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Expert Answers to Biz Questions

Listen in! Pick up some expert advice to a reader's question that we selected from CyberSchmooz.

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The Biz Question

I'd enjoy comments and input on employers' assessments of employees who have elderly family or child care responsibilities. What are companies doing to assist employees with these issues? If nothing, why hasn't this been made an employee-assistance issue?


Answer from our Guest Expert Allison Gaea Jucha of Yes!Coaching

Dear Carol:

Although more companies are responding to increasing employee absenteeism due to family problems with an arsenal of human resource-based programs and benefits -- such as job sharing, flextime, child care savings funds -- the message remains: life and work are separate and must remain so.

But while there's been no widespread "cure" for the segregation of home life and work, increasing numbers of people are demanding real solutions to the issues of work and family care. More and more small and large companies are becoming models to follow, and several life/work professionals' organizations are available to help employers and employees work together to answer questions and provide solutions.

Often, the real issue for employers is an assumption they'll lose time and money by providing life/work balance options for employees; however, companies are finding out that nothing could be further from the truth!

You can help companies you work with by exposing them to the many cost-effective options available to them as they provide expanded services for their employees.

Learn from a Family-Friendly Company

VeriFone Inc., with its headquarters in Redwood City, California, is one of the most integrated models of life/work balance in the country. Primarily a virtual company, almost all of its employees telecommute. VeriFone has designed technology and organizational development into a business art form. Using extranets, e-mail, and teleconferencing, the business gets done. Employees are discouraged from doing business "outside" of traditional business hours, such as during dinner time, and managers will check in with employees to make sure that work-at-home doesn't become all-consuming. The company has family programs as well, including VeriPals, a penpal network of employees' children who live all around the world. (Pretty nifty, huh?)

You can read about other such companies in biz magazines, too! For example, every year, Working Mother magazine reports on the Top 100 Family-Friendly Companies in the U.S. These companies are rated concerning benefits, flexible scheduling options, pay, child care assistance, and more.

Likewise, at your local bookstore, you can check out how "green," family-friendly, and socially responsible company founders are writing their own stories. In the biz book section, at least ten books at a time relate the growth of these companies, such as Tom's of Maine, the Body Shop, and the Republic of Tea. Because they began with a vision of cooperation and profit, they tend to hire those with a vision for their own lives. Businesses using enlightened business practices appreciate employees who don't compromise in their own lives and are willing to do what's best for themselves and their families.

Human Resource Departments

All human resource directors are aware of the myriad of programs available to help employees who are caring for other family members. While whole programs may not be currently available within the company, they may be initiated due to increased need or applied in a case-by-case fashion. In other words, just because you can't see it in the benefits book, doesn't mean it isn't an option.

Once the employee has established a need and a plan (based on the company's benefits package or the employee's ingenuity), the first place to go is his/her manager or supervisor. This person knows employee success at the company directly impacts the bottom line of profitability. If employee and business needs can be matched and met, there is usually little argument from either side about any changes that may need to take place.

Professional Work/Life Consultants

The best place to find help with establishing child- and elder-care assistance is on the Web. Tune to for the Alliance of Work/Life Professionals. The members' list includes organizations like the ElderCare Helpline and Work/Life Solutions. Businesses who use such services, or have growing family service programs, are also members.

This type of consultancy is best described in Working Mother's March 1998 issue in an article called, "The Problem Solvers." Services provided may include help with parenting to financial assistance, even relocation help and school searches. The article sites NationsBank (St. Louis) as estimating a savings of 14 to 18 hours per employee using work/life consultant services. Their VP for work and family is quoted as saying, "[using these consultants] saves our company a great deal more than we spend on it."

Government Assistance

Last, but not least, employees can look to state and federal assistance programs to help pay for dependent care. Some companies are also receiving help from local or state government in the form of tax breaks as incentive to establish assistance programs or on-site daycare programs.

This issue isn't going away. Historically, taking care of the family has always been "fit into" a schedule of hauling water up to ten times a day for cooking and cleaning (1820); factory work (1910); or modern employment by commute. Rarely have we seen a viable solution in our history as we serve as both caregivers and monetary providers. But we're demanding that work and life no longer be treated as separate issues. And companies are responding slowly, but favorably.

Good luck with your biz! 

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