With record-low levels of unemployment, businesses are finding it increasingly challenging to recruit qualified employees and retain quality talent. One solution many employers are turning to is establishing family-friendly policies that make working parents both happier and more productive.

From childcare assistance to sponsored volunteer days and flexible work schedules, programs that seek to help working parents balance their workplace and family responsibilities are becoming more common among employers, according to the new report “Promoting Family-Friendly Workplace Policies and Practices,” commissioned by First 5 LA and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

Yet, more needs to be done to support working parents. The report found that nearly half of employees regularly experience work-family conflict, particularly problems with childcare. Nationwide, nearly two million parents of children age 5 or younger had to quit, not take a job or greatly change their job due to childcare problems, with 200,000 parents impacted in California alone, the report found.

California was also singled out in the report as having a severe lack of quality, affordable childcare, with 62 percent of communities qualifying as “childcare deserts,” areas without any childcare options or so few that there are more than three children for every licensed childcare slot.

First 5 LA’s business initiative aims to increase awareness among employers of how work-life harmony policies can help both employers and employees, especially working parents. More than 70 percent of employed women are mothers of infants, pre-school and school-aged children, the report said.

“Business leaders play a key role in ensuring that our youngest children thrive,” said Kim Milliken Hayden, strategic partnerships specialist for First 5 LA. “They get it that investing in education is important for developing the workforce of the future, but we want them to see that investing in early childhood affects their bottom line now.”

Perhaps the biggest issue facing working parents and affecting employee performance is childcare. Childcare issues can lead to high absenteeism, as well as “presenteeism,” which occurs when employees are not fully engaged in their work due to worry over personal problems. This can also result in high employee turnover rates, which result in additional expenses. Onboarding a new employee costs about $4,000 in time and productivity, according to the Chamber-First 5 LA report.

A separate study by ReadyNation, a national early childhood advocacy organization, found that 86 percent of parents nationwide said that childcare issues affected their job performance, while more than 10 percent said they’d been fired, demoted or transferred over childcare issues.

The report noted that employers can help employees with childcare in numerous ways, including providing childcare at or near the work site or vouchers to help pay for the care; allowing employees to bring infants to work or referring them to community childcare resources; and offering flextime, which allows employees to work from home or in nontraditional schedules. Some companies also offer backup emergency care for employees when their regular care arrangement collapses, sick care for children and childcare over school vacations.

First 5 LA, for instance, continually reviews its workplace policies and practices to help meet the needs of its staff who are parents and caregivers. In addition to a private lactation room, diaper-changing tables in both the men’s and women’s restrooms, and managers empowered with the ability to use discretion when family emergencies occur, the organization recently instituted flexible scheduling so that staff can start their workday earlier or end later. This policy can help staff manage drop-off and pickup times for children in daycare or preschool. In addition, as part of its salary and benefit packages, First 5 LA pays 100 percent of the premiums for health, dental and vision benefits for employees and their families.

As part of its effort to inform employers of ways to better support working parents, First 5 LA participated in two recent business events: the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce’s BizCon, a daylong conference attended by representatives of large and small companies from around the region, and a Business Connection Reception, which gathered about 50 employers from around southwest Los Angeles and was sponsored by state Assemblymember Autumn Burke and ReadyNation.

“Taking care of our children is the best thing for our economy and the best thing for the future,” said Director of ReadyNation California Susan Bonilla at the reception, which was held under the banner of “Early Childhood Is Everyone’s Business” and held at Los Angeles Southwest College.

The L.A. Area Chamber event, held at the Sheraton Universal City, featured the panel “L.A.’s Got Talent: Attracting and Retaining with Employee-Centered Strategies.” Business representatives shared ways their employers have benefitted from programs and policies that promote work-life harmony.

AT&T’s Ursula Moran said that at her company managers reduce childcare issues by allowing employees to work from home or on schedules organized around family responsibilities, as long as they meet goals. AT&T’s Los Angeles External Affairs department was presented with the Chamber’s 2019 Excellence in Work-Life Harmony Award.

Other successful programs included allowing employees to volunteer for causes on company time, wellness efforts such as Kaiser Permanente’s free phone consultations with a nurse practitioner, and a Ralph’s Grocery Company program that pays for employees to continue their education in any subject they choose. Ralph’s slashed turnover by 54 percent in the three years after starting the program, said Tom Yeomans, district human resources manager.

First 5 LA’s Hayden said both events helped share powerful examples of how, in today’s tight labor market, employers can give themselves an edge in recruitment and retention of talent by implementing policies that help parents and caregivers balance their workplace and family responsibilities. While these polices can help businesses do well, it can also have long-term benefits for children. “It’s a win-win for businesses and kids,” she said. “Benefits that offer a work-life balance keep employees productive and employed, and they help create environments for families and children to flourish.”