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Revolt of the Caregivers: Why So Many Parents Have Quit Their Jobs and How To Win Them Back

Flexible practices and better benefits can lure this highly skilled and hardworking demographic back into the workforce.

America’s caregivers are fed up with inflexible working conditions. The responsibilities associated with caring for young children and elderly, sick, or disabled dependents are simply not conducive to the 9am-5pm paradigm that reigned before the covid-19 pandemic. In the last two years, workers everywhere have proven that they’re willing to ditch unsupportive employers or even drop out of the workforce entirely rather than put up with a culture that forces them to choose between being a good employee and being a good caregiver.

In 2021, during the height of the national debate over whether employees should return to the office, a Flexjob survey of parents with children under 18 living at home found that 62% wanted to work remotely full time, 61% would quit their jobs if they were unable to work remotely, and 45% had already quit their job, reduced their hours, or had a partner who did so. The unprecedented labor shortage of the past 18 months has given millions of working caregivers the leverage needed to make drastic career changes, and many of them have only been too happy to leave inflexible organizations in search of greener pastures.

However, more recent surveys have found that these working parents are still feeling extremely discontented with the state of employment in America today. In June 2022, KinderCare’s Parent Confidence Report found that 40% of parents are either open to a new job or actively seeking one, although 60% of these respondents indicated that they would happily stay at their current employer if child care benefits were offered. 81% of these same parents said that childcare benefits are an important factor in their job consideration process, and 55% would even take a pay cut to work at a company offering this type of incentive.

Another 2022 report by childcare provider Bright Horizons garnered similar results, finding that 90% of working parents thought that it’s important for their employers to provide childcare benefits and that 48% were at risk of leaving their current job. 90% of these respondents also stated that they are stressed by their work life, with 61% categorizing this stress as “overwhelming.” It should go without saying that feeling this level of stress is not conducive to high performance, productivity, or loyalty to one’s employer.

While parents such as these are still participating in the workforce (for now), millions of other once-employed caregivers have simply dropped out of the labor pool entirely, both by choice and because they were effectively forced to by circumstances beyond their control. This is a calamity for the country’s business community, which is currently buckling under the strain of one of the greatest labor shortages in living memory.

These "missing" workers are overwhelmingly mothers and daughters rather than fathers and sons.

In Q1 of 2022, there were almost 2 million fewer employed women in the United States than before the pandemic, and the country’s female workforce participation rate was the lowest it had been since 1987. At that time, American men had already regained all of the jobs they lost in 2020-21. While the size of this workforce gender gap has lessened in recent months, it appears likely to persist in some form or another for the foreseeable future.

Much of this discrepancy is likely attributable to the fact that it is simply much more common for women to take on the bulk of childcare responsibilities than men. In addition to this, the persistence of the gender wage gap, the high cost of childcare, and the greater stigma of being a stay-at-home father rather than mother are other probable contributing factors.

It should go without saying that this state of affairs is in severe need of disruption. It is morally repugnant and economically nonsensical to allow so many ambitious women (and many men as well) to be pushed into a quasi-voluntary and indefinite period of unemployment simply because they want to take good care of their loved ones. It is a well-established fact that long gaps in employment can cause severe mental health challenges while also making it more difficult for jobseekers to get hired in the event that they try to return to the workforce someday. This means that the clock is ticking, as many caregivers who had jobs before the pandemic have already been absent from the workforce for quite some time.

With businesses more desperate than ever for talented, experienced employees, what can be done to retain and recruit a worker demographic that is so clearly fed up with the status quo? Four strong options are listed below:

  1. Directly Subsidized Care

    As mentioned above, working caregivers have been loud and clear that offering care solutions as an employee benefit would be an extremely welcome step in the right direction. There are many existing providers that offer care for children and other dependents to employees via corporate partnerships with participating businesses, and employers who set up dependent care FSAs are able to contribute up to $5,000 in supporting pre-tax money. Offering this type of benefit is a great way to immediately create a competitive edge for the recruitment and retention of working caregivers and enable them to excel in their careers without compromising on family obligations.

  2. Holistic Flexibility and Leave

    The last two years have proven that in-person employment and the conventional 40-hour work week are not necessarily required to build high-performing teams. Companies who want to attract working parents and other caregivers should consider offerings such as generous paid parental leave with parity for birthing and non-birthing parents, ramp-up schedules for new parents who are returning to work, reduced hours for those with young children, and time and location flexibility that accounts for child illnesses and school vacation days. Being aggressive and experimental in this area is a great way to attract and retain talented workers who desire more agency in how they spend their time and can really make a difference in the lives of busy employees.

  3. Financial Wellness Support

    It’s no secret that starting a family and caring for elderly dependents can be extremely expensive, and that even well-compensated employees can feel overwhelmed by financial stressors such as these. Companies that provide employees with access to certified financial planners can do a great deal to alleviate this stress and help working parents to feel as though they are on the right track. Services that assist employees in planning for specific financial goals and budgeting for milestone life events such as home purchases, college education, retirement, and estate planning can go a long way in promoting peace of mind and boosting productivity.

  4. New Lifestyle Benefits

    Employers who really want to go the extra mile can also consider concierge benefits that provide employees with direct forms of assistance that alleviate some of the most time-consuming aspects of being a caregiver. Subsidized meal offerings through food wellness funds are an easy example, with some cutting-edge employers teaming up with companies such as DoorDash to offer discounted family meals for busy parents. Similar programs also exist for family-oriented lifestyle benefits and services such as tutoring, after-school programs, and discounted wellness or physical fitness offerings. In helping to keep employee families happy, healthy, and well-fed, companies can engender loyalty, boost their industry reputations, and offer an excellent selling point for unemployed caregivers who may be second-guessing their decision to leave the workforce.

For more retention-boosting workforce strategies and advice, check out this blog post:5 Excellent Benefits to Offer Employees in 2023.