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Quick Tips for Workplace Effectiveness

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.



Workplace Effectiveness and Work/Life Issues

  • Increase Productivity
  • Retain Talented Workers
  • Enhance Commitment and Morale
  • Reduce Turnover
The Family and Work Institute's 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce identified quality of workers' jobs and supportiveness of their workplaces as the most powerful predictors of productivity - job satisfaction, commitment and retention.

Reduce Absenteeism
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.

Create a Supportive Work Environment

Companies that value people add value to the bottom line. Here are some suggestions for improving job quality and providing a supportive work environment.
  • Ensure fair and equitable work practices.
  • Encourage cooperation among workers.
  • Provide flexible work arrangements.
  • Respect the contributions of all employees.
  • Provide advancement opportunities.
  • Recognize and reward good performance.
  • Provide learning opportunities.
  • Allow control over work processes.
  • Ensure a workplace free from discrimination and harassment.
  • Provide equal opportunity for all workers.
  • Communicate supportive programs.
  • Respect and support individual needs.
  • Maintain an open door policy and encourage employee suggestions and feedback.

Quick Start

Sometimes small businesses are reluctant to introduce work/life initiatives because they may be cost prohibitive. Here are some ideas that cost very little, but can reap big benefits.
  • Employee Resource Center
  • Lunchtime Seminars
  • Support Groups
  • Flexible Work Arrangements
  • Time off for School Visitations
  • Casual Dress Days
  • Family Day at Work
  • Financial Counseling
  • Sports Activities
  • Personal Safety Programs
  • Wellness/Fitness Programs
  • Parking Spaces for Moms-to-Be
  • Information on Community Resources
  • After-School Telephone Access
  • Lactation Rooms for New Mothers
  • Time Off to Care for Ill or Injured Family Members
  • Allow Children at Work Occasionally
  • Conduct or Participate in Health Fairs
  • Encourage Respect, Teamwork, Trust
  • Beepers for Expectant Fathers
  • Highchairs in Cafeteria/Lunchrooms

Flexible Work Arrangements


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 is the most widely used option. Within limits set by management, employees work a standard number of hours each week, but choose their own starting and quitting times. A portion of each day is designated as "core time" when all employees must be present.

Example of a flextime schedule

  • Standard workday:8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
  • Flex start time:6:00 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.
  • Core time:9:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
  • Flex quit time:2:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Business Applications

  • Improved workload scheduling
  • Reduced tardiness and absenteeism
  • Extend hours of service
  • Improve quality of work and productivity

Advantages to Employee

  • Balance work and personal responsibilities
  • Avoid rush-hour traffic
  • Expand leisure time

Potential Drawbacks

  • Difficulty scheduling meetings
  • Key people sometimes unavailable
  • Additional workload burden on co-workers


A work arrangement that allows employees to work at home or at an alternative location close to home for all or part of their scheduled hours. Employees are usually linked to the office via computer, telephone, fax and e-mail.

Business Applications

  • Save on office space and overhead expenses
  • Increase pool of potential applicants
  • Employ individuals with disabilities
  • Achieve greater flexibility in scheduling
  • Improve employee productivity
  • Comply with environmental legislation by reducing number of commuters

Advantages to Employee

  • Enhance sense of autonomy and control
  • Reduce commuting time and expense
  • Increase job satisfaction
  • Provide more family time
  • Save on clothing and meals
  • Measure performance based on results, not presence
  • Maintain salary and benefits

Potential Drawbacks

  • Creates sense of isolation for employee
  • Causes supervisor/co-worker resentment
  • Requires new methods for measuring performance
  • Potential household distraction
  • Difficulty in scheduling meetings
  • Security and liability issues
  • Potential Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issues

Compressed Workweek

A form of alternative scheduling in which a standard full-time work schedule is condensed into fewer than five full days.

Most Common Schedules

  • 4/10 = 10-hour days, 4 days a week, one day off
  • 3/12 = 12-hour days, 3 days a week, two days off
  • 9/80 = 5 8-hour days the first week, 4 10-hour days the second week, with one day off every two weeks

Business Applications
  • Extend hours of service
  • Expand use of facilities and equipment
  • Improve scheduling for peak periods
  • Provide low-cost employee benefit
  • Improve employee morale
  • Enhance recruiting
  • Reduce absenteeism and turnover

Advantages to Employee

  • Longer periods of personal/family time
  • Easier commute
  • Reduced childcare expenses

Potential Drawbacks

  • Longer days can result in employee fatigue
  • Communications and coverage can be difficult
  • Legal considerations regarding overtime
  • Additional burden on co-workers
  • Impact on vacation and holiday schedules

Reduced Hours

Employees regularly work fewer hours than a company's standard full-time schedule. Schedules vary widely, and compensation and benefits are usually based on the number of hours worked.

