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Many working parents, hit hard by the stresses of the pandemic-spurred shift to remote work last year, are starting to throw in the towel because of concerns they will lose schedule flexibility and face potential exposure to Covid-19 as companies make back-to-office plans.

Almost half of U.S. families surveyed by Cleo have seen one or both parents leave the workforce, reduce their hours or take a leave of absence because of lack of access to full-time childcare and the need to help their kids with remote learning.

Parents make up 40 percent of the U.S. workforce, according to Cleo, a family-benefits platform for employers.

The survey found that 40 percent of all working parents still intend to make a job change, while 54 percent of Black women and 48 percent of Black men plan to quit.

Childcare is a factor crucial to determining whether parents remain in the workforce, the poll found. It’s the benefit most requested by parents, though less than a fifth of working families have access to childcare through their employer.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has brought all workers — in particular parents — to a tipping point and accelerated trends that may have otherwise been years, if not decades, away from becoming the norm,” Cleo said in the study.

Flexibility, inclusion are key

Still, organizations have the power to retain these workers, the survey found.

“Companies that make parents feel included and supported are better positioned to retain top talent. Parents that feel included are 41 percent less likely to leave — and for working moms, in particular, it’s even more critical,” Cleo noted in the report.

Along with inclusion, working parents need flexibility in their work schedule and location if employers want to retain them, the study said

“Half of all working parents have benefitted from new, more flexible schedules during the pandemic and aren’t ready to give that up,” Cleo said. “Amid the return to office life in tandem with in-person school, exposure to Covid is parents’ top concern, followed closely by a lack of flexibility.

“Over a third of parents planning to leave their job cite flexibility as a major reason,” it added. “Working moms in particular value choice in how or if they return to office and aren’t waiting for answers. If a decision on return to office hasn’t been announced, they are the most likely to be planning their exit.”

Covid concerns

In addition to work-flexibility concerns, half of the parents polled also are worried about Covid-19 exposure for themselves and their children if they have to return to the office.

The stresses of the pandemic clearly are taking their toll on many families.

More than half of families surveyed revealed they are dealing with some type of pediatric health concern, a third of which is a neurodivergent or mental-health condition.

That’s more than twice as many as in September 2020, it said.

“We’re in a moment that calls for fundamental change in the approach to family benefits and the promise they deliver on,” Cleo said. “Family support must be anchored in consistency, proactive action, and understanding the range of experiences of working parents and parents-to-be.”

Cleo polled more than 1,500 working parents with children under 18.

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