“I can’t give it all up now just to take care of the baby, but there’s no other choice…”. This is a lament often heard from a growing breed of women who, up until having a baby, have worked hard at their work place to carve a niche for themselves, but have to give it all up for child care. There’s a different group of women who do not have the option to lament, who join work despite their worries about child care because for them it is not a matter of choice but a necessity. In either case, the predicament is the same – women who manage to juggle work and home very smoothly before having a child, find things going completely awry when a tiny bundle of joy joins the circus. As soon as the blissful period of maternity leave nears its end, worries about how, who, when, where related to child care, begin to crop up. In this day and age of nuclear families and independent living, not many are lucky to have the support of in-laws, parents or reliable help. The paucity of dependable child care options or the costs associated with them make it imperative for one of the parents to play an active role in early child rearing. And more often than not, in India and across the globe, it’s the mother who takes on this responsibility, forcing her to take a professional setback.
But it’s a tough choice to say the least. At a time when women’s education and work place participation at lower management levels have witnessed tremendous growth, mid and higher management levels at the work place see an abrupt dropout. The most obvious reason for it is motherhood. Even if a woman decides to continue working then, fulfilling work responsibilities alongside maternal duties without having to compromise on either is like a test from hell – physically, mentally and emotionally challenging and exhausting. And many succumb. What makes matters worse is the bitter reality that the corporate world is a rapidly evolving environment. For a woman, a break for child rearing means either having to compromise on her role and salary on return or literally rebuilding her career from scratch. Consequently many decide not to return to the same stream of work later.
Having said that, the question that begs an answer is – is there a solution or alternative that could respond to a woman’s needs, one who’s also a mother, and ensure that she has it all? Could something be done to support a woman in the critical transition phase, typically the first 3 years when her children are small and yet to start formal education, which could allow her to choose and manage both the domains efficiently?
Yes, the answer is yes! Availability of quality day care for infants and toddlers at the place of work is just the panacea for working mothers. And Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO, is a case in point. Setting aside the highly debatable aspect of whether her decision to return to work within a few days of having a baby was good, bad or ugly, the point to note is that getting a nursery built in her office enabled her to return to work. And so could numerous women who need just this kind of support to return to work after child birth.
Having quality day care at the work place, is not just a win-win for working mothers, the proposition makes immense business sense too. Let’s examine some of the ways in which employer and employee both benefit from this arrangement.
To begin with, research conducted worldwide proves beyond a shred of doubt that having employer sponsored child care centers not only increases employee retention but it is considered an important aspect in a company being viewed as employee centric. This not only enhances a company’s value on the choice continuum for prospective employees, it promotes loyalty amongst present staff, encourages employee retention and saves the organization critical funds that it would otherwise have to spend in recruiting and training new staff or dealing with downtime in the event of an employee quitting.
Second, having quality on-site day care helps increase employee productivity by decreasing stress, commute time, assisting employees in meeting work & family responsibilities and ensuring their overall well being. The race to office after finishing household and baby chores in the morning; rushing to finish work to make it home in time so one could spend quality time with the baby before the day ends; worrying about a baby who is physically distanced through the day; responding to emergency situations that are common with young children, all take a toll on an employee’s mind space and productivity. Having the baby at the on-site day care, one that is equipped to take good care of them, puts a parent’s worries to rest as it allows them to walk in and check on the baby whenever required, respond quickly in times of need, spend additional time with the baby and have little separation anxiety. These little things add up to put the make employees feel assured, increases attention at work and thus promotes productivity.
Third, societal definitions of and expectations from a woman to be a ‘good mother’ – one who takes responsibility of the child, feeds, plays, showers hugs and kisses and is just around the baby, deters many from leaving an infant or toddler at home to join work. Having day care facilities at work will go a long way in tackling the social norms and judgments’ that new mothers often face when they decide to work full time after child birth. With the baby in close proximity and in a safe environment, working mothers can be ‘good mothers’ and take charge without having to take favors or living in guilt or shame. This is a great way to make a woman feel enabled, restore her independence, self worth and confidence. And a happy, self assured individual always prove to be an asset to any team, one who delivers higher than standard results. Further, some recent research has also revealed that children of working women grow up to be more successful adults than those of non working women. So, in a way, day care centers at work place will not just create positive people of today, it will help lay the ground for successful people of tomorrow.
Fourth, children of today are more alert, agile, smart and demanding than previous generations. Easy access to technology and gadgets has the potential to do tremendous harm to a child if left unsupervised. This makes the task of working mothers that much more difficult in terms of engaging their children in constructive ways. Consequently, having good quality onsite day care facilities, one that hires qualified teaching staff and assistants, is just the environment a child needs. By dealing with the immediate physical, mental and emotional needs of the child, quality day cares can be the perfect learning grounds for children, while helping take some load off the working mother. These will also keep the child comparably safer than any other day care facility that may be far off from the parent’s place of work. Moreover, if the baby happens to be at the mothers’ place of work, she might get the opportunity to breastfeed the baby for longer, which is known to be a key determinant of a child’s good health and immunity. Therefore, in providing quality day care, a corporate is contributing towards creating a healthy and safe future for the child and resultantly a better society, something that could well qualify as a CSR mandate.
Encouragingly, all this talk of benefits is just not in theory. Success of many ventures like Intellitots Learning and their growing footprint across top metros in India clearly demonstrate that having quality day care within the place of work can effectively serve both employer and employee interests. In cases where the businesses may truly be unsuitable places for children, employees could help sponsor or startup a quality daycare near the workplace.
However, despite its numerous benefits and demonstrated success, India has been a laggard in providing constitutional provisions for employee support through in-house day care centers which is a norm across Nordic nations, Canada and many more. Nevertheless, a realization has finally come though and the Maternity benefits bill, tabled in the Parliament in August 2016, is the first step towards encouraging women participation in the workforce post delivery. This bill has helped bring the issue to the forefront and elevated discussion on the topic. But, as always, the devil lies in the detail, which means that when the bill does get passed, its ability to tackle the sore points that shall inevitably crop up, will decide the extent to which it achieves the purpose of safeguarding women’s interest at work.
The bottom line is that the benefits of having on-site corporate day care facilities far outweigh any downside. Passing of the bill and its successful implementation could prove to be a mighty step towards promoting woman’s well being and empowerment and building a brighter and safer tomorrow for our children. And hopefully, a day will come soon, when we hear a new mother say…”I am raring to get back to office after the maternity break, the child care centre at work is all set to have my baby on board…it’s so exciting”.