Examples of Part-time Schedules

  • Less than 8-hour days, 5 days per week
  • 8-hour days, 3 days per week
  • 5-hour days, 4 days per week

Business Applications

  • Retain experienced employees who might otherwise leave
  • Provide a gradual return to work following family leave
  • Reduce labor costs
  • Adjust staffing to workload needs
  • Increase staff without increasing headcount
  • Improve job performance

Advantages to Employee

  • Offers a wide range of scheduling options
  • More personal time
  • Chance for continued career growth

Potential Drawbacks
  • Perception that employee is "less committed"
  • "Workload creep," (full-time workload expected from part-time hours)
  • Resentment from co-workers
  • Benefits eligibility issues

Job Sharing

Two individuals voluntarily share the responsibilities and duties of one full-time position. Compensation and benefits can be shared or prorated.

Examples of Job Share Schedules

  • Split week, consecutive days with overlap
  • Split week, non-consecutive days without overlap

Business Applications

  • Retain skills when personal responsibilities make full-time work difficult
  • Provide part-time opportunities in higher-level positions
  • Recruit quality people
  • Enhance coverage and continuity
  • Encourage creative and improved scheduling
  • Increase range of skills and experience

Advantages to Employee

  • Increases part-time job opportunities
  • Retention of seniority and status
  • Greater job satisfaction
  • Reduces burnout in high-stress jobs

Potential Drawbacks

  • Difficulty in evaluating work assignments
  • Some additional costs
  • Status of job share if one partner leaves

Temporary Phase In/Out Programs

Phased Retirement
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.

Summer Hours
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 Leave

The following are examples of flexible leave programs that enhance recruitment effort, increase retention and improve community relations.

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.

Leave Sharing
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.

Family and Medical Leave

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:

  • Care of a newborn, newly adopted or recently placed foster child.
  • Care of a dependent, spouse or parent with a serious health condition, or
  • The employee's own illness.

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.

Child Care Services

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

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.

Resource and Referral

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:

  • Trained counselors familiar with local resources.
  • Information on availability of programs, ages of children accepted and hours of service provided.
  • Guidelines to help parents evaluate child care providers.
  • Information on state and local regulations.
  • Referrals for day care and supervised school-age programs.
  • Telephone access to family information specialists.
Elder Care Referral and Consultation
Caring for an older family member while working has become a growing concern for many employees. Resource and referral programs can help working caregivers:
  • Identify relative's needs and needs of caregiver.
  • Identify resources to provide necessary care.
  • Provide information on available community services.
  • Provide information on elder care counseling.


Standard Benefits Package
Many employers offer a benefits package that may include any or all of the following:

  • Life Insurance
  • Health/Dental Insurance
  • Retirement/Pension Plan
  • 401(k) Savings Plan Paid
  • Vacation Paid
  • Holidays Paid
  • Sick Leave
  • Short- and Long-Term Disability

Other benefit options might include:

  • Flexible or Cafeteria Benefit Plans - Employees choose from among a variety of benefit options based on individual needs.
  • Voluntary Benefits (generally employee-paid) - Pre-funded Life Insurance Supplemental Life Insurance Pre-funded College Tuition Homeowners Insurance Auto Insurance Legal Services Long-Term Care Insurance Dread Disease/Disability Insurance Flexible Spending Accounts
  • Benefits for Domestic Partners - A growing number of employers are offering health and/or non-health benefits to an employee's domestic partner; that is, a partner unrelated to the employee by blood or marriage.

Financial Assistance for Child Care

Direct Payments to Employee or Child Care Provider

  • Pay the employee or provider directly for part of the child care expenses.
  • Provide financial assistance for child care based on family income.
  • Provide a flat fee per week or month depending on the age of the child (infant and toddler care is more expensive).

Voucher Programs
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.

Discounts or Reserved Slots
Arrange for employee discounts with local licensed child care providers, or purchase slots for employees' children in one or more child care programs, and "resell" the spaces to employees at a lower fee.

Financial Support for Specific Child Care Situations*

  • Reimburse for child care expenses incurred because of travel or overtime.
  • Pay for or supplement cost of adopting a child.
  • Provide baby bonuses (may be cash, gift, or services) to help cover initial costs when a baby is born or adopted.
  • Provide back-up care or care for children who are ill.
  • Subsidize resource and referral for child care.
  • Subsidize school-age programs (before and after-school care; summer and school holiday programs).
  • Provide in-kind support for nearby child care center.
  • Support community child care programs.
  • Offer scholarships to children of employees

*Some may be cost-prohibitive for larger employers.

