VOL. 114 | NO. 74 | Monday, April 17, 2000
Mike Orenstein, U
Family friendly edging 9-to-5 out the door
By LAURIE JOHNSON
The Daily News
In March, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced it had taken the final step toward implementing legislation to help federal employees offset the cost of child care.
For the first time, government agencies will be able to use appropriated funds to give child care allowances to lower-income employees.
While this new policy only applies to federal workers, its the latest example of a growing trend among employers nationwide: to create work environments that allow employees to do their jobs and manage their personal lives, as well.
"Family friendly" has become the new buzzword for the workplace, and its pushing the tradition of "9-to-5" onto the same dusty shelf as the IBM Selectric typewriter.
The birth of the movement can be attributed to the passage in 1993 of the Family and Medical Leave Act, the first bill President Clinton signed into law.
"The Clinton Administration has been very supportive in the area of family-friendly workplace policies," Mike Orenstein, spokesman for OPM. "There are a number of family-friendly tools available for all employees."
The FMLA, which has provisions for both the public and private sector, mandates that government workers and employees of enterprises with 50 or more can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for events such as the birth of a child, serious illness or to care for an elderly or sick family member, without the threat of losing their job.
While other proposals are in the works to give federal employees additional perks, such as increasing sick-day allowances from a limit of 13 days to up to 12 weeks, the FMLA currently is the only legislation that addresses quality of life issues for private sector employees.
Private enterprise, however, is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of accommodating the needs of its workforce, particularly in todays tight job market.
"With unemployment at virtually zero, companies are doing whatever they can to try and attract employees. And not just top employees, but those they feel will be dependable and who will contribute in some useful manner," said Dr. Coy Jones, professor of management at the University of Memphis.
"They will negotiate terms that are attractive to the employee, and will consider a lot of things they might not have considered before."
Flexible hours, job sharing and, thanks to technology, the ability to work from home are a few options todays companies both large and small are offering their employees to help them take care of their families and maintain balance in their lives.
Paid vacations and benefits for part-time employees, as well as assistance with child care either in the form of an on-site facility or a child care allowance are other ways companies make their workers lives easier.
Memphis own First Tennessee Bank has been recognized as a trailblazer on the family-friendly front.
The company has been cited by Fortune as one of the "100 Best Companies to Work for In America," recognized by Working Mother magazine as one of the top employers for working mothers, and by Business Week as a leader in balancing corporate and families strategies.
Workplace flexibility has been the cornerstone of the companys family-friendly workplace policy, said Pat Brown, vice president of performance development for First Tennessee.
"We really have worked at building a culture that supports employees issues," she said. "In return, we feel like were able to offer our customers a higher level of service."
In addition to offering flexible hours, the company provides resources to help its employees find child care, elder care and assistance in dealing with issues such as stress. First Tennessee also offers family leave, the ability to work from home in some instances, and the option of reduced hours while still retaining benefits.
Recognizing that its employees are concerned about their financial security as well as their quality of life, the company offers stock options to every employee, from custodian to top executive.
"We want to make sure we look at the financial side as well as the flexibility side," Brown said.
FedEx, one of Memphis largest employers, also is concerned about worker satisfaction. Its family-friendly perks are mainly in the form of benefits.
All of the companys permanent, part-time employees are eligible for the same benefits as full-time employees, said FedEx spokesman Cornell Christion.
For example, part-time employees pay no premiums for their health insurance, he said. The company also pays 85 percent of the premiums for health insurance coverage for their dependents.
All permanent employees receive paid personal days, which can be used in increments as small as one hour. "This comes in handy for family or other personal emergencies," Christion said.
Through its Lifeworks program, FedEx offers referrals for child care, elder care and adoption. The company also offers prenatal programs.
In some instances, the company is able to offer alternative working arrangements such as flextime and telecommuting.
"Given the nature of our business, however, its difficult to offer such arrangements to the majority of our 150,000-plus employees," he said.
While it may be somewhat easier for large corporations such as FedEx and First Tennessee to offer these types of benefits, small- to medium-sized companies are doing their best to consider their employees needs, as well.
"Were trying to get away from square corners and provide a flexible workplace. If somebody needs to come in late, well, we understand that," said Steve Shields, partner in the local law firm Jackson, Shields, Yeiser & Cantrell, which has about 25 employees, including attorneys and support staff.
Shields, whose firms practice is limited exclusively to representing management in labor and employment law matters, said while larger companies are generally able to offer more part-time hours and longer leave periods than small companies, small- to medium- size enterprises still manage to enjoy some degree of flexibility.
"The solo person, however, has a great deal of difficulty," he said. "If theres only one secretary, that puts a lot of pressure on that person."
Some argue family-friendly policies also put pressure on another group of workers those who dont have children or elderly parents to care for to take up the slack for workers granted leave.
In her book, "The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless," Elinor Burkett argues family-friendly policies adopted by the federal government and corporate America during the past decade are regressive and racist.
Pro-family programs, suggests Burkett, shift the burden of parenthood off parents onto the shoulders of their childless co-workers and peers, and are little more than a politically correct way for affluent baby boomer parents to milk the system for cash and personal indulgences.
Admittedly, FMLA provisions as well as the leave policies of many private sector companies dont extend to such things as taking care of a sick pet or taking a "mental health" holiday to Aruba, OPMs Orenstein said.
"But, single people and people without children can still use many of the workplace flexibilities that are available to the rest of the workforce, such as flextime or telecommuting," he said. "Single people have not been ignored in this process."
First Tennessee also aims to accommodate the personal needs of each employee, not just those with families, Brown said.
"Only about half of our employees have children, so we always look at the needs of each employee, regardless of what their issues are."
Jones said one tack companies often take to keep each individual employee happy is to negotiate benefits and special provisions from allowing a mother or father to leave early to pick up her child from school to extra vacation time for a single employee who loves to travel during the hiring process.
"But, everyone has their limit; there are certain hours that everyone has to be there," he said. "It all depends on their business situation, and how accommodating theyre able to be."