Home Alone With Your Kids with Jennifer Vena

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Jennifer Vena of Bright Horizons

The Looming Challenge of Working Parents (And What Their Employers Should Do About It).

Since the start of the pandemic, a lot of working parents have been forced to juggle both their jobs and their kids at home at the same time. Now, this “temporary” situation is looking a little more permanent, and that could create a whole host of problems – from increased attrition to lower productivity to reversals in gender parity. Jennifer Vena of Bright Horizons joins us to talk about what employers can do for working parents to sidestep these issues. 


Chris Nelson [00:00:01] State your name, please.

Ava Nelson [00:00:01] Ava.

Chris Nelson [00:00:03] And who are you to me, Eva?

Ava Nelson [00:00:05] Your daughter?

Chris Nelson [00:00:06] Oh, that’s right, you are!

Ava Nelson [00:00:08] Ava is my oldest daughter and although she’s nine, she’s already mastered what I call the iron fist in the velvet glove. By that, she knows intuitively how to be tactful, but super candid at the same time.

Chris Nelson [00:00:21] How do you feel about how much mommy and daddy work when they’re at the house?

Ava Nelson [00:00:25] I don’t like it.

Chris Nelson [00:00:27] What don’t you like about it?

Ava Nelson [00:00:29] You guys take too many meetings and I want to hang out with you guys more at home.

Chris Nelson [00:00:36] Now, if you’re a parent working at home with school aged children who are also at home, then this story is probably familiar to you. The pandemic pushed families together and everyone, parents and kids included, was forced to adapt.

Chris Nelson [00:00:50] What do you think we would need to do to be able to work better at the house and still take care of you?

Ava Nelson [00:00:56] You could schedule some special times to like, hang out with us and be able to come and talk.

Chris Nelson [00:01:02] We don’t do that enough?

Ava Nelson [00:01:04] You don’t do it enough.

Chris Nelson [00:01:07] We told ourselves we could do it because, well, this couldn’t last forever.

Chris Nelson [00:01:13] The first wave would subside. Schools would put mitigation strategies in place, and by fall, kids could return to school safely and we could spend less time making snacks and more time doing our jobs. Well, it’s fall now in many workplaces aren’t allowing their people back. Some school boards are still fighting with teachers unions over proper safety measures. And several school districts have had to close their facilities because of a spike in cases. So that thing we all put up with because, well, couldn’t go on indefinitely.

Chris Nelson [00:01:43] Yeah, it’s going to go on indefinitely.

Chris Nelson [00:01:48] And according to our guest on this podcast, companies and our leaders ignore this problem at their peril. Already, there’s tons of op eds on the subject. The Atlantic had a headline that actually read This is unsustainable for working parents. But Jennifer Vena says it doesn’t have to be that way if employers are prepared to embrace some new thinking. Jennifer is the VP of consulting services at Bright Horizons, the largest provider of employer supported child care in America. She joins us today at The Nexus.

Chris Nelson [00:02:22] The Nexus, a place where people converge and connect. On this podcast we look at the things that are changing the way all of us do our jobs. We’re going to take a quick peek into the minds of those people who are helping us change: scientists, our leaders and experts in human performance. I’m Chris Nelson.

Chris Nelson [00:02:41] Jennifer, thank you for making the time to chat with us. I really appreciate it.

Jennifer Vena [00:02:44] Happy to be here.

Chris Nelson [00:02:46] You are sheltering in place with your children. Yes?

Jennifer Vena [00:02:49] Yes.

Chris Nelson [00:02:51] And how is that going for you personally?

Jennifer Vena [00:02:54] It’s the first time in my life that I’m happy that I’m old because my youngest is 16, so it’s much easier for me than it is for others. But I really feel for the millions of working parents who are trying to spend their days juggling the younger children, because it just cannot be easy to try to work with really little ones who need constant supervision or even the middle school school age ones who need activities that need to be kept busy.

