Holly PennebakerApril 22, 2021
Topics: Employee Experience

Connecting with Care: How Employers Can Better Support Working Parents

This recap covers the April 15 episode of Talent Experience Live on KinderCare's approach to helping working parents succeed. Derek Murphy-Johnson, Senior Manager, Talent Attraction, KinderCare Education, tells Kindercare's secrets of providing support, sharing values (including diversity), and giving parents a voice.

"Executive Assistant" to their school-aged children.

That's what Derek Murphy-Johnson, Sr. Manager of Talent Attraction at KinderCare Education, dubs working parents' side job during the Covid-19 pandemic; more than a year managing their kids' virtual learning, meeting other family needs, and trying their best to accomplish the demands of their own career — all during the workday.

It sounds like a lot to handle...because it is. And with burn out on the rise, working parents need a new level of support from their employers to succeed.

Watch the full episode below for KinderCare's strategies of supporting parents in achieving healthy work-life integration, and read on for highlights!

Prioritizing People: Experiences, Resources and Communication

KinderCare has always been a people-first company, according to Murphy-Johnson. And during Covid-19, additional efforts have been natural extensions of its culture, philosophy, and "one-size-fits-one" approach to the employee experience.

“It’s work-life integration versus work-life balance,” he said. "We've created walking groups, we've created storytime for children, cooking with kids, and we've created parent groups for our employees to get together, if it's to celebrate or just to have the opportunity to talk to another adult."

And it's certainly making an impact.

KinderCare in 2021 won its fifth consecutive Gallup Exceptional Workplace Award for providing a caring, supportive work environment. Murphy-Johnson said KinderCare is one of only four companies that have won the award five times in a row. "This [award] is really based on the employees' feedback. 'Does my manager care about me? Do I have the opportunity for learning and development?' This award is specifically for employees, Murphy-Johnson.

KinderCare meets employees where they are individually to provide the right support and resource(s). One way they're doing this is by leveraging data to monitor participation numbers, connect with employees to understand their needs, and solicit frequent feedback.

The company also kept in touch with furloughed employees in 2020, at the height of the foundation with transparency and authenticity, and the help of its communications team. But the ambiguity and uncertainty of the pandemic made it difficult to send powerful messages to furloughed employees — there were no solid updates to share on a frequent basis.

"We wanted to make sure that they knew that KinderCare was still there and was still behind-the-scenes supporting them, working with pediatric medical experts and the CDC to create the first safety protocols in the Early Childcare Education space," Murphy-Johnson said. "As soon as we realized we were going to be closing, I immediately closed all of our positions, closed everything off of our career site, and we sent a message out to job seekers saying 'be safe — we don't know what this is going to look like.'"

Ultimately, maintaining relationships with furloughed employees would help bring them back to work when KinderCare's centers reopened.

RELATED: Talent Recovery Strategy Requires Culture Shifts as Benefits Take Back Seat

New Year, New Initiatives: Hiring in 2021

Hiring initiatives and processes will look much different for 2021 and over the coming years.

For now, as hiring has picked back up, the KinderCare team is sending out job openings and sharing employee stories with job seekers through email and text messaging, and successful hiring events, all via the Phenom platform, Murphy-Johnson said.

"Hiring events that we've been doing across the country … the most recent one out of Maryland, we had over 130 people register," he said. "And we made a lot of critical hires to support the Maryland market. The hiring events for us have been a game-changer because in one day we can hire 40-50 people, whereas in the recruiting process, that takes time … getting all the interviews lined up, getting the schedules aligned, the candidates aligned, and everything."

Phenom's TXM platform allowed KinderCare to share the event and then track the candidates. As the company prepares for the big spring hiring and the back-to-school seasons, it'll use the platform, as well as social media, to connect and engage with job seekers.

BLOG: The Future State of HR: The Top 10 Predictions for 2021

"Meeting them where they are is important," Murphy-Johnson said.

Candidates spend a lot of time on their phones, and even email has taken on a formal tone. KinderCare will use social media outreach, and work with colleges and trade schools to tell stories about the company being a great place to work.

The strategy is part of meeting new expectations of candidates when it comes to flexibility. They're likely not as able to sit down at their desktops to sort through numerous emails. Candidates will look for employers who can provide opportunities that align with the current culture and values.

VIDEO: How KinderCare is Getting Employees Back to Work

Work-Life Integration: A One-Size-Fits-ONE Approach

KinderCare values listening to its employees. "We don't know what the future looks like to be honest; we're deciding what that looks like, but it's not going to come from the top down," Murphy-Johnson said. "We're talking with our employees, and we want to hear from them. What's worked during the pandemic?"

He said virtual water coolers have worked well, as well as other chances for people to get together like virtual yoga.

"We realize we don't have to go back to a brick-and-mortar office permanently, full-time," Murphy-Johnson said. "One thing is certain: we're going to continue to listen to our employees and make the right decision that meets them where they're at."

KinderCare has hundreds of locations across 40 states, so remote work isn't possible for these childcare centers. Nonetheless, the company has taken serious steps to ensure a healthy, safe environment for students and educators. Engaging with pediatric medical experts helped KinderCare make sure everyone is protected at each center. It took guidelines and agility, according to Murphy-Johnson. He said the Centers Operations Team and the Healthy and Safety Team worked around the clock to get pertinent information updated as needed.

The Employee Experience team designed interactive tools to aid teachers in explaining health guidelines to kids and families, like why students would have to wear masks and why they shouldn't be scared of teachers wearing protective face coverings. It was important to fully communicate with parents throughout the pandemic.

"We created a health and safety champion in every single location that had to go through healthy and safety training, and have ... ongoing involvement in the health and safety updates as Covid shifts," Murphy-Johnson said. “We're in lockstep with our medical experts and we're continuously looking at the revised CDC guidelines just to make sure that everybody in our center is safe.”

What Else Can Companies Do to Support Working Parents?

"We're all scared, we're all stressed, we don't know what's going on … things are getting better as vaccines become more readily available … and it's an ongoing process at KinderCare," Murphy-Johnson said.

He said KinderCare uses data to learn a lot about its employees: finding out what works, what they really like, etc.

"Resources for childcare are critical," Murphy-Johnson said. "Anybody that has kids knows that childcare is expensive, so whatever the employer can do to help take away that burden from their employees is just going to give that employee confidence that their employer is there for them through whatever hurdles life throws at them."

KinderCare gives deep childcare discounts to their employees, holds listening sessions, and town halls. Peace of mind is powerful for working parents during and after then pandemic, and KinderCare is doing all it can to provide just that.

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