The daycare crisis is everywhere, and it’s especially acute in Berlin where parents are desperately looking for placements. Fewer and fewer are able to lock down daycare options, many have to wait several months. This results in parents resorting to temporary solutions like reducing their working hours, hiring babysitters, and often not being able to return to work as planned. This not only causes severe problems for them personally, it affects their whole workplace.
How we tackle this at Babbel
At Babbel, we're deep in this development. With 700 employees and an average age of 32, we’ve already got 100 parents among our ranks. Being such a big company, and holding diversity as one of our core values, we‘ve sought to address the childcare challenge through benefits like flexible working hours and an on-site family room. But since 2018, the problem in Berlin has worsened considerably, with a shortage of approximately 3,000 spots for children under the age of three.
In early 2018 a group of Babbel parents formed a group to share tips and support each other. The group had a very specific problem: everyone in it needed a childcare spot. It was immediately apparent that creativity was in order. The family room wasn’t going to suffice and there was no way an on-site Babbel childcare operation could be up and running as quickly as this group needed. So we decided to look for other temporarily solutions.
Babbel’s current solution
As an interim solution, we entered into cooperation with two co-working spaces that offer child care: juggleHUB and Le Box. Babbel employees can book a spot spontaneously when there is a childcare strike or the “tagesmutter” is sick, for example. They can also make use of the space on a regular basis for limited timeframes, for example, if a parent would like to return from parental leave but does not yet have childcare locked in, or if they’d like to work hours that their childcare can’t accommodate. Katja Thiede and Silvia Steude from JuggleHUB gave a presentation in our office and answered questions from parents interested in this offer. (picture)
We also provide a childcare arrangements for extreme cases. Currently, we are cooperating with two childcare providers who offer occasional care for a monthly fee.
The process of setting up official child care solutions at Babbel has been incredibly rewarding, not just for us in HR, but for the whole company.
Here are my top 7 tips to offer child care solutions that really make a difference:
1. Identify the need and don’t over-promise
Don’t assume the solution that seems most attractive to you will actually serve parents. Ask your team members first. Also, childcare spots are rare – don’t over-promise. But be present for parents, show you care, and offer advice. That’s the first step.
We began the process of setting up childcare solutions with a questionnaire sent to all parents. The goal was to identify actual needs. The results surprised us: Over 50% of the parents were struggling with a lack of childcare, many of them despite having a childcare spot lined up. Many complained about being forced to take holidays when the childcare center was closed. We realised not finding childcare after parental leave is actually just one of several challenges working parents have to face. So we changed our approach, to identify different solutions.
2. Get the buy-in of the CEO
Get a mentor from the management team on board to speed things up.
We were lucky enough to get the buy-in of our CEO, Markus Witte, right from the start. He saw the need to do something and instantly supported the process of setting up official initiatives to tackle the problem. Obviously, this helped to speed up the process. We also got official support from our Director of Didactics, Miriam Plieninger, who took the initiative under her wing.
3. Involve all stakeholders
Even though we were lucky to have a CEO that cared deeply, involving and getting the support of all stakeholders is – as with almost any project – a crucial factor in pushing things internally. I was pleasantly surprised by all the support we got from everyone I contacted. It’s not just parents, colleagues without children were very aware of the difficulties as well.
The difficulties in setting up new initiatives like this often come from a lack of clarity around responsibilities. Who is leading the project? Which departments need to be involved? Where does the money come from? We in HR led the project, but we cooperated with many different departments, like office management, legal, finance, and so on, so that the budget got shared across several departments.
4. Look for partners
As with everything: Don’t try to reinvent the wheel – unless that becomes absolutely necessary. I started to do a lot of research, looked for best practises and inquired within my network. That’s how I found the coworking spaces juggleHUB and Le Box. Both were founded not long ago, in reaction to the high demand for workplace childcare.
I also started talking to companies that offer babysitting services, as well as providers that are helping companies to set up an in-house childcare. So don’t worry, you don’t have to set it all up yourself.
5. Don’t forget the older kids
I created use cases based on the questionnaire we sent around, to determine which offers to add to our portfolio. That was when I noticed that we hadn’t discussed any solutions for older children – ages 5 and above. These kids don’t fit into the co-working child care or other childcare solutions.
Even though you expect older kids to be able to entertain themselves for a certain amount of time, it’s also a challenge to take care of a six or ten year old while working. We found that a family-friendly culture and good examples go a long way. At Babbel, seeing kids hanging out in the kitchen or the leisure area is not unusual. The family room also helps provide a setting that makes bringing your child to work easier.
6. Expect to affect the whole company
We didn’t foresee it, but maybe we should’ve: This process is important for everyone.
It wasn’t just parents expressing appreciation; our email inbox was hit with a barrage of positive feedback from co-workers who did not have children. It made them proud to work at Babbel, and one deemed it the most meaningful initiative in recent years. Doing something for parents affects the whole company. It matters. For everyone.
It also helps in recruiting. Since Babbel is recruiting not only in Germany but the whole world, supporting our parents has a huge impact when it comes to getting the attention of international professionals, especially in fields where we compete with lots of other startups, and for more senior roles, for which candidates often already have children.
It exemplifies how initiatives that really touch people's lives are the most warmly welcomed.
7. Make long term plans
Babbel now employs a team of 700 people, and we’re still growing. Next year we’ll be moving to a new office, and we are already collaborating with external providers to set up an in-house mini childcare facility.
I believe it’s important for HR to focus on initiatives that have the potential to change the lives of employees for the better. Nice perks like fruits and free drinks or even just more money -- these are not really what it’s going to be about. 91% of young employees with children say family-friendliness is just as important as their salary.*