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Work/Life Initiatives, such as flexible work schedules, emergency child care and employee support programs, are being embraced as a business necessity by small and large businesses across all industries. Companies are finding that their investment in helping employees better balance their work and personal life can have a positive impact on the bottom line - from improved morale, to reduced turnover, to greater utilization of talent. "Quick Tips for Workplace Effectiveness" has been developed to give small to medium-sized companies suggestions on ways to create an effective work environment and add value to the bottom line. We hope you will find it useful in making your business a supportive and productive workplace.
The annual cost to U.S. businesses of time lost through breakdown in child care arrangements is an estimated $3 billion. More than a third of employees have children under 13 who need care and supervision during working hours.
Become an Employer of Choice
There is a shortage of workers with advanced technology skills needed in business today. To attract and retain skilled workers, employers must provide a supportive work environment.
Help Your Community
Work/life initiatives help workers integrate personal and work responsibilities, so they can function at their best. Encouraging school and community partnerships and volunteerism supports the community as well.
Flexible work arrangements, such as flextime, telecommuting, compressed workweek, reduced hours and job sharing create a less rigid workplace allowing employer and employee greater control over productivity.Flextime
Example of a flextime schedule
Advantages to Employee
Advantages to Employee
Most Common Schedules
Advantages to Employee
Examples of Part-time Schedules
Advantages to Employee
Examples of Job Share Schedules
Advantages to Employee
Retirement-eligible employees can gradually reduce their full-time hours over a period of one or more years. The reduction in work time varies. Some cut back on hours per day, others on days per week, while others take longer vacations.
Gradual Return to Work
Employees who have been on leave, return to work on a less than full-time basis for a specified period of time. This is an option most often used by women returning from family leave.
A version of the compressed workweek in which employees work a slightly longer schedule four days per week in return for a shorter Friday.
Variable Time Program
Full-time employees work part-time for a temporary period (usually 2 to 3 months) while retaining their benefits. Employees who might use this program include those with child care or elder care responsibilities.
Personal Time Off to handle personal business, such as doctors' appointments, house closing or educational pursuits.
Extended Personal Leave to one year of unpaid leave for personal reasons, such as to complete a degree, write a book, or take an extended vacation.
Use of Personal Sick Leave to care for ill or injured dependents or spouse.
Floating Holidays to celebrate religious or cultural traditions.
Excused Time Away to attend school functions or do volunteer work.
Pooled Time Off
Employees are given a single pool of time to use for personal reasons, such as vacation, personal time away, illness or family emergencies.
Employees voluntarily donate their paid time off to co-workers for personal or family illness or emergencies.
Social Service Leaves
A one-time leave of one to six months to work with nonprofit social service organizations, or one to two hours each week to volunteer at a child's school, participate in "lunch buddy" programs, or provide tutoring or career advisement at local high schools and colleges.
Sabbaticals provide employees extended time away to renew energy and stimulate creativity.
Medical Leave is paid or unpaid time away from work, with guaranteed return to same or similar position, granted for absence due to an employee's health condition.
Family Leave is paid or unpaid time away from work, with guaranteed return to same or similar position to care for a newborn, newly adopted or newly placed foster child, or to care for a spouse, child or parent who is seriously ill.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)*Under the FMLA, in companies with 50 or more employees, those who work 1,250 hours or more a year and have completed necessary service requirements, may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period for the following reasons:
In addition to the leaves covered under the federal FMLA, some companies offer more generous family leave programs that include:
Paid Paternity and Maternity Leave.
Phase-Back to Work for returning new mothers.
Reduced Hours for new parents with guaranteed return to full time in two to five years.
Flexible Work Arrangements.*State laws may have more generous leave regulations.
Companies are using an array of creative options to help employees with quality, affordable care for their children while they work. Employer support can include on-site programs, support for established community programs, financial subsidies, or resource and referral services. Here are some options to consider:
After School Programs
Many companies support on-site or community after-school activities for children of working parents. These programs generally include snacks, and time for physical activities and homework.
