Company kinder care

The Prague Post

Employers, workers see advantages of company-subsidized child care

Working moms and dads often find the demands of career and parenthood almost incompatible, and more and more employers are realizing that subsidized, onsite child care is not only an attractive benefit for employees, but also a way to keep productivity high, as workers are better able to balance their professional and home lives. For more than a year now, Raiffeisen Bank employees have been able leave their children at a nearby kindergarten that is paid for mostly by the company, and both management and workers can attest to the success of the program.

“We opened this kindergarten in February 2009,” says Tomáš Kofroň, spokesman for Raiffeisen Bank. “We wanted to help parents – moms especially – get back to work and coordinate their work and private lives.”

KinderGarten won the tender to manage the school, and Kofroň says they offered a nice place with an educated staff close to Raiffeisen Bank’s headquarters. The reconstructed villa in Prague 4 where “Žirafa” is housed (the name bank employees chose to give “their” school) is indeed nice. Spread over three floors are classrooms, a lunchroom, play spots and a nap area. A huge garden holds playground equipment, a sandbox, a play set and the ever-coveted trampoline. KinderGarten accepts children aged 18 months to 6 years.

Mark Robertson, one of KinderGarten’s partners, says the school is focusing its efforts on expanding into more company kindergartens and currently has three more in the works.

“There’s been a baby boom in the country, and young modern parents want to get back to work,” he says of the growing popularity. “Companies want to offer the added benefit [of providing child care].”

Kofroň agrees it is a huge benefit for their employees.

“We try to offer a lot of benefits, but the kindergarten is the top one,” he says. “Parents are very happy, and children enjoy it. We are proud to be one of the first companies in the Czech Republic to offer this.”

Kofroň adds that Raiffeisen Bank plans to expand the current location and is considering other locations around Prague to keep up with demand.

As Robertson explains, opening a kindergarten in conjunction with a company is different from opening a normal kindergarten.

“You need a location close to the office, facilities to drop off kids, a building that is safe and government-approved and staff flexible for late hours,” Robertson says.

If mom or dad gets caught up in a late meeting, the staff at KinderGarten is prepared to stay late to look after the children. The school also has “iCare,” a closed-camera monitoring system in which parents with a password can access the school online to see what their kids are up to.

KinderGarten operates 15 schools in Prague, plus schools in Brno, Liberec and Kladno. They have three separate types of schools: Chytrá sovička (Clever Owl) is a Czech-language school that offers English lessons; Anglické školky (English School) is all English; and Firemní školky (Company School) is designed for a specific business and is for its employees only. The schools are either operated by KinderGarten or run as franchises. They have a variety of benefits for children and parents, including English lessons with native speakers, out-of-school activities like visits to salt caves and swimming lessons, the possibility to enroll at any time of the year and the option to choose how often your child comes – from only half days to simply three times a week. The schools also have extended opening hours and are open 12 months out of the year. At Žirafa, the lunches are prepared off-site and delivered by a catering company that monitors the nutrition plan and takes into account allergies and other dietary requirements.

Raiffeisen Bank subsidizes the program, and Kofroň estimates the bank pays about 90 percent of the cost with the parents covering the rest. He deems the program a success, saying both parents and children are pleased and benefit from it. He should know – his 4-year-old daughter attends classes there.

Kofroň has a few words of advice for companies considering adding a similar childcare benefit.

“At the moment, because of the laws and taxes, it’s almost impossible for companies to operate their own preschools. The only way to do it is to find people who know how,” he says. “The employees will really like it, and it motivates people to stay with the company.”

Robertson, who also has a daughter, can see the appeal.

“It’s a benefit for the parents. It’s difficult to get into the state schools, and parents pay a large amount of their salary for child care,” he says. “If I was considering two jobs, and one offered child care as a benefit, it would make my choice much easier.”