With the too-frequently conflicting pressures of career and home eating up most hours of the day for working parents, having a job while raising a family can feel like a long, lonely endeavor carried out at a continuously frantic pace—especially in the United States, which consistently ranks lowest among OECD countries in terms of work-life balance for families. The stress can be isolating, whether you’re doing it all on your own or are part of a two-career household.
But parents doing the daily juggling act are hardly alone. In 2017, 33.6 million US families included children under age 18, and in 90.2% of these households, at least one parent was employed. That’s more than 30 million families with kids with at least one working parent. And in nearly half (46%) of US households, both parents work full-time.
Encouragingly, many workplaces—especially those already in the habit of lavishing staff with recruiting- and retention-worthy benefits—are offering new perks for parents, ranging from elaborate baby gifts and special assistance for business trips to the more quotidian types of workplace flexibility that can keep a busy parent grateful on a daily basis.
For reasons we’ll describe in a minute, you might want to thank harried Gen-Xers for showing employers how easy it is for parents to get spread too thin, and millennials for using their clout in the workplace to get more attention from employers as millions of them start having children. But first, here are just some of the more unusual perks employers are offering parents to help keep them satisfied in the workplace:
Flying nannies ● A $1,200 crib ● Cash gifts ● Maternity concierge services ● Breast pumps ● Overnight shipping of breast milk ● Lactation consultants ● Care for children with special needs ● Fertility treatments ● Family coaching ● Scholarships ● Summer camp
US-based companies are in the unique position of having to compete to provide many of these benefits to their employees with kids because the US government doesn’t guarantee affordable childcare and, unlike every other industrialized nation, doesn’t mandate paid parental leave. (The 12 weeks of job protection guaranteed to new mothers and fathers under the US Family and Medical Leave Act since 1993 only covers unpaid absences.)
“Many of us know from experience that being a working parent, especially during the transition, is a challenge,” says Jennifer Tomer, the senior director of employee rewards and recognition at Protiviti, a consulting firm that made its debut on the Working Mother 100 Best Companies list in 2018. “By putting these types of programs in place, it demonstrates our commitment to our people and their wellbeing.”
It’s a worthy investment, and not just for the parents. With job stability especially prized when other aspects of life feel suddenly out of control, working parents have been found to be more loyal and committed (pdf) to the companies they work for.
“Our working parents are our most engaged population,” says Karyn Twaronite, the global diversity and inclusiveness officer at EY (the consulting firm formerly known as Ernst & Young). “That engagement translates to business and quality service.”
Several key investments in workers’ personal lives can have long-term returns for employers. For example, companies that want to foster female leadership might invest in longer maternity leave policies, better medical coverage for pregnancy-related health problems, and flexible work schedules to facilitate re-entry into the workplace after childbirth, to avoid losing the 43% of highly qualified women with children who leave or interrupt their careers for a period of time after the birth of a child. And recognizing that about one in seven women will, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder, investments in working mothers’ mental health may be a worthwhile expense for companies focused on retention and a positive office culture.
Next to the full year of paid leave guaranteed by the UK government, the perks that American companies are just starting to offer new parents seem paltry. But to Americans who started their careers in a different era, or who work outside the narrow slice of the US economy that offers these kinds of perks to employees, the new benefits for parents look to be getting quite generous. American Express, for examples, offers a wide range of family-related benefits, including: 20 weeks of paid parental leave; six to eight weeks of additional, paid, medically necessary leave for mothers related to the birth of a child; and up to 20 days a year of in-home or center-based childcare. The Gates Foundation, meanwhile, offers employees 52 weeks of paid parental leave in the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.
Increasingly, at companies competing for top-tier talent, it’s becoming a risk to not make these kinds of investments. Eliza Khuner, a data scientist at Facebook, revealed in an editorial for WIRED this year that she left the social media giant only eight months into her role because the company refused to allow her to work from home part-time or to take extra, unpaid maternity leave to spend time with her newborn daughter.
Facebook is, by most accounts, a company with extremely generous policies for working parents, who are given 16 weeks of paid leave, $4,000 for childcare-related expenses, and three days a year of paid family sick time, among other perks. But Khuner says she left because the lack of flexibility toward her needs as a young mom left her, she felt, with a choice between motherhood and professional development. She wrote:
“Companies like Facebook have the imagination and the resources to implement better leave and flexibility in working hours so parents don’t have to choose between their children and careers. It may come at a cost initially, but the return on investment will be more women staying in the workplace, higher employee satisfaction, and the knowledge that we are doing right by our people and our children. I’m calling on them to make a change.”
