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How can the work world become more family friendly? Here’s what parents have to say

SHARE How can the work world become more family friendly? Here’s what parents have to say

Women Tech Council President Cydni Tetro speaks at the Women Tech Awards at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi on Oct. 28, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Utah’s working parents say higher wages, paid family leave and flexibility when it comes to work hours and schedule are the top things they need from employers to achieve a better balance when it comes to the work of rearing a child with the work to pay the bills.

And while a majority of Utah’s working parents, 59%, say they’re satisfied with their current work and child care situations, more than 1 in 5 are not at all OK with it.

These were just a few of the insights from a new statewide University of Utah Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute survey conducted over the summer that is aiming to provide employers, and policymakers, with actionable insight on the state of play when it comes to the challenges of Utah working parents. Gardner researchers presented the new data and discussed findings with a panel of experts on Wednesday morning.

In a historically tight Utah labor market, where job openings far outnumber available workers, competition for new hires is running fierce. And, some local employers facing this tough hiring environment are already making changes, and finding success, with new policies that embrace a flexibility-focused work environment.

Better earnings, paid family leave and flexibility were about evenly ranked among working parent respondents when it comes to listing their top employer-provided benefits, but things looked decidedly different when the question turned to what could lure them to a different job or line of work.

When asked the question, “How likely would you be to change your job, employer, or industry if you found an opportunity that offered ...” higher wages fell to the sixth spot and the top responses were, 1. more remote work opportunities, 2. more flexible/predictable hours and, 3. more part-time job opportunities that can lead to career advancement.

Some respondents offered further details about what is working, and what isn’t, when it comes to finding a tenable balance between the requirements of work and parenting.

“Allow increased work-from-home options, allow for more flexible hours during the day, avoid requiring commitments during the hours that children typically need to be dropped off or picked up from school,” one respondent said.

“When I was single, it was nearly impossible for me to leave work when one of my children was sick,” another survey participant told researchers. “If my employer had policies that were more flexible when it comes to that, and not losing pay if my child has to come home sick suddenly, that would have been life changing for me.”

Panelist Cydni Tetro, CEO of e-commerce innovator Brandless and co-founder/president of the Women Tech Council, said the Gardner data reflects the positive outcomes of a tide shift, driven by pandemic conditions, that has forced many employers to adopt greater flexibility for when and where workers accomplish their job tasks.

“This survey is elevating the conversation about a critical topic,” Tetro said. “We have to move to a culture of accountability for our workers. It’s not about the time they’re in a seat. We hold people accountable and let them work like they need to to balance their lives.

“The thing that holds people back is, ‘if I ask, will I get in trouble’ versus a culture that just expects that people are responsible, they’ll get their jobs done, they know what the expectations are.”

The report found that in 63% of Utah two-parent households, both parents/guardians are working. Gardner researchers wrote that the two key aspects to understanding the work/life balance of working parents are knowing the employment status of parents in the household and understanding how they provide care for their children while they are working.

Researchers found that a majority of respondents have family caring for their children when they are not in school:

  • 73% either care for children themselves or have a parent/guardian/stepparent caring for the children when they are not in school.
  • 35% have an extended family member (grandparents, aunts/uncles, older siblings, etc.) caring for the children.
  • Parents of children under 6 were more likely to have child care with a home-based provider, 10%, and slightly more likely to have a nanny or babysitter, 12%.

So how do Utah working parents describe the “ideal” situation when it comes to solving for child care challenges?

The Gardner report found that among two-parent households, 43% of respondents indicate having one parent work full time and one who doesn’t work is the ideal arrangement. And, 32% said having one parent work full time and one parent who works part time is the ideal. One-parent respondents were almost evenly split between full-time work, 47%, and part-time work, 46%, being the ideal.

Panelist and state legislator Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan, said the new data on work-life balance issues could help guide the work of lawmakers, whom Pulsipher said were very aware of, and working to address, challenges facing working parents.

“In my experience in the last few years in the Legislature, it’s clear that elected leaders have child care as a top priority,” Pulsipher said, noting that proposals passed in the 2022 session “would allow a lot of things to happen to improve access to affordable child care.”

Last week, the Deseret News and Overstock.com hosted a roundtable discussion that included about two dozen Utah business leaders who gathered to discuss the relative merits of hybrid workplace arrangements versus full-time in-person mandates.

While the experiences and results of new experiments in remote and hybrid work arrangements are still very much a work-in-progress for many companies, several leaders testified to finding outstanding outcomes with new, high-flexibility work arrangements — the very situations many working parents described as their ideal in the Gardner report.

Cotopaxi co-founder and CEO Davis Smith said before making a shift that was precipitated by pandemic restrictions, he was solidly behind the concept of a daily, in-person workplace. But in practice, the benefits of remote work revealed themselves.

“I was the biggest believer of working in the office,” Smith said. “I never worked at home, I discouraged employees from working at home and then that totally changed.

“In August of 2020, we decided we were a remote-first company.”

Davis said not only is productivity up, but in-house surveys reflect Cotopaxi employee morale is at levels any business leader would celebrate.

In a recent LinkedIn post, Smith shared the most recent results from the annual sentiment assessments, noting that 76% of the current Cotopaxi roster of about 300 employees were hired after the company shifted to a remote-first workplace policy.

  • 87% rated their sense of belonging as an 8+ (47% rated it a 10).
  • 91% rated their sense of purpose as an 8+ (52% rated a 10).
  • 71% say they are more productive working remotely. 6% report being less productive.
  • 50% say they are working more hours than pre-pandemic. 37% report their workload is unchanged. Note: When factoring in commute time, people work less total hours.
  • 91% prefer working from home with 6% preferring to work from the office (0% reported wanting to work from the office 100% of the time).

Gardner researchers highlight in their report that the there is some demographic skewing in their sample set when compared to overall state data.

They note the survey sample overrepresents respondents with higher education and income levels and underrepresents respondents with lower education and income levels compared to the total population of Utah families with children under 12. Additionally, female respondents, older respondents (35-44 and 45-54), and white respondents are disproportionately represented in the survey sample relative to the comparable Utah population. Data has been weighted to slightly better represent the educational background of the comparable Utah population, but it does not approximate the Utah population. Data should be considered with these limitations in mind, particularly since work and child care preferences differ for respondents with lower incomes.