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Childcare at Work

SIOP Member Discusses What Employers Should Know About On-Site Childcare

 
By Hannah Nusser, for SIOP
 
Often used as a tool to attract and retain a talented workforce, more than 20% of larger employers are now offering on-site or near-site childcare, according to a 2008 study by the Families and Work Institute. Considering the costly investment involved in creating such programs, SIOP member Prema Ratnasingam discusses why employers should take great care when developing on-site childcare.
 
Ratnasingam, a PhD student in industrial-organizational psychology at the University of Houston, recently conducted research to determine the effects of on-site childcare on employee job satisfaction and engagement. Ratnasingam will present her findings in a poster, “On-Site Childcare Benefits: Do Keeping Kids Close Help Employers?,” Saturday, April 16 from 12:30 to 1:20 p.m.at 2011 SIOP Annual Conference in Chicago.
 
Conducted in June 2009 with SIOP members William King, Cristina Rubino, Aleksandra Luksyte, and Christiane Spitzmueller (PhD), University of Houston, the study is the first to examine the conditions under which on-site childcare fosters positive work attitudes, Ratnasingam said.
 
With more than 25% of children 6 years old and younger raised in single-parent or dual-earner families, according to a 2010 study by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, today’s workplace is often faced with the demands of childcare. This is especially important to employers, as on-site childcare facilities can cost an organization millions of dollars to build and maintain, Ratnasingam said.
 
“Of course this study is relevant to today’s working environment because a large number of companies offer many family-friendly benefits, and on-site childcare is one of them,” Ratnasingam added.
 
The study took a sample of 143 public university employees who acknowledged using some form of childcare, whether on-site childcare or external childcare that is unaffiliated with the university. Participants completed a survey assessing their perceptions of their childcare provider and other work-related attitudes.
 
After comparing the attitudes of those using on- and off-site childcare, Ratnasingam was surprised to find that type of childcare—on-site or external—played no role in the job satisfaction or engagement of employees.
 
“The only thing I was surprised by was the users of the on-site childcare were not more engaged or satisfied than the external childcare users,” Ratnasingam said. “One would typically expect that the users of an on-site childcare program would be more engaged and satisfied with their jobs, according to social-exchange theories and the job demands-resources model of engagement.”
 
However, what does matter to employees is an organization’s quality of childcare and a family-supportive climate. The study shows on-site childcare users actually become disengaged and dissatisfied if they are not happy with the quality of the childcare provided and if they perceive their employer to be unsupportive of their family life. This, however, was not the case for external childcare users.
 
Although family supportive organizational perception (FSOP) has been studied since 2001, Ratnasingam said, this study is the first to examine how FSOP interacts with childcare use to influence work engagement and job satisfaction.
 
“So it seems that the users of the on-site childcare facility were more sensitive to the organization’s family climate and the organization’s quality of childcare services provided,” Ratnasingam added.
 
Work disengagement and job dissatisfaction have been linked to larger negative outcomes like absenteeism, turnover, low job performance, and loss of productivity, Ratnasingam said. Based on these research findings, she said, if employers plan to provide childcare to their employees, they should take great care in assuring a family-supportive climate throughout the organization.
 
Any kind of family-friendly initiative given by organizations should always be coupled with a compatible, supportive work environment,” Ratnasingam explained. “If you provide your employees with any type of family-friendly benefit but you do not genuinely support their family life, they may feel uncomfortable using those benefits, and just like in our study, they may become disengaged or dissatisfied.”
 
Ratnasingam said this study can help human resource professionals and corporate managers to decide whether or not an organization should invest in on-site childcare facilities.
 
“And not just that,” Ratnasingam added, “but if they do intend to invest in childcare, they should note that it’s not just providing employees with a benefit that can potentially attract or retain them but making sure that the peripheral things, like the climate they cultivate, are compatible with that benefit.”
 
Before employers make the commitment to invest in childcare, Ratnasingam said, they should have substantial literature confirming its potential benefits. However, prior studies involving childcare have resulted in ambiguous or inconsistent results, she said. Past research has tended to bundle childcare use with other family-friendly practices like maternity leave and other subsidies. Ratnasingam said she hopes her study will not only add to the literature but also foster more research on the subject.
 
“I hope this study sparks continued attention and interest among researchers to investigate the effectiveness of on-site childcare with regard to other outcomes, such as, absenteeism, employee productivity, and turnover,” Ratnasingam said.