Meghan Mitchell is a busy mom to twin four-year-old girls. She and her husband both work full time, and she's responsible for getting her girls to and from day care each day. What makes that job a little easier is that Mitchell works at the corporate headquarters of Home Depot in Atlanta. The retailer recently opened an onsite child care facility there that has space for 278 children. It's a benefit Mitchell is incredibly grateful for.

"It helps me to be more productive and just to have peace of mind while I'm at work, knowing that my girls are onsite," says Mitchell, Home Depot's senior manager of medical and health management. "They are at such an amazing place. They are part of our corporate culture, which is such a fun and supportive environment, and it takes the worry element out of my day because I know that they are in such a good place."

In 2009, Home Depot was looking at the spectrum of dependent care solutions. On one end, it considered national discounts for dependent care and at the other, onsite dependent care. Implementing onsite child care at the more than 2,000 Home Depot locations across the U.S. wasn't viable, but a child care facility at the corporate office in Atlanta - which houses 5,000 staff - was possible. In addition, the facility is open to all Home Depot employees in the Atlanta area, not just those who work at the head office.

 

Power of attraction

The child care center is a powerful differentiator, says Brant Suddath, director of benefits for Home Depot. Atlanta is home to several large employers, such as Coca-Cola, UPS and Emory University, all competing for the same talent. "This is another way to differentiate ourselves, to attract individuals to our organization," he says. "That's one of the reasons that [child-care center] helps us stay competitive."

Mitchell would agree. "When your kids are in day care, something you always try to find more of is time [with them]," she says. The ability to check up on her children throughout the day or have lunch with them in the company cafeteria "allows you to have more time with your children."

Both the dependent care hotline and onsite facility in Atlanta are operated by Bright Horizons, a national provider of employer-sponsored backup care and onsite child care.

The facility at the Home Depot is one of the largest corporate-sponsored child care centers in the Southeast, says Suddath. "We didn't just stick our toe in the water. We went big," he says. "We also have a summer camp or school-age program that will allow us to house an additional 48 children, so up to 326 children at any one time can be in the center and be a part of this program."

What Suddath finds interesting is the feedback he's received from employees who aren't even parents. "They are happy with the solution and don't even have children," he says. "This was another stake in the ground that says: 'We don't just talk the talk. We walk the talk.' ... We care about families, and we want them to feel comfortable when they come to work."

One of Home Depot's core values is "taking care of our people" and the child-care center exemplifies that core value. "It's a huge commitment, and the other associates I work with feel very fortunate that Home Depot has taken the step to offer this," says Mitchell.

Even beyond the comfort she feels at being physically close to her children during the workweek, the center has had the added benefit of helping her children feel part of the Home Depot culture. "How fun it is for my children to be a part of this culture has actually been something that surprised me," says Mitchell.

David Lissy, CEO of Bright Horizons, acknowledges that not every employer has the funds or desire to build an onsite child care center as Home Depot did. "You can afford to do solutions like a center when you have a population dense in one area, but obviously most employers also want to offer solutions that are equitable across the workforce."

So, in addition to the onsite child care in Atlanta, Home Depot rolled out a comprehensive backup dependent care solution, available to all employees across the country. Available to employees who have been with the company for at least one year, the benefit allows for up to 10 days of backup care for any dependent, whether it's a child or elderly parent or family member.

"That can be care in your home for a child or for an elderly parent," Suddath says. "Or it can be center-based care for a child when your normal care has broken down ... The copay is significantly reduced from what you would pay if you were out there on your own exploring care for a day or for 10 days."

Says Lissy: "Every survey we've ever seen shows dependent care breakdown as one of the top three reasons why people miss work. We can help with that, but it goes beyond that to employees' ability to be present and able to be productive when they know that their child or adult loved one is well taken care of."

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