August 14, 2023
Juggling kids and work isn’t easy for anyone, but for RTs who work in an environment with shifting schedules and hours that fall outside of the typical 8-5 workday, the balancing act is even harder.
Joanna Hudak, MSM, RRT, RRT-NPS, has been thinking about childcare for RTs since she was a young mother herself and has some good ideas on what would help.
“What I observe with my staff is many make the decision to start a family with no solidly researched childcare plan in place, and once the child arrives it is extremely stressful on them,” said Hudak, manager of respiratory therapy and pulmonary diagnostics at Sentara Leigh Hospital in Chesapeake, VA. “There is a hefty financial component that has to be well researched prior to returning to work.”
For a lot of new parents, getting to work on time is the toughest nut to crack. “Being on time consistently is often very challenging, because for day shift RTs, daycare rarely opens before 0700 or 0630,” said Hudak. “This creates stress on the employee to get to work on time every shift they work.”
RTs working the night shift are even more challenged, since finding nighttime care for a child is even harder than finding daytime care, and the problem can be compounded if they need daytime care as well so a spouse can work and the nightshift RT can get some sleep.
For many therapists, continues Hudak, this means work has to take a backseat to childcare, at least while their children are small. “They historically start off full-time, then have children, then come back flexi, then part-time,” she said. “Many do not return in a full-time status due to approximately 18 years of childcare needs.”
Sometimes, by the time the kids are old enough to take care of themselves, the therapist is an a better financial situation and has gotten so used to the flexible schedule/part-time work scenario that they don’t even want to work full-time anymore.
And even then, managers have to work around their child rearing responsibilities.
“Weekend-only employees can be a benefit depending on the RT’s home situation,” said Hudak. Weekend-only shifts become troublesome, she continues, when kids get older and start participating in sports, or are in school Monday through Friday and only have the weekends for family time.
Parents who have to work full-time because they are the only earner in the family or they need the benefits can end up feeling guilty about not being there for their kids or sad about missing important experiences like birthday parties or family time, and that too can impact departmental operations.
Onsite daycare is the answer
What would help working RT parents stay on the job?
In an ideal world, Hudak believes affordable, onsite, 24/7 daycare is the best answer, with sick care offered too in situations where the child simply has a low fever but can’t return to normal daycare until it has resolved.
“If hospitals would pay for a portion of the daycare, it would be helpful, as likely the employee is not utilizing other benefits such as tuition reimbursement at that moment,” she said. “So having options on what benefits fit their lifestyle at that moment makes the most sense.”
Of course, onsite daycare is only a dream in many places. And in that case, it is up to managers to fill the gap.
Hudak says she tries to accommodate working parents in her department whenever and however she can. “In my RT department I offer many shift variations — eight-hour day and evening shifts, four-hour 3 pm-7 pm and 7 pm-11 pm day and night shifts, and weekend only shifts,” she said. “I also have a very large flex pool.”
It’s not always easy to make it work but she believes this is what it takes to retain parents with young children.
“The manager needs to recognize when a schedule is not working for an employee and offer other solutions and be proactive in talking with the employee,” she said. “Sometimes solutions are short-term; sometimes they are long-term schedule changes.”
Joanna Hudak believes engaging in open communication with employees is critical so that they will feel comfortable in coming to the manager with a situation that involves shifting their hours to accommodate their childcare responsibilities.
“The manager must be willing to think outside of the box and recognize that, within reason, the employees are trying to meet both home and employment needs,” said Hudak. “I always thank my RT who tells me they have an upcoming childcare issue, because it gives me time to work through it vs. just getting a ‘sick’ call on that shift.”