Summer/School Holiday Programs
Provide or support supervised activities for children when school is not in session. Established community programs may include recreational centers, religious institutions, family day care programs or day care centers. Contracted care can also be provided on site.
Back-Up/Emergency Child Care
Emergency back-up care is needed when an employee's caregiver cannot provide care on a given day or week. Employers can allow the employee to supervise the child while working; provide supervised care at the workplace; subsidize the cost of in-home care; or support drop-in care at family day care homes and child care centers.
Sick Child Care
Sick child care is needed for mildly ill children of employees. Employers can contract with existing sick child care programs, help an existing child care program expand to provide sick child care, or provide financial assistance for in-home care. However, employees most often value the flexibility to stay home with a sick child.
Family Day Care
Day care that takes place in the home of a provider, a preferred choice for many parents, generally offers more flexible hours and willingness to care for mildly ill children. Employers can support family day care through resource and referral programs or by providing financial assistance.
Child Care Centers
Privately-owned, for-profit or not-for-profit child care centers often offer high-quality care and creative learning activities for infants and small children. Employers can assist by offering resource and referral to locate quality centers with openings; provide financial support through spending accounts or child care vouchers; purchase slots to reserve space in the facility for employees' children; or negotiate employee discounts.
Consortia Child Care Centers
Several employers can share the costs and responsibilities of starting and operating a child care center for their employees by establishing a consortia child care center with the aid of a child care consultant. This is a good way for small or medium-sized business in the same geographic area to offer their employees on-site or near-site child care services.
On-Site/Near-Site Child Care Centers
An employer-sponsored/subsidized child care center that provides care to the children of your employees offers advantages in the area of decreased employee absenteeism and turnover. However, on-site child care centers can be a costly undertaking for small businesses.
Elder Care refers to a broad range of programs and policies designed to support the employee who is caring for an elderly relative. Caregiver responsibilities can range from simple telephone contact to long-term care of an elderly relative in one's own home. Caregiver stress, fatigue and isolation can have a definite impact on productivity in the workplace. For these reasons a growing number of employers are offering one or more of the following.
Work schedule adjustments such as flextime and compressed workweek.
Information on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)- See Family and Medical Leave Act.
Elder Care Consultation and Referral Service on-site or through an outside vendor.
Use of leave (paid or unpaid) for elder care needs.
Seminars and support groups on aging issues.
Resource library That includes book, newsletters, videos and other information on relevant topics.
A list of community resources that includes: adult day care programs, case management services, home health care services, meal and housekeeping programs, respite care, and transportation services.
A list of vendors and organizations that provide adaptive equipment for purchase or lease.
Child Care Resource and Referral Finding and evaluating quality child care can be a major challenge for working parents. Resource and referral programs help employees find reliable child care through counseling, information, and referrals to providers.
Elements of a child care resource and referral program generally include:
Standard Benefits Package
Many employers offer a benefits package that may include any or all of the following:
Other benefit options might include:
Direct Payments to Employee or Child Care Provider
Provide employees with vouchers to pay for a portion of their child care expenses, or give the caregiver a voucher as payment to be submitted to the company for reimbursement.
*Some may be cost-prohibitive for larger employers.
Dependent care and health care costs can be prohibitive for many employees. Under Section 129 of the IRS code, employers can set up pre-tax flexible spending accounts to help employees reduce these costs.
Flexible Spending Accounts provide pre-tax benefits to employees for dependent care and medical expenses. Contributions are exempt from federal withholding, FICA, and, in most cases, state withholding taxes. The employer does not pay FICA or federal unemployment tax on the contributions.
"Use it or Lose It." Flexible spending accounts often have low usage because employees who use them have to specify the amount to be withheld for the year. If they overestimate, they lose the money. Participants must use care providers who will release their Social Security numbers - a necessity for reimbursement.
Employer reimburses employee for portion of expenses incurred (generally maximum of $2,000 to $5,000) in adopting a child. Payment is subject to withholding taxes, but, depending on employee's income, can usually be deducted on employee's personal tax return.
Reimbursement for portion of cost of tuition and/or books for job-related (or non-job related) courses or degrees.
