If there’s one thing working parents learned during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that it’s not enough to simply have a job—it’s important to work for an organization that understands and makes accommodations for the unique challenges parents face.
This is a truth the business world is coming to realize, particularly as new research shows how supporting working parents can positively impact a company’s bottom line. And some companies are offering that support in the form of benefits and perks.
But as a parent, you may not know the full extent of what you could be looking for in your job search or what you can and should be advocating for at your current company. We’re not just talking vacation days or 401(k) planning here. We’re talking benefits and perks that go beyond the basics and actually make working and parenting easier to juggle.
Here are eight benefits and perks that will help you—and your family—thrive.
1. Flexible Hours and Remote Work
Even before the pandemic, working parents ranked flexibility as one of their highest priorities when searching for a new job, with 94% saying that flexibility allowed them to be better parents overall.
“Employers must be understanding of the need working parents have for flexible schedules and their need to occasionally work from home,” says Lorna Borenstein, CEO/founder of Grokker, a wellness solutions company, and the author of It’s Personal: The Business Case for Caring. When you’ve got a sick kiddo, or a co-parent out of town, or any other number of parenting-related scheduling issues, that flexibility in hours and location can be invaluable. It can mean the difference between getting your work done on time or not at all.
Flexibility should be “woven into the fabric” of every company, Borenstein says, and as a prospective employee, you should ask not only whether an organization has flexible work schedules or work-from-home policies, but also about how current employees are taking advantage of them. If that second question is met with blank stares in an interview, it may just be a sign to you that whatever flexibility policy is written on paper doesn’t actually get used in practice. The same goes for every one of the benefits and perks on this list.
“The more people taking advantage of it the better, as it shows that it’s unlikely that people feel they are punished for working remotely or leaving the office early, which can often discourage people from using this benefit,” Borenstein says.
For those who want to make the case for flexible work arrangements to a possible or current employer, Borenstein suggests pointing to any number of recent studies and statistics that clearly outline not only the desire employees have for these types of arrangements, but also the business benefits (which include retention and productivity as well as reduced costs).
The broad work-from-home experiment the pandemic forced on many organizations has changed the starting point for negotiation. A Harvard Business School study showed that 81% of people who have been working from home through the COVID-19 pandemic are hoping to either continue working from home, or to negotiate a hybrid work schedule. In other words: You’re definitely not alone in seeking more flexibility from your workplace. And companies that want top talent will recognize that and find ways to provide it.
2. Paid Parental Leave
The United States is currently the only country among 41 OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and European Union countries that doesn’t require some form of paid parental leave. But even if the government doesn’t recognize the need for such benefits, some businesses are stepping up to offer them.
As of 2020, only about 21% of U.S. workers had access to paid family leave benefits, which include paid maternity and paternity leave. But that number is up from 14% in 2016, which shows businesses are beginning to take note of employee demands and desires surrounding paid parental leave. And it’s absolutely something working parents should be asking for and about.
“You’re not going to want to have to worry about how to pay the bills while on leave, or that you’ll need to return before you’re ready,” says time management and productivity coach Alexis Haselberger, a former HR professional. It’s not just about getting that leave, but also about what these policies say about the company culture, she says. “Parental leave policies that are generous and inclusive of same-sex families and bonding leave for non-primary parents tell you a lot about what the company values.”
3. Health Benefits for the Whole Family
When looking for a new job, it’s easy to be swayed by seemingly great health coverage. But if you’re a parent looking for coverage for your partner and/or children, you need to pay close attention to the fine print on those health plans, Haselberger says.
“Lots of companies tout their benefits as generous because they pay 100%,” she says. “Then you find out they only pay 100% for the employee and you’re stuck footing the bill for your family, which can get pricey, fast.”
A lack of coverage for dependents can tell you a lot more about a company than just its taste in insurance plans, Haselberger says. It may mean they don’t have a lot of other parents on staff, which reduces the likelihood that they’ll be understanding of, and responsive to, the needs of working parents.
Find jobs at companies that offer health, dental, and vision insurance (and make sure you check the details on family coverage)
4. College Savings Assistance
One stressor many modern parents face is figuring out how to save and pay for their kids’ college educations. A 529 college savings plan is a government-sponsored account that offers tax advantages for money you set aside to use for future school expenses—but only about a third of American adults know what it is.
“Facilitating payroll deduction along with an employer match to 529 college savings plans is an extremely valuable financial wellness benefit for those employees with future students in their life, and also for those employees who wish to further their own education,” says Patricia Roberts, JD, chief operating officer of Gift of College and author of Route 529: A Parent’s Guide to Saving for College and Career Training with 529 Plans.
