Handle with care: Owen and Julia Lewis with their children Jaime, 8, and Will, 5. Photo: Janie Barrett
It is a common dilemma for working parents as school finishes up for the year - how to stretch four weeks of annual leave to cover three months of school holidays.
Now some of Australia's largest companies, such as Coles, are coming to the aid of their staff, providing in-house vacation care for their children, and subsidising external programs.
''Employers realise how important it is to provide flexibility and assist with these programs,'' CareforKids.com.au founder Roxanne Elliot said, adding that companies also benefited from providing on-site school holiday programs, with reduced absenteeism, increased productivity and better staff retention.
Coles introduced on-site vacation care for the children of employees at its Melbourne head office this year, offering places for up to 80 children at a cost of $68.50 a day. The demand has been so great that it plans to increase the number of places next year. It also subsidises the cost of external vacation care for staff at other locations.
''If our team members know that their kids are safe, happy and occupied during the school holidays then they can focus on delivering great service to our customers,'' Coles spokesman Jon Church said.
To qualify for the childcare rebate, in-house vacation care must run for a minimum of seven weeks a year, and operate in an appropriately sized space with kitchen facilities and toilets nearby.
Camp Australia runs vacation programs for 20 corporate clients, as well as the 150 schools it services. Sales and marketing manager Andrew Kent said employee demand was fuelling inquiries from companies wanting Camp Australia to run programs at their workplace.
''The gap [between children's school holidays and parents' annual leave] is significant,'' Mr Kent said. ''The ability to drop in on your kid throughout the day is most appealing, and knowing your kid is not doing screen time but doing healthy activities and interesting things.''
KPMG has been running school holiday programs for several years to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities. ''People feel comfortable they can really bring their whole self to work,'' KPMG's diversity and inclusion manager Julie Angus said.
Owen Lewis's children, Jaime and Will, loved attending vacation care at his office last school holidays. ''It was quite nice that they were playing with the kids of people I work with,'' the KPMG associate director said.