Provide information on ridesharing, van pools, public transportation, guaranteed ride-home programs. Offer flexible work schedules or consider telecommuting. Subsidize parking and/or public transportation.
Discounted or Free Legal Services
Employer contracts with a provider of legal services for free or discounted legal services for employees.
Financial Planning Assistance
Provide seminars and resources for personal financial planning and budgeting.
Provide seminars and resources to help employees plan for their retirement years.
An increasing number of employees are passing up career opportunities that involve relocating to new communities because of the resulting financial and emotional stress on families. The following programs can help ease the stress of relocation.
Assistance in finding and financing affordable housing in the new community.
Reimbursement for house-hunting trips and moving expenses.
Reimbursement for living expenses incurred before housing can be procured in the new community.
Provide job market research, resume preparation and counseling for spouse.
Child and Elder Care Resource & Referral
Contract with provider to assist employee with identifying child and/or elder care in new location.
Assistance in Locating Schools
Cross-Cultural Training for families relocating to other countries.
Provide information on local resources such as hospitals, veterinarians, churches, schools and how to get driver's license.
Paid Visits Home
Spousal Assistance for Domestic Partners
Wellness programs help workers function at their best. Good health increases productivity at work and at home, helping employees become better parents, spouses, employees and friends.
If an on-site center is not feasible, consider subsidizing employee memberships in a near-by community center.
May include health screenings, flu shots, consultations - provided on-site or at a community medical center.
Information on exercise, nutrition and healthy pregnancies, reduces medical costs for pregnancies and results in fewer Caesarian deliveries.
Every company should provide new mothers with private and restful lactation rooms, an electric outlet for portable breast pumps, and refrigerators for storage. You might also consider providing a breast pump and training therapy.
Other programs to encourage wellness:
Employers have an obligation to keep the workplace safe and free from violence. The key to preventing workplace violence is to head off the problems before they occur. Here are some steps you can take to create a safe and healthy workplace:
An employee resource center houses information relating to a variety of work/life issues. It can be as small or as large a you want it to be and customized to the needs of your employees. Suggested topics include information on:
Employees often experience a sense of isolation when faced with certain work/life issues. Informal gatherings put them in touch with others who are experiencing similar situations.
Employee Support Groups
Employee Assistance Programs are designed to help employees and their families cope with a broad range of personal problems. Early identification and treatment of these problems can be key to the well-being of your employees. EAPs are generally provided by an outside agency that provides confidential assessment, referral and short-term counseling for problems such as:
Note:Small employers who find this program cost-prohibitive may consider joining a coalition of small companies to contract collectively with a provider of EAP services.
Companies that provide training experience increased productivity, improved quality of work and lower turnover. Training comes in all shapes and sizes depending on your business needs.
Consider these ideas for training programs:
Not everyone has children - but everyone does have a personal life. Here are some programs that can be beneficial for all your employees:
Books, Articles, and Newsletters
Balance Sheets. (A series of information sheets for employers interested in helping employees balance work and personal responsibilities) San Francisco, CA, One Small Step.
Catalyst. Making Work Flexible: Policy to Practice. 1996.
Dumas, Lynne S. "Small Wonders." Working Mother , June 1998.
Graham, Baxter W. "The Business Argument for Flexibility." HR Magazine , May 1996.
Managing Telecommuting: A Guidebook . Monmouth, N.J.: Gil Gordon Associates, 1995.
The 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce . New York: Families and Work Institute. 1998.
Olmstead, Barney and Suzanne Smith. Managing a Flexible Workplace . New York: AMACOM 1997.
Rose, Karol. Work and Family: Program Models and Policies. New York: J. Wiley & Son, Inc. 1993.
Sher, Margery Leveen and Madeline Fried. Child Care Options. A Workplace Initiative for the 21st Century. Phoenix, AZ: The Oryx Press, 1994.
U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The Handbook of Child and Elder Care Resources. June 1997.
"Work and Family: Best Practices from 10 Leading Companies." Business Week , September 16, 1996.
Work/Life Today: News, developments and bottom-line solutions for the workplace. Published monthly by the National Institute of Business Management, McLean, VA.