Jennifer Vena [00:03:21] And we all know, no matter how fabulous your children are when they’re together for a long period of time, they are going to have some bickering. So there’s going to be some refereeing that needs to happen as well.

Chris Nelson [00:03:33] My two daughters, they cling to me like barnacles when I’m here in the house. So, yeah, this has been the ultimate experiment in patting my head and rubbing my stomach at the same time.

Jennifer Vena [00:03:43] Yeah, well, I’m part of what’s, I think really challenging. We’re calling it the double shift.

Jennifer Vena [00:03:49] Parents really are having to mix their typical workday with caregiving, family time and and work, which means that they’re on again late at night. And that’s why they’re burning out, because there is just no time for themselves in time to rejuvenate.

Chris Nelson [00:04:06] For those companies who maybe are a little bit less willing to acknowledge these challenges, they at least have to acknowledge that there are some real economic and business implications for parents working with their children.

Jennifer Vena [00:04:19] What we’ve heard most recently from our clients is that they are now seeing resignations come in.

Jennifer Vena [00:04:26] Parents are saying, I can’t do this if there’s no school, I cannot continue to work. So we’re seeing a drastic impact in the talent pool in terms of people being able to stay employed. One study found that 13 percent of working parents had to either quit or reduce their hours due to the lack of childcare already during this time with school potentially not going back. And the other impact we’re seeing is the potential impact on women’s careers in particular. So we’re seeing that there are a higher percentage of women who have had to quit their job or reduce their hours. And then that leads to just long term implications for careers or for the gender wage gap issues, all the strides and progress we’ve made over so many years just starting to slide backwards because of this.

Chris Nelson [00:05:13] Do you get the sense that companies are starting to recognize that and leaning into solutions?

Chris Nelson [00:05:18] And if they have, what are they doing early on to sort of address it?

Jennifer Vena [00:05:22] One of the things I think companies can do quickly and without any real cost involved is to engage their people managers, to have their supervisors reach out to their direct reports and have one-on-one conversations about how they are doing as individuals and what supports they need in order to manage whatever is going on in their home.

Jennifer Vena [00:05:46] We did a well-being survey years ago. We started one with our organization which asked employees, how are you as a person? And we asked them, how are you doing financially? How are you doing physically? How are you doing personally, emotionally? And what we found was just by asking that question, people felt much better about the organization, about coming to work, about their feeling engaged and valued as part of the organization, because we showed we cared. So really, starting out being a caring organization is critical.

Jennifer Vena [00:06:18] How you treat your employees during this pandemic and during these times will have long lasting effects for an organization.

Chris Nelson [00:06:25] Amongst those companies that are sort of recognizing this as a problem, they need to address what are some of the more interesting and progressive things that you’re seeing them do?

Jennifer Vena [00:06:33] I think what’s become apparent to employers is that it is very beneficial for them to control the supply of child care. So the National Association for the Education of Young Children, which is the organization that sets quality standards for the country for child care, their research showed that 40 percent of child care centers are likely not to reopen following the pandemic. And so that is leaving parents with very few choices of child care for their young children. And if you are an employer who has control over that supply, meaning you have your own work site, child care center, or you purchase spaces in an existing center that you can make available for your employees only then you have a better chance of supporting them, being able to return to work, be their most effective at work, most productive for you. And we’ve done research going back 15, 20 years, got data back that proves that it helps retain employees and recruit employees. And one of our best statistics was eighty-six percent of female managers said that access to the child care center helped them advance their career because it provides them with that high quality, stable care that allows them to focus, be productive and be able to go after what they want in the workforce in terms of their career.

Chris Nelson [00:07:49] Jennifer, that’s great for companies who will see their people return to work. But I’m wondering about those working parents who will be home with their kids for the foreseeable future.

Jennifer Vena [00:08:00] You can support your school agers in two ways.

