Employers starting to promote happy home lives for their workers

April 27, 1992|By Susana Barciela | Susana Barciela,Knight-Ridder News Service

Work and family.

Increasingly, the two are interrelated. So much so that a new breed of professional has emerged: work-family managers.

You may see a work-family manager at your job soon. Several hundred companies have created such a position in the last two years, according to a recent study by the Conference Board, a New York-based non-profit organization that researches business issues. "People want to work in family-friendly companies," says Joy Sheets, work/family vice president at NationsBank in Florida.

Don't be surprised if you don't recognize the work-family title. The Conference Board found the job packaged under everything from "manager, work/life strategies" to "director of family services."

Whatever the name, these specialists have responsibility for policies related to child care, care of the elderly and other family issues. Ms. Sheets' position was established in 1989 at NCNB, which merged with Sovran/C&S last year to form NationsBank. Like others, the Conference Board found that her job grew out of recognition that family concerns affected business.

"It's really necessary for our bottom-line survival," says Ms. Sheets, who manages programs for about 400 branch banks from her Tampa office. "It's what we need to do to keep our employees."

With increasing numbers of women, single parents and two-earner households in the workplace, the adults who traditionally took care of children and elderly relatives are no longer staying at home.

And it's not just a women's issue. Nationwide, 60 percent of the men in the work force are married to women who also work, says Ellen Galinsky, co-president of the Families in Work Institute, a non-profit research group in New York.

It's tough coping with a 5-year-old running a temperature or a relative who needs therapy for a broken hip. The pressures that mount take their toll at work.

In one study at a Fortune 1000 firm, 25 percent of employees surveyed said they refused overtime because of their families, 24 percent refused travel, and more than 10 percent turned down promotions, according to Ms. Galinsky.

On the home front, the effects are even greater. More than 60 percent of employees surveyed said their jobs robbed them of energy and time for their families.

To help employees handle these conflicts, companies can implement a range of "family-friendly" programs, among them:

* Child-care centers, subsidized centers at or near work or referrals to day care providers.

* Elderly-care assistance or referral.

* Activities days for children when school is out.

* Short-term sick-child care, for example at a hospital.

Alternatives such as flexible hours, work at home and job-sharing, for people to more easily care for dependents.

Ms. Sheets is on a "select-time" schedule. She works three full days a week, and earns 60 percent of the full-time salary plus full benefits. She keeps her rank and stays on a career track at the bank, yet has time to tend to her 3-year-old.

Some companies have had family-friendly programs for years, yet never called them that. American Bankers Insurance Group, situated in Cutler Ridge, a community in southern Florida, offers comprehensive employee benefits. Employees have access to two day-care centers and a Dade County public school for kindergarten though second grade.

"This has been an evolutionary process," says Phillip Sharkey, senior vice president for human resources for American Bankers. "We started day care because we thought it would be a great recruiting tool. The one thing we didn't realize was how it would improve retention."

Day-care and other family-friendly benefits, Mr. Sharkey says, have more than paid for themselves in low employee turnover and good customer service.

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