Banks ramp up child care, home-schooling support for working parents

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Many banks are stepping up to help employees navigate what will likely be their biggest challenge this fall: being productive at work while trying to juggle care and home-schooling for their children.

Last week, Bank of America and Citi announced new measures to support working parents, whether on-site or at home. Bank of America extended its backup child care reimbursement program through Dec. 31, saying it will offer daily reimbursements up to $100 to employees working at home or in the office who need child care, while Citi launched a bundle of new services such as nanny placement, in-home and virtual sitter discounts and educational caregiver search support to supervise online and small-group learning for children.

Other banks are offering similar benefits. Truist Financial in Charlotte, N.C., relaunched a discount program for employees to buy computers, learning tools and school supplies. Fifth Third Bancorp in Cincinnati is providing 30 days of subsidized child care this year, in-home or at a center. Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group is giving workers free access to a nationwide, members-only search service to find in-home and virtual caregivers, with free basic background checks.

Sara Wechter, Citi’s global head of human resources, said life for working parents who are multitasking child care and virtual learning “has been chaos” since the coronavirus pandemic forced U.S. schools and daycares to close beginning in March. Now, as the fall school year gets underway and COVID-19 cases continue to rise while the world awaits a vaccine, most districts are opting to continue 100% online learning or shift to hybrid models in which children attend school in person on certain days of the week and learn remotely, at home or elsewhere on other days.

“We’re trying to figure out how to bring some stability and routine to children’s lives and allow parents to focus on work,” Wechter said about Citi’s benefits. Family life and work life are “so connected right now. If we as a company are not looking at the whole family, then we’re not solving" the problem.

Like the rest of corporate America, banks have their work cut out in efforts to bring employees back into offices. In addition to health and safety concerns, access to child care — which was already lacking in the United States before the pandemic in terms of access and affordability — is a major obstacle, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

The group recently launched a longitudinal study to understand how child care challenges affect working parents and their employees during the COVID-19 health crisis. Forty percent of the businesses surveyed said they are worried some employees who shifted to work-at-home scenarios earlier this year will not fully return to work due to health concerns and child care challenges and will instead request reduced hours or ask for the ability to continue working remotely. In addition, about one-quarter of businesses say they are worried that some employees will leave the workforce entirely.

Providing assistance to parents and caregivers on the child care and virtual learning front is one way banks and other companies can hang on to their employees, said Kate Bezrukova, associate professor of organization and human resources at the University of Buffalo School of Management. A ManpowerGroup survey in February showed that talent shortages in the U.S. more than tripled over the course of 10 years, with 69% of employers struggling to find qualified workers.

Offering more child care and providing educational resources to employees are “levers for companies to keep their competitive advantage,” Bezrukova said. “This is a time when companies are competing for talent and this could be very attractive … as a recruitment tool.”

Child care assistance is not new at banks, but it has gotten a makeover during the pandemic. In 2012, Bank of America launched a program that provided up to $240 per child per month to eligible employees in reimbursements for eligible child care expenses. From the onset of the pandemic in March to Aug. 15, the bank reimbursed U.S.-based employees $100 a day.

The program was renewed Aug. 16 and now pays $75 or $100 per day per household, based on salary, and there is no limit on the number of days eligible employees can claim while they work from home or in the office for the rest of the year.

In addition to backup child care that was already available to workers, banks such as JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Capital One are now providing access to virtual tutors to help children with schoolwork. So too is Citizens Financial Group in Providence, R.I., which pays for five hours of live online tutors per month per child through an organization called Homework Connection.

At Citi — where the majority of the bank’s U.S. employees are still working from home — leaders initially considered the option of giving employees more paid time off when the pandemic hit, but ultimately decided that wasn’t the most helpful way to support associates.

“We asked ourselves, ‘Do we add 10 days? Do we add 20 days? What’s the right number?’ ” Wechter said. “And the answer was that we didn’t know the right number. So we decided to be as flexible as possible.”

Of the batch of new services at hand, it’s not yet clear what will stick and what will go away in a post-pandemic world. Wechter said tutoring services may continue depending on demand and usage, while greater work-schedule flexibility in general is likely to be a lasting change.

Less than 5% of Citi’s U.S. workers went back to the office on July 1. There is no set date for when another wave of workers will return, but executives are planning to look at virus-related data in September to try to sort out the next steps.

At WSFS Financial in Wilmington, Del., about 1,200 of the bank’s 2,000 employees are still working from home and many of them are grappling with child care and virtual learning challenges, said Cindy Crompton-Barone, the senior vice president of human capital management. In March, the $13.6 billion-asset bank offered workers 14 days of paid leave for child care or other issues related to the virus.

The supplemental personal time off remains in place, and now managers are considering changes to individual work schedules to accommodate employees’ needs at the start of a new school year. Under consideration are split work schedules, reduced hours and even sabbaticals, all with the hope that employees stay with the bank and maintain those customer relationships, Crompton-Barone said.

“We’re trying to make sure parents have that balance … that they can do the at-home learning, but not be exhausted at the same time they’re continuing their journey and working for us,” she said. “We don’t want them to think that the only solution is just to not work. We don’t want them to feel as if they don’t have alternatives.”

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Workforce management Workplace management Employee productivity Citigroup Bank of America Truist Financial PNC Financial Services Group Coronavirus