Millennials are the largest generation in the US labor force. They represent more than one in three American workers, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of US Census Bureau data. And companies are adapting to their priorities, which are markedly different from those of previous generations.
Competing in the global race for talent has for years required investing in the things millennials care about, including policies, perks, and cultures that foster diverse, inclusive, and flexible work environments. As more millennials start having families, their needs and priorities—and the things they will ask of their employers—will no doubt evolve.
The consultants at Deloitte have observed that companies’ actions “appear to strongly influence the length of time millennials intend to stay with their employers.” That’s important, given that loyalty rates among millennial workers are low: 43% of millennials envision leaving their jobs within two years, and only 28% are looking to stay beyond five years, according to a Deloitte survey. If new perks for parents can help employers hold onto their top talent for longer, you can expect to see more generous family-leave policies and other work-life balance efforts at more and more companies.
As for those stressed-out parents, with their full plates and frazzled nerves—you should know that the pressure has a surprisingly small effect on their work productivity. In a 2014 study of more than 10,000 economists, for example, researchers Matthias Krapf at the University of Zurich, Heinrich Ursprung at the University of Konstanz, and Christian Zimmermann at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that economists with children were no less productive than their childless peers.
The finding proves what many working parents instinctively know to be true: That having kids is the ultimate efficiency hack. As Jenny Anderson has written for Quartz, “Children grow up fast, and a career is a long game. The multitasking that parents have to do ensures that they’re pretty good at playing it.” But a little extra help goes a long way.
KKR & Co., a private equity firm, allows working parents to bring a new child and a caregiver on business trips, paid for by the company. Patagonia allows breastfeeding moms traveling for work to bring along their baby, as well as a family member or a caregiver from the company’s on-site childcare center, all on the company’s dime.
Activision, Hulu, Qualcomm, and Snap are among the companies to offer employees the Snoo Smart Sleeper, a $1,160 “smart” crib developed by celebrity pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp, as a benefit for new parents.
Being a new parent is expensive. Tech giants like Google and Facebook offer new parents “baby bonding bucks“ to spend on things like house cleaning, groceries, and babysitters. Google gives new parents $500, and Facebook gives $4,000.
Fifth Third Bank, a US Midwest regional bank based in Cincinnati, Ohio, contracted to offer a maternity concierge service to employees in locations across 10 states. The virtual service, which helps new or expecting parents deal with everything from finding a nanny to planning gluten-free gender reveal parties, is offered in partnership with the Best Upon Request concierge service. American Express also has a concierge service for new parents, introduced in 2016.
American Express, Bloomberg, OpenTable, PayPal, Snapchat, Viacom, and Zillow are just some of the companies that provide breastfeeding moms who need to travel for business the possibility of shipping their breast milk home overnight, at no cost to the employee.
EY offers a hospital-grade pump to its working moms and to the spouses or partners of new fathers who work at the firm. Moms on the payroll can use the pumps in the private nursing rooms that are available in each EY US office.
Breastfeeding can be tricky to navigate without help from an expert. American Express and Abbott are just a few of the many companies that now offer lactation-consulting services to breastfeeding moms.
Johnson & Johnson provides financial coverage for speech, occupational, and physical therapy for the special-needs children of parents who work for the company in the US.
Many US companies now reimburse full or partial fertility treatment for couples in their firms as part of their regular health benefit package. FertilityIQ, an information platform that reviews fertility clinics and doctors, published an analysis of benefits at 250 large or high-profile employers for couples who need medical help to have children. Some examples: Facebook and Salesforce offer benefits worth over $100,000 per employee, and Pinterest, Slack, Wayfair, Snapchat, Uber, and Foursquare offer smaller fertility assistance benefits. Two major consulting firms, Bain & Company, and Boston Consulting Group, offer unlimited coverage for fertility treatment.
EY’s Career and Family Transitions Coaching program supports new parents through individual and group sessions. Coaches help parents set realistic goals and expectations before, during, and after parental leave. Deloitte, KPMG, Proskauer Rose, and others professional-services firms provide coaching programs as a tool to retain working parents.
Wells Fargo offers scholarships of $1,000 to $3,000 to children of employees to help pay for high school or college. While many companies offer tuition assistance for employees, subsidizing education for employees’ kids is far less common.