It’s no secret that the restaurant industry has an employee turnover problem, which has only been exacerbated in the post-pandemic era. While larger paychecks, improved scheduling, and comprehensive healthcare are all pieces of the puzzle for solving the labor crisis, childcare is the issue business owners are not talking about or addressing enough, not only within the restaurant industry, but across many business sectors.
The Texas Restaurant Association aims to address the issues facing parents who work in the restaurant industry with the formation of its new Employers for Childcare Task Force, which will brainstorm and help educate employers on options and solutions both at regional and federal government levels, and within companies themselves.
In 2021, Best Places For Working Parents surveyed 852 working parents across Texas and asked them what it would take to get them back into the workforce post-COVID: 80% said they would leave their current job for another if they had better family support. Many of these workers affected by COVID-era mass workforce dropout are women. Of the women that dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic, 73% said they would have stayed if they had access to workplace flexibility. According to Sara Redington, cofounder of Best Places for Working Parents, the wish list of workplace benefits for working parents includes scheduling flexibility, paid time off, financial assistance, remote work, parental leave, and childcare.
Despite the very real needs of working parents, Redington said that according to their research, just 13% of the businesses in their network offer childcare benefits.
“Right before COVID hit, we couldn't have foreseen how relevant this conversation would become, as we saw COVID driving down women's labor force participation rate to an all-time low,” Redington said during the virtual kickoff event for the Teas Restaurant Association’s Employers for Childcare Task Force. “Today, we've actually seen that [workforce participation rate] spike beyond where we started before COVID, and we see that family-friendly business practices are helping lead that trend.”
Part of the goal for the new Texas Restaurant Association taskforce is to help convince employers of not only the benefits for working parents, but also for their own business practices, which lose $23 billion annually in productivity costs due to childcare challenges faced by their employees. For example, American Airlines offers a $5,000 pre-tax FSA fthat can be used for childcare by the company’s pilots and flight attendants and the company’s turnover rate for those positions is 19-20 years, which American Airlines attributes partially to this benefit.
“In 2020 and 2021, we saw a shift in the perspective of childcare as a workforce issue,” Aaron Menchen, senior director of early childhood education policy and programs at the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, said. “It was a generational shift that would usually take decades and happened in a matter of months. Childcare was an upfront issue. Everyone from CEOs to essential workers didn’t know where to take their children, and they didn’t know whether they could even have their kids on camera for meetings.”
Thus began a slow uptick of companies and local governments offering childcare solutions, like Texas Mutual Insurance Company, which in 2018, decided to use the extra space in a new building to create a childcare center for employees and has recently expanded it because they had kids on the waiting list.
State governments are also implementing programs to help fund and supplement childcare costs. Michigan has a program where the cost for childcare is split into thirds: the state pays for one-third, the employer pays for one-third, and the parent pays for the final third of childcare costs. Kentucky, meanwhile, offers a childcare program that incentivizes employers by offering to match the costs of whatever financial support the company offers to parents for their childcare costs.
However, many of these sponsored solutions are geared toward traditional corporate jobs. While an office park might be able to devote a floor or two to childcare space, restaurants would not be able to do that. Additionally, while employers might be able to offer their employees flexible, hybrid work schedules so that they can stay home part of the time with children, restaurant employees don’t have that luxury.
“It is different for restaurants and hospitality,” Redington said. “What we’ve seen in that industry is that when you can't do flexibility, predictability is a more doable version of flexibility. Server schedules are usually published the night before for the week ahead, so if restaurants could post that schedule two weeks in advance, their employees would be better able to arrange for childcare, and it just becomes a gamechanger.”
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