How On-Site Childcare Can Transform a Workplace (and the Employees in it)

For 33 years, Patagonia has offered their employees in-office childcare.

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While Australians continue to debate the “double dipping” parental benefit scenario more emphatically than George Costanza, there are institutions that are well and truly versed in the importance of supporting working parents (these forward-thinking co-working spaces are an example). Another such veteran company is Patagonia.

For over three decades, the outdoor clothing company has provided top-notch childcare to the kids of their California-based employees with their on-site facility Ventura, where trained teachers focus learning outdoors and children and parents often lunch together.

When it comes to the positive outcomes of the scheme within Patagonia, the numbers don’t lie: for mothers who’ve had children in the previous five years, 100% have returned to work, compared to the national average of 79%. Not only that, but this obvious recognition of values of working families has had a staggeringly equalising effect on gender representation in management roles: women currently make up 50% of Patagonia’s senior leaders.

An important distinction is that on-site childcare wasn’t born out of the wave that seems to be crashing on every up-and-coming company’s shore regarding work perks. There was no shouting about ‘we have Finish-Early-Fridays!’ or ‘Bring-Your-Dog-to-Work’ initiatives: it was just a tangible, important way to value their staff and their lives outside of work. It was a way for founder Yvon Chouinard and wife Malinda to support their staff.

Perhaps most interestingly is that the school, which costs approximately US$1 million per year to run, recoups 91% of its costs through fees paid by the parents, retention, tax breaks and employee productivity and, in the wider consideration of the company itself, only costs Patagonia .005%.

Other companies globally are recognising the positive impact assisted childcare can have on retention and recruitment. Goldman Sachs has a similar arm to their company – in 2003, the investment firm opened London’s first (and still, only) on-site childcare facilities, initially offering their employees 20 days free childcare a year. Now, they offer free use of the nursery for four weeks following parental leave and full-time options are available to any that are having a hard time sourcing childcare externally. They’ve also rolled out such strategies in their New York and Tokyo offices.

“It lets you be the kind of parent you want to be,” head of Patagonia’s venture fund Phil Graves, who has his own three daughters at the facility, has said about Ventura.

And doesn’t the support to be the type of parent you want to be give you the space to be the type of employee you want to be?

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