On a recent Tuesday, Jessica Strubhar picked her kids up from school early so she could drive them from their home in Oklahoma City to the town an hour away where her parents live. The single mother of three was slated to work that evening and, since she didn't have child care, her only option was to make the long journey to drop her kids off, drive back to the city and then repeat the trip in reverse.
In all, it took four hours – more than she sleeps most nights. In addition to being the mom of three kids under the age of 10, Strubhar also works full time as a Starbucks shift supervisor and is earning a college degree through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. Her life operates on a carefully synchronized schedule – and when something unexpected happens, she has to make difficult choices.
It’s a challenge countless working families face. And in some cases, it becomes untenable. A recent analysis of the National Survey of Children’s Health showed that 2 million working parents had to quit their jobs in 2016, the year of the survey, because of child care issues. The crunch isn’t just being felt by parents, but also for those who are caring for their own aging relatives. One in five U.S. workers report they are currently providing assistance for older relatives and friends, according to a report by the AARP Public Policy Institute. Nearly 70 percent of those who do say they had to take time off or make other work adjustments because of caregiving.
In response to those kinds of needs and partner feedback, Starbucks is announcing a new benefit Tuesday, said Ron Crawford, vice president of benefits at Starbucks.
Starbucks has joined with Care.com to offer Care@Work, an online service connecting families and caregivers. All Starbucks partners who work at U.S. company-owned stores will receive 10 subsidized backup care days a year for kids and adults. With more than 180,000 U.S. partners, Starbucks is among the largest retailers to offer this benefit.
“This is giving our partners resources for things that happen in regular life. We wanted to give them something to help fill in the gaps,” said Crawford.
The new benefit is the latest in a suite of benefits that support partners, he said. Starbucks also provides mental health benefits through the Employee Assistance Program and offers paid parental leave. Earlier this year, the company also announced a Partner and Family Sick Time benefit, which allows U.S. partners to accrue paid sick time based on hours worked and use it for themselves or for a family member who needs care.
“Care@Work is the final piece of the puzzle,” Crawford said.
Through Care@Work, partners will also get a free premium membership to Care.com, which typically costs around $150 a year, and access to Care.com’s digital platform of caregivers.
Partners will only pay $1 an hour for in-home backup child or adult care or $5 per a day per child for in-center child care. (After the 10 backup care days, or for other services offered through Care.com such as pet sitting and housekeeping, partners pay the full cost.)
In addition, partners can access resources to help with senior care planning. Partners can connect with a Senior Care Advisor for professional guidance and a customized plan for senior care to help understand long term caregiver options, housing alternatives, finances and legal concerns – all at no cost.
“We all have needs at home, whether you have children, pets, parents or aging grandparents. This benefit supports the partner and their family. We are all more than who we are at work,” said Alyssa Brock, director of benefits at Starbucks.
‘If you can make things better, do it’
Tim Base, a Starbucks district manager based in Omaha, Neb., grew up in a family where his parents instilled in him the importance of helping others. “They taught me if you can make things better, do it,” he said.
So, when his grandparents were nearing the ends of their lives and needed live-in care, Base, then a Starbucks shift supervisor on a management track, offered to move from his home in Albuquerque, N.M., to Kansas City, Mo., to help. He was able to transfer to another store but had to return to being a barista. He lived full time with his grandparents, Larry and Viola, and cared for them Monday through Fridays. Another family member cared for them on weekends when he worked.
It was time he’s grateful he had with them and it deepened their relationship beyond anything he could have imagined. “My grandpa and I went from having base-level conversations to my thinking of him as one of my best friends.”
Even as they were dying, he got to see their true, vibrant spirits, he said. He remembers taking his grandmother, who then only weighed about 80 pounds and was in the end stages of esophageal cancer, to the doctor. Despite being frail, she refused to use a wheelchair to get from the parking lot. But when she noticed a lady behind her who was struggling, “grandma sprinted ahead to get her a wheelchair,” Base remembered.
While the experience will be one he always remembers, it was still exhausting, and he never had time to recharge. “My respite was going to work,” he said.
When emergencies came up at work, others would cover for him. But he was never able to repay the favor, he said, since he usually didn’t have someone to cover for him at home during the week.
“Having another option (like Care@Work) would have been amazing,” he said.
One of the benefits of Care@Work is peace of mind that your loved one is in good hands, said Sheila Lirio Marcelo, founder, chairwoman and chief executive officer of Care.com.
She founded the company in 2006 after being inspired by her own experiences. When she had her first child when she was in college, she and her husband felt largely on their own. Her family was in the Philippines and her husband’s parents had died. By the time they had their second child, she was working at a busy start up and her parents had come to the United States to help.
One day, when her father was carrying her son, he had a heart attack. Her dad largely recovered – he and her mom now live with her family – but she still remembers not knowing where to turn for help.
“I quickly realized millions of families are going through this struggle of not being able to find care,” she said.
Today, the site has almost 30 million members in 20 countries. Marcelo hopes that more employers will look for ways to help support working families. “Employers like Starbucks have innovative thinking that goes beyond the required benefits,” she said.
Peace of mind
Strubhar, the Starbucks partner and mother of three, said that while her days are hectic, she knows she’s working toward a better life for her family. She and her 9-year-old son often do homework together in the evening; he’ll be working on a book report while she’s taking an online class through Arizona State University toward her degree in law enforcement.
She dreams of the future where all of them can live close to nature, possibly as a sheriff on the open plains of Montana, or working as an investigator in a national park. But until she gets there, while she’s focused on juggling a busy life, she’s grateful for the support along the way and the new benefit.
“It gives me a lot of peace of mind,” she said. “Something is always going to come up.”
Felice Dominguez contributed to this report.