Helping working parents cut stress

On the Job

December 13, 2006|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,Sun Columnist

Michelle Stone worries about her two children once they leave school even though they are enrolled in an after-school program.

Working parents like Stone should not be the only ones concerned about what their children are doing after school. A new study calls on employers to care, and to implement programs and policies to alleviate such parental anxiety among workers.

Catalyst, a nonprofit research organization that works to expand opportunities for women at work, and the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, examined what they have coined PCAST, or parental concern about after-school time.

The extensive study targeted working parents of school-age children at three Fortune 100 companies and drew 1,755 responses from a fairly equal mix of mothers and fathers. It used various statistical analyses to draw its conclusions.

The study indicates that potentially 2.5 million working parents are overly stressed by worries about their children's after-school time and are likely to bring such concerns to the workplace. That can lead to increased job disruptions, lower job satisfaction and negative attitudes about promotions and advancement, the report concludes.

It is not just working mothers feeling the stress over their children's welfare after school. The study found such after-school worries affect parents regardless of position, race or gender.

The report argues that employers should play an important role in reducing parental concerns about after-school time.

To that end, the report shows that 78.6 percent of respondents said flexibility -- including coming to work later or leaving earlier or taking part of the day off to deal with family matters -- reduces care-giving stress.

"This adds to the large body of research that [found] flexibility and an agile workplace can positively affect the bottom line," said Laura Sabattini, director of research at Catalyst and co-author of the recent report.

Catalyst says companies should better educate managers about the benefits of flexibility in the workplace and address misconceptions about consequences of using programs such as telecommuting and flex time.

The report says that parents should educate themselves about their company's policies.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. provides employees access to child-care centers at five of its U.S. offices. In addition, the New York office has a backup child-care center, where every employee has up to 20 days of access.

JoAnne Blakely, Pfizer's director for global diversity and inclusion, says the company offers child-care support and other work-life programs because "it's a battle out there to attract and retain the best people."

For Stone, who has a 9-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter, her main concern is the time between when the kids finish school and when they arrive at the after-school facility.

"My mind is on hoping that they get there safely," says Stone, who works for Washington-based Fannie Mae as the senior program manager of dependent-care benefits.

Because her husband also works, Stone says, she is able to use flexible scheduling to coordinate drop-off and pickup of their children.

The company offers an on-site emergency child-care center and reimbursement for some dependent care.

"I'm trusted enough by the organization that they know I'm going to come in and do my hours and get the work done," she says.

Should companies do more to help you alleviate your parental anxiety? Send your stories, tips and questions to working@balt Please include your first name and your city. "On the Job" is published Monday at Hanah Cho's podcast can be found at www.baltimoresun. com/onthejob.

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