Jennifer Vena [00:08:05] So we have formed partnerships with three basically tutoring agencies that are going to be providing small group care in groups of 10 for children to bring their own devices and do their own virtual schooling there through supervision. So someone will be there to help them make sure they get on their courses, make sure they get their homework done, and then provide additional activities to fill the day. So that’s a place parents can take their children. And then for at home care, we have a service that will help them either self-source a nanny or caregiver to come in and supervise that care and also create what we’re calling learning pods, which allows them to partner. Maybe you get three other parents from your school and the four of you share one person and you either pick one home to go to every day or maybe you rotate homes.

Chris Nelson [00:08:50] Obviously, all of these particular plans come with a dollar attached. Are companies coming up with interesting ways to funded subsidize it? What are they doing in terms of helping working parents address that particular challenge?

Jennifer Vena [00:09:03] Well, it depends on the options and employers right now. Our choosing to subsidize that about seventy-five percent and that parents are paying twenty-five percent, realizing that for most parents, if they’re using public school, this is an additional cost that is not part of their regular budget.

Chris Nelson [00:09:18] Some companies see the idea of addressing child care as a cost center and a cost center at a time when their revenues may be declining. What’s the argument you make to those particular employers that this is something that they need to address?

Jennifer Vena [00:09:32] The biggest argument would be without addressing it, they’re not going to get the most out of their people. They’re not going to get the productivity they need in order to get the work done. And they’re probably going to see attrition as people decide. They just cannot continue to juggle all of these responsibilities without support and either leave the workforce or look for somebody who will support them during these times.

Chris Nelson [00:09:57] We’ve had discussions with other individuals on this podcast about as much as the pandemic is a crisis for some, they’re seeing it as an opportunity. And in this particular case, it feels like the opportunity for companies to rethink how work and personal life commingle. Is that something that you’re seeing?

Jennifer Vena [00:10:15] So any survey we have ever done over I’ve been doing this for 30 years.

Jennifer Vena [00:10:19] Flexible work comes up as the top thing every employee wants because employees can use it for whatever reason in their life.

Jennifer Vena [00:10:28] They would like flexible work schedules, whether it’s to accommodate a workout to accommodate, again, children, family members, schooling, whatever it is that they’re interested in. And so many organizations who resisted remote working, allowing employees to work from home, either part of the time or all of the time weren’t given a choice, had to allow it.

Chris Nelson [00:10:52] Just to summarize, what you’re saying is companies need to lean in to working parents needs, they need to pay attention to all the things that they’re juggling and in all likelihood, recognize and acknowledge the fact that the cost of supporting working parents, although it could potentially be high, is still less than the cost of doing nothing.

Jennifer Vena [00:11:15] Yeah. So parents need support or they cannot be their most effective, even if they’re working from home.

Chris Nelson [00:11:22] Jennifer, I want to thank you for making the time. This has been a really great conversation.

Jennifer Vena [00:11:26] Thank you for inviting me. I was happy to be here and have this conversation.

Ava Nelson [00:11:33] If you’re an employer who wants to provide unique child care solutions to your people, Bright Horizons might have something for you. You can find Bright Horizons dot com and be sure to check out their podcast. Teach. Play. Love. available now wherever you get your podcasts. And if you’re looking for other neat ways to support your people, let Nexus Communications help. They’ve been helping companies for more than 20 years with industry-leading strategies, programs and products. And my dad works there! You can find them at Nexus Communications dot com. That’s N E X U S Communications dot com. I’m Ava, thanks for listening.

Colette [00:12:18] Wait! I want to keep going!

Chris Nelson [00:12:25] What’s your name?

Colette [00:12:26] Kalat.

Chris Nelson [00:12:27] And who are you to me?

Colette [00:12:29] Your daughter.

Chris Nelson [00:12:30] And how do you feel about how much mommy and daddy work when they’re at home?

Colette [00:12:37] I think you work fine.

Episode 3