered labor market and a historic labor shortage, and 2021 is shaping up to be a year marked with ongoing challenges for employers. We will all remember 2020 for obvious reasons: quarantine, COVID numbers, business closures, school and daycare closures which presented unprecedented scheduling challenges for medical and dental practices. With the Delta variant shutting down clusters of schools in some regions, it’s a safe bet 2021 has the potential to present another round of childcare challenges, especially as the 2021 school year begins. While past childcare issues, pre covid, certainly used to fall under the category of “not my problem,” it may be one of the most important issues that dental and medical practices currently face. Because of that, it’s worth trying to talk with your employees about finding some solutions to what is almost certain to continue to be a problem.