Recent announcements by Credit Suisse Bank and private equity firm KKR that they will pay the expenses of nannies to accompany parents who wish to bring children under a year old on business trips has upped the ante for companies enhancing parental benefits in order to attract and retain top tier employees.

Bloomberg/file photo

“I think these companies decided to offer this perk because they have employees involved in business activities where their personal presence is very valuable,” says Ken Matos, senior director of research at the Families and Work Institute. “The cost of a plane ticket is negligible compared to the kind of money that is probably at stake in the deals made on these trips.”

Credit Suisse rolled out its “flying nanny program” at the beginning of this year as a footnote to an improved parental leave policy that increased paid parental leave from 12 weeks to 20 weeks. Both hourly and salaried primary caregivers who work at least 20 hours a week are eligible for the new extended leave that can be taken at any time in the year after a child is born.

“KKR’s childcare travel program has been up and running for several months as part of the company’s commitment to continuously identifying and implementing best class innovative practices relating to diversity and inclusion,” says Christopher Kim, KKR’s global benefits manager.

Other KKR initiatives designed to support parents include increasing paid maternity leave from 12 to 16 weeks; 30 days/year of company-subsidized emergency backup care; piloting a parental leave executive transition support program; and ensuring that private spaces are available globally to support nursing mothers returning from leave.

“KKR has hired a professional who is fully dedicated to furthering the firm’s goals around inclusion and diversity,” says Kim. “We are also proud to be a founding member of The Working Parent Support Coalition, a group of corporations committed to putting in place policies to support working parents that will improve health, development and economic outcomes.”

KKR’s childcare travel program is limited to primary caregivers with children under one year old, but Kim acknowledges that where two parents are working, both may share primary caregiver responsibility. “All employees who are primary caregivers are eligible for this program regardless of their title. There are no exclusions for adoptive parents or same-sex parents,” he says.

Typically the employee is responsible for the travelling caregiver’s salary but the company pays incremental costs such as a coach class plane ticket, a private hotel room and food.

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It remains to be seen whether employees will view the opportunity to travel with their infants as an opportunity to get the job done and still spend time with their child at the end of the day or simply another way to keep them at work 24/7.

“Generally it would be someone already providing childcare like a nanny, but it could also be a spouse, sibling or grandparent,” says Kim. “Where the nanny is not free to travel (i.e., if there are other older children) our emergency backup childcare provider Bright Horizons could help the employee find a suitable person.”

He says employees definitely appreciate availability of the childcare travel program and several employees have already taken advantage of it. “One executive had two out-of- town board meetings in her first week back and she told me bringing her son and his nanny along allowed her to continue to both bond with her baby and easily slip back into the KKR ecosystem.”

Matos is ambivalent about the merits of the new Credit Suisse and KKR flying nanny policies. He suggests that the program will likely be relevant to only a very small group of parents each year who are in the right age demographic, don’t have a stay-at-home spouse and travel for business. And he is concerned that a childcare travel program does not necessarily represent a real shift in workplace culture.

“I think it remains to be seen whether employees will view the opportunity to travel with their infants as an opportunity to get the job done and still spend time with their child at the end of the day or simply another way to keep them at work 24/7,” he says.

But Kim is very proud that KKR has been the first U.S. company to introduce a childcare travel policy and he notes that KKR employees with young babies have the option to turn down business travel instead of taking their infants along.

“Whether both parents or only one is working, everyone is trying to flex across the demands of both their career and family life,” he says. “We simply want to empower our employees by giving them as many resources and tools as possible to balance competing responsibilities at home and at work.”

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