Businessweek Archives

Corporate America Is Still No Place For Kids


Social Issues

CORPORATE AMERICA IS STILL NO PLACE FOR KIDS

Many of Johnson & Johnson's products, from Band-Aids to baby oil, are aimed at families, especially those with children. So it seems logical that the New Brunswick (N. J.) company wants to build a good reputation among customers and employees alike as a family-oriented company. During the 1980s, for instance, J&J became one of the first to offer a wide range of family programs such as discounts for local day care centers.

Then, in early 1989, a task force of senior executives decided that such moves weren't enough. James E. Burke, J&J's chief executive at the time, launched a package of 12 new family initiatives, calling it "the most important commitment we've ever made" to employees. Burke even changed the company's written credo, which had been altered only three times since 1943. The addition reads: "We must be mindful of ways to help our employees fulfill their family responsibilities."

Coping with conflicts between work and family is one of the biggest employment challenges of the day. Over the past two decades, the number of working women has shot up to nearly half the work force. Single working mothers have become plentiful, and two-career families may soon be the norm. Corporate layoffs and relocations, long commutes to find affordable housing, and the health care morass add to family pressures.

In the first systematic attempt to assess how well companies help employees deal with all this, New York-based Families & Work Institute, a research group formed by Ellen Galinsky, an expert on work and family issues, and Dana Friedman, a former Conference Board expert on the subject, has created what it calls a family-friendly index. Designed over three years with the help of corporate officials, academics, and other experts, the index assigns points for such programs as flexible work arrangements and on-site day care. Higher scores are given to formal, companywide programs. In its first survey, completed last year and set to be published on Nov. 14, the institute queried 298 of the largest U. S. companies, then ranked the 188 that responded.

'JUST STARTING.' The results show that Corporate America still falls far short of what the institute calls the ideal. The survey did find that many large companies are helping employees cope with children or elderly parents, and it turned up a profusion of experiments. But the average score was a mere 68 out of a possible 610 points. And according to the institute's complex set of measures, only four companies -- J&J, IBM, Aetna, and Corning -- came close to being truly family-friendly. "To be successful, family programs must be seen as intrinsic to a company's business mission," says Galinsky. "And that's just starting to happen, even at the top four companies." Agrees Sherry B. Herchenroether, who monitors family-services programs for Aetna Life & Casualty Co.: "Most companies, including Aetna, have a long way to go."

The institute's study is unusual because it differentiates between two overlapping issues: work/family conflicts and how women are treated. For instance, the survey didn't look at pay and promotion for women. Instead, the index measures the prevalence and effectiveness of benefits, such as parental leave, which increasingly are used by both men and women.

Institute officials concede that their scoring method isn't perfect, because the field is uncharted and rapidly changing. Galinsky also says that even the best company may never score 610, because every policy may not be appropriate for every company. For instance, most employees at the New York offices of Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., which ranked 17th, commute from the suburbs. So child care subsidies would be more appropriate than on-site day care.

In their analysis of corporate cultures, the researchers found that a company's commitment to family policies typically develops in three stages. First, a few managers advocate such programs. The company might adopt one or two initiatives, but the CEO usually isn't involved. The institute found that 46% of the 188 companies are in this category. Some 33% more haven't even made it this far, including three bottom-ranked companies: Mack Trucks, Union Pacific, and Continental Airlines.

In the second stage, top officers get involved. The corporate emphasis shifts from worrying whether family policies hurt productivity to looking at their role in recruiting and retaining workers of both sexes. Some 19% of companies are doing this. In the third stage, the corporate culture begins to change, which the institute found only at the top four companies. In 1988, for example, IBM began granting unpaid parental leave of up to three years.

J&J is another third-stage company. Just ask Karen B. Appignani, 34, a programming analyst in J&J's headquarters. After her daughter Tara was born two years ago, Appignani's supervisor suggested that she consider flex-time arrangements. She took a six-week maternity leave and then worked at home on a personal computer for three months. Then, Appignani came into the office three days a week for an additional three months, working at home the other two days.

