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Feature: workplace childcare

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With more and more parents going out to work, often out of necessity rather than choice, affordable and more importantly, reliable and safe childcare is becoming an increasingly important issue. Rachael Squire, Workplace Consultant at Principio, the workplace solutions company, looks at the options available and the benefits and considerations of implementing a workplace childcare facility.

For most parents, there are two childcare options. Paying for their children to attend a nursery or hiring a registered childminder, or alternatively handing over childcare responsibility to grandparents or a good friend. Yet both options have drawbacks.

The first option is often expensive and there is the worry of finding someone you trust to look after your children.

The second option is free but has recently come under some criticism following a Government report which revealed that children who were left in the unpaid care of a friend or relative did not develop as quickly as those who attended a nursery.

One solution, that is often overlooked, is workplace childcare, which despite offering multiple benefits for both parents and employers is still not widely available in the UK. A recent survey from Principio, that questioned 100 working parents across a variety of industry sectors, found that the majority of employers (90%) do not provide an onsite childcare facility, despite 80% of employees saying that workplace childcare would help to improve their quality of life.

Many companies are reluctant to consider implementing an onsite childcare facility for fear of high running costs, stringent certification, and health and safety requirements. Yet, such costs are often outweighed by the benefits that onsite childcare can provide.

What are the benefits of workplace childcare?

Firstly, the provision of a nursery at the workplace will help take away the worry from parents of having to find a reliable childcare facility themselves, which can only help to increase happiness levels at work and therefore also positively impact motivation and productivity levels.

In addition, a nursery can aid retention as it can encourage employees to return to work for their company after having a child, rather than taking their valuable skills elsewhere or simply feeling that balancing childcare and work would be too difficult. An onsite childcare facility may also help attract new staff.

Running a workplace childcare nursery can also bring financial benefits for both staff and the organisation through a reduction in National Insurance contributions. There are also opportunities to apply for additional grants and finance aid, depending on your organisation’s location and financial situation.

Setting up a nursery should not be hasty decision for HR departments as there are many considerations to be taken into account. However, with the right support, setting up an onsite childcare facility is not as onerous and difficult as it first appears.

Key issues when planning a workplace childcare facility

The main considerations for an organisation are demand, costs and space and these must be looked at carefully to ensure that an onsite childcare solution is feasible. Companies, such as Principio, work with organisations to gather information to help determine if there is a business case for workplace childcare. Before helping a client design, construct, fit-out and run a nursery or crèche, we will ask the following questions:

Do you have the demand to run a nursery cost effectively?
A nursery is not always a viable option for a small company since a minimum of 24 children is normally required in order for it to be cost effective. However, if you have the option of running a company crèche and a nursery alongside each other and operating them together financially, the nursery could be smaller.

Do you have the space?
There are Ofsted standard space requirements governing the differing age ranges of children attending the nursery so you need to ensure you have enough room before you even consider implementation. As a rough estimate, you should allocate a minimum of 140 square metres for a standard 24-place nursery. And if you are setting up a nursery, you also need to consider a playground area, which ideally should be allocated externally and be in close and safe proximity to the nursery.

Do you have the funds available?
Cost is of course an important consideration and you will need to ensure that your organisation has the funds to undertake the construction, refurbishment and fitting out of the nursery. If you plans to fully subsidise the workplace nursery, funds need to be available for running the facility bearing in mind that you need to keep the cost of childcare for staff affordable and within the average local nursery rates. You may choose to subsidise the nursery costs for your staff, which is not only a very attractive staff benefit but it will also help you fill the nursery spaces.

Are there enough skilled staff available locally to run the nursery?
There is currently a high demand for qualified and reliable nursery staff so before you consider a crèche or nursery you need to look at the availability of local labour. The number and type of staff required to operate your nursery will be dependent on the number of children and their age ranges.

Are you willing to be flexible?
As well as providing good quality, reasonably priced childcare, your nursery should also be aligned with your organisational culture and goals. Since your company goals and values will undoubtedly change with time, your nursery should be flexibly designed so that it can evolve as your company progresses. Flexibility therefore needs to be a key part of your childcare policy and methods of operation.

Are you aware of the legislation involved?
You need to have a sound understanding of the legislation and standards in place to govern a childcare facility, which includes Ofsted requirements and health and safety legislation.

Are you committed to providing workplace childcare?
The introduction of a workplace childcare facility must be viewed as a long-term investment by your organisation. It is important to set expectations from the outset and ensure that your Board understands that it will take at least a year for the facility to be running at its optimum demand level and that financial benefits will not be measurable until the second or third year of running.

Just as introducing a childcare facility can help improve staff motivation, increase retention and improve recruitment and absenteeism rates, removing such a facility can act as a major demotivator for some staff.

Our research has shown that a better work-life balance is clearly becoming increasingly important for employees and childcare arrangements are a significant part of this. Although there are many considerations to take into account, the long-term benefits can be huge. Onsite childcare can help you develop a more contented, satisfied and productive workforce, and will portray your company as a forward-thinking organisation which acknowledges that individuals work best when they are able to achieve a balance between work and other aspects of their lives.

Related item
Family responsibilities still restrict careers

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