Roberts has spent over two decades helping families save for higher education, and she says businesses can provide the foundation for those savings. Yet only 11% of U.S. employers facilitate payroll deduction into 529 plans and only 2% go a step further and match employee 529 savings, according to the 2019 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Employee Benefits Survey.
If you’re a prospective or current employee who would like to convince your employer to offer college savings assistance, Roberts suggests reminding companies that it’s an easy and low-cost benefit to set up and maintain, particularly because nearly every state has a 529 plan provider that can help at little or no cost. You may also want to remind potential employers that those who offer 529 plans as a voluntary benefit differentiate themselves among the competition and stand out as companies worth working for.
5. Student Loan Repayment Assistance
“Many working parents are weighed down by student loan debt and, as a result, cannot properly save for retirement and/or for their children’s education,” Roberts says. “Student loan debt adversely impacts many areas of an employee’s life and creates stress for the employee and employee’s family.”
Finding a company willing to help you pay down those debts can ease a lot of that burden. And there’s good news all around: Providing student loan repayment assistance is almost as beneficial to employers as it is to employees. Employers can now contribute up to $5,250 to employee student loans as a tax-deductible business expense—a fact that Roberts suggests mentioning when you advocate for this benefit in job offer negotiations or with your current employer. These employer contributions are also excluded from employees’ personal income tax responsibility—meaning they are tax-free for you.
6. Childcare Stipends
It’s becoming increasingly common for top organizations to offer working parents stipends to help pay for childcare, Borenstein says.
“Childcare stipends usually come in the form of a voucher that can be used for preschool or day care,” she says. “Ideally this will be offered in addition to a parent’s yearly salary, not as something that’s taken out of the yearly salary, which can really be seen as kind of like a parenting penalty.”
The lack of affordable and accessible childcare is an ongoing problem so many working parents face. When a company offers this type of benefit, they are telling you they welcome and value working parents on their team.
7. Emergency Day Care
As a working parent, the prospect of losing your childcare at the last minute can be a huge source of stress, particularly if it happens on the same day you need to do important work, Borenstein says, whether that’s meeting a crucial deadline or giving a big presentation.
Maybe a child gets sick and can’t go to school. Or perhaps the nanny doesn’t show up or the school district calls a snow day. Whatever the reason may be, the unexpected loss of childcare can put working parents in a bind really quickly.
That’s where emergency day care could come in handy. Companies can pay to have certain childcare agencies on retainer so that parents can call on them at the last minute if needed, just as a school might turn to a substitute teacher.
Offering employees access to last-minute help “gives them the reassurance that they will have childcare coverage at those crucial times,” Borenstein says. “This should be a no-brainer for organizations as it obviously helps employees to be more present in their job and show up fully when it’s most important.” And of course, it gives parents the peace of mind that a childcare emergency won’t derail their workday.
8. A Culture of Parenting Loudly
“This is not your typical benefit, but it is possibly the most crucial one,” Borenstein says. “Parenting loudly means not hiding the fact that you’re a parent. It means being open about a child’s doctor’s appointment, soccer game, whatever it is.”
It may not be a formal program, but it goes to the heart of an organization’s culture. So as you go through the interview process, you may want to pay attention to (and in some cases ask questions about) things like:
- How many members of the senior leadership team are parents?
- Are they taking advantage of flexible work arrangements?
- Are they open about the struggles they face as parents and the needs they have as they try to juggle the demands of their personal and professional lives?
- What examples can your interviewers share about specific times/ways the organization has supported working parents?
A study from child-care provider Bright Horizons found that 41% of organizations view moms as less devoted, and 72% of both working moms and dads agree that women are penalized in their careers for starting families.
“The only way that this can change is if men and women start parenting loudly and encouraging each other to do the same,” Borenstein says. So while parenting loudly may not be a literal benefit you can have written into your offer, it is one you can and should be searching and advocating for—whether you’re looking to improve the working conditions for parents at your current job or actively seeking a new position elsewhere.
If you’re job searching, you can filter for jobs only at companies that offer the benefits and perks you value most right here on The Muse. Regardless, make sure you’re doing your research (you can use these sources), paying attention to the spoken and unspoken signals you’re getting, asking questions, and negotiating for what you want and need.
“The best time to negotiate for individual benefits is after you’ve received an initial offer,” Haselberger says. “Even if these benefits aren’t offered company-wide, you may have flexibility to get them built into your comp plan. Because benefits are compensation too.”