Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Seeking Work Life Balance? Childcare choice can make a difference

As working families across the country are struggling with the dual demands of work and family, many seek the ever-elusive work life balance. There are a number of general issues that influence work life balance including time, flexibility and resources for unexpected situations. Parents’ choice of childcare can have an effect on the balance equation. 

What leads to work life balance? The Families and Work Institute has identified a number of factors that predict work-life conflict among employed parents in their National Study of the Changing Workforce. In addition to job pressure, job satisfaction and other work-centered aspects such as supervisor support and autonomy, there are also family factors. These include flexibility limitations due to the needs of children and whether there is a spouse who works. The study also found that allocating more time to spend doing things for oneself and finding someone to take responsibility for childcare reduces work-life conflict.

There are pro-active steps that parents can take to make work life balance less elusive. In a report by the Women in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute on the evaluation of childcare, parents described three supports or coping mechanisms that helped them balance their work and family lives: making children and work their main priorities (often at the expense of their own selves); using the flexibility of their position to work around childcare issues; and having the support at home from a spouse or paid provider.

In a closer look at how the choice of a childcare provider can affect work life balance, Cultural Care Au Pair conducted a study of working parents who had utilized more than one form of childcare. Cultural Care surveyed 2,500 families and asked parents about their previous form of childcare and how their current childcare choice of an au pair had affected their work life balance.

Most working parents agree that work life balance has a lot to do with time. More than two thirds of the au pair host families surveyed found that they had more quality time with their children and more time with their spouse. Sixty two percent also found they had more time for themselves.

Kate Frink, marketing manager at a consumer products company, commented, “I believe the consistency of having an au pair has allowed for me to get involved in other activities I had recently declined, like helping on committees at my children's school and getting more involved in a few non-profit organizations. It has also allowed me to find the time to get back in shape. Exercise was a luxury I had the hardest time fitting in with my previous childcare.

Do smoother departures and arrivals affect the feeling of work life balance? Absolutely. Seventy four percent of parents with au pairs reported that the coming home/dinner time routine was easier and 81 percent said the morning routine was less complicated.

Michelle Walker, an elementary school principal with an au pair says, “The kids can take the morning at their own pace, and not rush out the door because we have to get to work. We often leave with them in their pajamas eating their breakfast and it is so nice to let them have a more relaxed start to their day. Also, I prepare dinner the night before, and our au pair puts it in the oven to bake so it is ready when I get home. This is a huge time saver for us, and we can eat at 5:30 every night.”

What about when the unexpected happens and a child gets sick? According to a Georgetown University study, Meeting the Needs of Today’s Families, the illness of a child causes a parent to miss between six and 29 days of work annually. But not for parents with live-in childcare. 75 percent of all respondents, and 81 percent of those who had previously had their children at daycare centers, said that they had taken less time off for children’s sick days since switching to au pair childcare. It can also save on vacation days and medical costs. “Last year we had our son in day care so I had to save my ten vacation days for his sick days. This year, not only did we save our vacation days, but we saved hundreds of dollars because we weren't at the doctor or filling prescriptions,” says Katie Lewis who works in finance for an insurance company.

Lewis also commented about the benefits of flexibility with the au pair program. “I can take that client phone call that inevitably comes through at 4:59 and know that my child won't be waiting for me at daycare. I am a better mom and that makes me a better employee.”  According to the survey Work and Family Pressures conducted by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, 92% of American workers feel they do not have enough flexibility in their schedules to take care of family needs. In the Cultural Care survey, 78 percent of parents who had previously had their children in daycare centers stated that the more flexible schedule that the au pair program provides allows them to be more flexible with their work hours. In fact, 69 percent indicated that they were more focused and productive at work and 77 percent said they were less stressed about work.

Kathy Vizachero of Performing by Design, host mother and corporate coach, says, "The breadth of the network of support that working parents create around themselves largely determines the height of the trajectory that they can achieve at work.  It also, in good measure, determines their happiness level. As a host mom, my 'joy' level has definitely increased in knowing my Cultural Care au pair is there providing solid and dependable childcare.  Plus, her schedule flexibility allows me to consider many creative options for how I balance my time."

Overall, 90% of the respondents to the Cultural Care Au Pair survey felt that they have better work life balance because they have an au pair, indicating that childcare choice can be a factor predictive of work life balance. Parents will continue to seek this elusive balance, but for these au pair host families, their childcare choice seems to be getting them a little closer.  

For more information on hosting an au pair, please call Local Childcare Coordinator Tanya Lindin at 212-729-4256 or visit www.culturalcare.com.
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