Helping workers with child care is good business



These days, ANY company still offering employment opportunities might qualify as a friendly place to work. But if you believe the demographers, the workplace of 2001 (it's not science fiction anymore, is it?) will force companies into unprecedented "friendliness" programs to attract and retain .


Such care and feeding may be too late for Ralph, who bosses around Sally Forth on the comics page. But catering to Ms. Forth and other qualified employees will become necessary as the United States runs out of well-prepared workers -- a view popularized a few years ago in a "Workforce 2000" report.

The most telling statistic that emerged from that document was that white males -- the traditional bedrock of the U.S. labor force -- would fill only 15 percent of new jobs in a decade. The rest, as in an eye-opening 85 percent, will go to women and racial minorities.

And nothing coming out of the 1990 census has weakened this expectation.

Japan and West Germany began confronting slowing population growth 20 years ago, in some cases, which helps explain why their businesses have concentrated so much on substituting capital for labor.

In the United States, by contrast, we still seem to worship at the altar of job creation, uncritically using the number of new jobs to indicate how well our economy performs.

The current recession only strengthens such a view, when what we really should be addressing is the impending need to become far more productive.

Our competitors, it should be stressed, dealt with their labor shortages in a relatively homogenous human setting, although Germany did import foreign workers to deal with some of its labor woes.

In the United States, we face a labor shortage plus a work force that is distinctly not racially or culturally homogenous.

This approaching reality has, in turn, given rise to the concept of a diverse work force in this country, which is a shorthand way of describing a non-traditional work force composed of people that society has traditionally not done much to help prepare for meaningful careers.

Diverse employees, however, may also include skilled people who simply don't care much about careers but can nonetheless make valuable contributions.

Managing a diverse work force thus includes lots of things that don't make it into an MBA curriculum, including a heightened understanding and appreciation of sexual and racial differences and of how these differences affect employees' (and employers') attitudes about work and performance.

A starting point for managing diversity, many experts agree, is in work and family issues. Once known more narrowly as the day-care or child-care issue, a broader range of concerns has emerged in the roughly 20 years since women began entering (and re-entering) career positions in large numbers.

In addition to child care, which is still the main entree on the work-and-family menu, other forms of dependent care have also popped up, including elder care, sick-child care and after-hours care (latch-key kids have hardly disappeared).

Flexible working schedules are receiving increased attention as well. Flexible schedules potentially address all dependent-care needs. And they may entail smaller out-of-pocket costs to employers than shelling out lots of money for on-site care facilities and other more expensive options.

Maryland is fortunate in having the Maryland Committee for Children, which has been advocating a friendly environment for working parents for more than 45 years, and which is sponsoring the 1991 Maryland Week of the Working Parent.

(The week's activities include a lecture tonight by a well-known pediatrician, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, on "Stresses and Supports for Families in the '90s" at 7:30 at LeClerc Auditorium at the

College of Notre Dame. An all-day conference on work-family issues will be held tomorrow at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel. The Maryland Committee can be reached at 752-7588.)

Smaller companies have adopted many innovative and flexible programs for employees, especially when those employees are highly trained professionals who are hard to replace.

Still, it's likely to be big businesses that take the visible lead in moving into these issues.

And even here, nearly every expert in providing family support programs to employers has been frustrated at the slow progress in winning truly widespread acceptance of such efforts.

However, a Conference Board survey indicated the recession did not lead to cutbacks in these programs but actually saw a strengthening of their roles in companies that had previously been committed to work-and-family issues.

That's good news, but it's all too clear that employers have not generally found the best ways to help employees be good parents -- a goal every employer would obviously support in theory.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.