Balancing work and family Institute offers seminar on creating family-friendly policies

May 18, 1992|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

It's one thing for a company to say it's "family-friendly." It's quite another when a working parent can leave the office at 4:30 p.m. each day to pick up the kids from day care and not worry about career damage.

As the American work force becomes more diverse, an increasing number of chief executives are becoming aware that workplace flexibility is essential to recruit and retain talented employees, human resources experts say.

About two-thirds of major U.S. corporations have established policies aimed at helping employees balance the demands of work and family life, according to a survey by the non-profit Families and Work Institute in New York.

But there's a big gap between that first glimmer of corporate consciousness and a real commitment.

The Big Boss can issue directives right and left, advocates of family-friendly policies say, but unless midlevel managers learn to manage flexibly, workers will see little change from traditions dictating that work and family life remain separate.

"If you have a manager who does not buy into that policy, then for the line worker it might be difficult to take advantage of that program or policy," said Janet Singerman, deputy director of the Maryland Committee for Children Inc.

The Maryland group will attempt to smooth the implementation of family-friendly policies in a daylong seminar May 29 entitled "Managing Flexibly: Meeting the Challenges of Work/Family Issues." The $100 seminar, part of a group of events planned for the 1992 Maryland Week of the Working Parent, will be held at the Sheraton Inner Harbor.

To register, call Ms. Singerman at 752-7588.

Corporate America has come a long way in the last decade in recognizing employee needs in such areas as flexible work hours, dependent care and family leave, experts in work/family issues say. For instance, the number of companies with employer-supported child care programs increased from 600 to 5,600 from 1982 to 1990, the Families and Work Institute reported.

Nevertheless, one-third of the major corporations the institute surveyed were "barely aware" of family issues, and only 21 percent had moved beyond scattershot programs to fashion an integrated response to employees' family needs. The record at smaller companies is even weaker, the institute said.

Kathie Lingle, director of training at the institute, cited two big obstacles to work/family policies.

One, she said, is "a perception that all this costs a lot more money than it generates" -- a view she says is mistaken. Even more for midable, she added, is the tendency to measure employee output in the number of "visible hours" they spend at their desks -- that is, hours when the supervisor is present.

In spite of the hurdles, Ms. Lingle said, the trend toward more enlightened family policies has been strong enough to resist recessionary pressures.

After a downsizing, companies are even more likely to adopt such programs because the remaining employees are those it is especially committed to keeping, she said.

For more information of work/family policies and programs, call the Families and Work Institute at (212) 465-2044.

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