Flexible Spending Accounts For Dependent Care/Health Care

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.

Financial Assistance For Personal Responsibilities

Adoption Assistance
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.

Tuition Assistance
Reimbursement for portion of cost of tuition and/or books for job-related (or non-job related) courses or degrees.

Commuter Assistance
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.

Pre-Retirement Counseling
Provide seminars and resources to help employees plan for their retirement years.

Relocation Assistance

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.

Housing Assistance
Assistance in finding and financing affordable housing in the new community.

House-Hunting/Moving Assistance
Reimbursement for house-hunting trips and moving expenses.

Temporary Living
Reimbursement for living expenses incurred before housing can be procured in the new community.

Spousal Assistance
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.

Family Consultations

Assistance in Locating Schools

Cross-Cultural Training for families relocating to other countries.

Community Information
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

Health and Wellness Programs

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.

Fitness/Exercise Center
If an on-site center is not feasible, consider subsidizing employee memberships in a near-by community center.

Health Services
May include health screenings, flu shots, consultations - provided on-site or at a community medical center.

Maternity/Prenatal Education
Information on exercise, nutrition and healthy pregnancies, reduces medical costs for pregnancies and results in fewer Caesarian deliveries.

Lactation Programs
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:

  • Massage Therapy
  • Sports Activities
  • Stress Reduction Programs
  • Nutritional Counseling
  • Personal Safety Programs
  • Weight Reduction Programs
  • Smoking Cessation Programs
  • Wellness Newsletters
  • Parenting Programs

Creating a Safe and Healthy Workplace

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:

  • Enforce"zero-tolerance" of violence in the workplace.
  • Ensure effective pre-employment screening.
  • Treat employees fairly and consistently.
  • Provide internal support systems.
  • Communicate rules of conduct.
  • Deal with undesirable behavior quickly.
  • Document incidents of workplace violence.
  • Conduct exit interviews.
  • Establish guidelines for discipline.
  • Document problems with attendance, behavior, and work performance.
  • Provide training for managers on identifying potentially violent employees/situations.
  • Encourage wellness and exercise programs.
  • Encourage counseling to help employees and their families in stressful situations.
  • Monitor security practices to ensure a safe work environment.

Employee Resource Center

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:

  • Parenting
  • Balancing Work and Family
  • Financial Planning
  • Legal Aid Services
  • Local Organizations
  • Community Events
  • Professional Development
  • Career Planning
  • Dependent Care
  • Relocation Information
  • Adult Education Programs
  • Health and Wellness Programs
  • Local Schools and Colleges
  • Area Attractions

Employee Support Programs

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

  • Working Parents
  • Flexible Work Arrangements
  • Non-Traditional Families
  • Single Parents
  • Gay Men and Lesbians

Lunchtime Seminars

  • Parenting
  • Elder Care
  • Retirement
  • Balancing Work and Personal Life
  • Being Single
  • Time Management
  • Stress Management
  • Budgeting

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

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:

  • Stress
  • Emotional Problems
  • Chemical Dependencies
  • Financial Concerns
  • Legal Problems
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Suicide Intervention
  • Family/Marital Problems
  • Critical Incidents, such as workplace violence, accidents, or employee death

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:

  • Leadership
  • Management
  • Employee Development
  • Diversity
  • Team Building
  • Literacy
  • English as a Second Language (ESL)
  • Communication Skills
  • Customer Service
  • Technical Skills
  • Computer Literacy
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Americans With Disabilities Act
  • Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Problem Solving
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Flexible Work Arrangements
  • Personal Skills Inventory
  • Time Management
  • Career Development
  • Labor Relations
  • Assertiveness Training
  • Preventing Workplace Violence

Something for Everyone!

Not everyone has children - but everyone does have a personal life. Here are some programs that can be beneficial for all your employees:

  • Employee Resource Center
  • Tuition Reimbursement Program
  • Flexible Work Arrangements
  • Wellness/Fitness Programs
  • Commuter Assistance/Subsidies
  • Personal Life Consultation Services
  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
  • Volunteer Opportunities
  • Flexible Benefits Program
  • Home Mortgage Program
  • Consumer Purchasing Services
  • Dry Cleaning Services
  • Video Rentals
  • Photo Processing
  • On-site Career Center
  • Computer Purchase Program
  • Massage Therapist
  • Concierge or Personal Services

Sources for More Information

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.



Written by Sandy Fazio, Gannett Co., Inc. and Maria Laqueur, FlexResources