Work/life benefits expand to basic areas in businesses

Companies must deal with needs of employees at all levels of operation

September 14, 2005|By Carol Kleiman | Carol Kleiman,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Balancing work and home life has become so important to workers that more companies find themselves dealing with an expanding array of benefits, says a report in the Executive Briefing Series of Boston College's Center for Work & Family.

Kathy Lynch, the center's director of corporate partnerships and editor of the series, points out that work/life programs have become a large umbrella, encompassing many vital business areas.

The programs include "employee recruitment, benefits, health care plans, job design, career advancement, employee transfers, travel policies, leave taking, career paths, work teams and evolving corporate cultures."

And though work/life benefits initially focused on the needs of employees who are parents - usually those at the professional level - today "work/life encompasses the needs of all types of employees at all levels of the organization: young, aging, males, females, exempt, nonexempt and managerial."

The publication also includes an analysis of why work/life programs are important today:

"Work/life is not only a social movement to benefit the next generation of children in our society, it's a field with powerful ideas for cultural transformation that compels businesses to make more intelligent and humane use of people and technology," says Stewart Friedman, professor in the management department of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

Last year, California became the first state to pass a family leave act that gives employees six weeks of partial income during their absence, an improvement on the federal law that allows unpaid leave.

"We have a year of experience now that says California's paid leave law is working well - and the nay-sayers who predicted economic catastrophe were once again wrong," said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington.

Ness says a study prepared by economists at the University of Chicago and University of California at Berkeley, "estimates that, as a result of the law, California businesses will save up to $89 million annually - and the state will save $25 million each year."

The Chubb Group of Insurance Cos. recently ran a pilot work place flexibility effectiveness demonstration program at its Western Claims Center in Phoenix.

Of 17 employees who participated, there was a more than 50 percent reduction in unscheduled paid time off each month; a 40 percent decrease in overtime hours each month; and a reduction in requests to "adjust work hours to accommodate outside commitments." Performance increased by 5 percent, the program found.

Chubb is rolling out the effort to the center's 180 employees.

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