By the time she returned to work full-time, J&J had opened an on-site day care center. Today, Appignani drops Tara off at 8:30 a.m. and picks her up at 5 p.m. She even finds time to burn off stress in an aerobics class that J&J offers on-site. "When I talk to people at other companies," says Appignani, "they tell me: 'You've got it so good.' "

AFTER-SCHOOL GAP. So why does J&J fall short of the ideal the institute drew up? In the past year or so, the company has added new programs, including health care for most part-timers and a $2,000 payment to employees who adopt. But there are still no after-school day care programs, no vouchers for child care at locations that lack on-site centers, and no managerial-performance ratings based on work/family issues.

Even when there's a mandate from the top, as at J&J, changing the corporate culture isn't easy. In most companies, such policies as part-time work and extended leave are applied at the discretion of an employee's immediate boss. The performance of managers usually is judged by how well their unit does. And many fear that productivity will fall if employees go on leave, though there's no definitive evidence either way.

MetLife discovered what a stumbling block managers can be in a 1989 survey of 8,400 employees. About 50% said their bosses weren't up to speed on the company's work/family programs. "That told us we had more work to do," says Anne E. Hayden, MetLife's vice-president for human relations. The company sent all managers a detailed guidebook with answers to common questions on family policies. MetLife has also held training sessions for managers and is studying ways to do more. Both J&J and IBM have set up training courses on work/family issues that managers must attend. However, none of these companies has included the handling of work/family issues in managerial-performance ratings, as Corning Inc. has done.

It's easy to see why many supervisors are so recalcitrant. Ronald E. Burke, a district manager of state government affairs in American Telephone & Telegraph Co.'s Chicago office, has had to juggle a host of requests since the company instituted new part-time and flexible-workday policies last year. One person on his staff of 25 works part time and another plans to do so when she returns from maternity leave. A third employee has taken leave to care for her elderly parents. And last summer, another employee worked four weekdays and Saturday so he could be on the same schedule as his wife, a nurse.

Still, AT&T's Burke says the effort is worth it. He feels output may rise as workers gain broader skills when they fill in for those on leave. And "if we didn't do this, we might lose some of our better people," he adds. "Although we haven't discussed it, I think the young lady coming back from maternity leave would look for another job if she couldn't work part time."

BOTTOM LINE. Although the institute's survey focuses mn large companies, it found many experiments at other employers. The Los Angeles Water & Power Dept. has a pilot program called Birth Alert that beeps fathers who work in the field and may not be easy to reach when their wives are about to deliver. And Stride Rite Corp. in Cambridge, Mass., opened a day care center in 1990 for grandparents as well as children. "We get a phenomenal number of inquiries from other companies," says Karen Liebold, Stride Rite's director of work and family programs. "We probably send out 60 packets of information a month."

Still, the institute says the bottom line is that neither large nor small employers are doing enough. The point is driven home by a comparison with practices that are common in Europe, such as paid parental leave. The institute's index doesn't even include this as a potential policy, though it does assign it five points in an "other" category. With Congress battling over proposals for mandatory unpaid leave, asking employers to pay for time off the job isn't on the horizon. Says Galinsky: "We didn't think that was a realistic goal at this point."

U. S. companies are still feeling their way on issues of work and family. But with the institute's study, they now have a clearer view of the paths they can pursue.THE TOP SCORERS

Here are the most family-friendly of 188 companies surveyed.

* Because all policies may not fit every company, the ideal score is

probably below the maximum of 610 points. For an explanation of the index,

see page 236

JOHNSON & JOHNSON 245

IBM 223

AETNA 195

CORNING 190

AT&T 178

JOHN HANCOCK 175

WARNER-LAMBERT 175

U.S. WEST 165

DU PONT 163

TRAVELERS 158

*Based on policies in place as of spring, 1990

DATA: FAMILIES & WORK INSTITUTE

IS YOUR COMPANY FAMILY-FRIENDLY?

The Families & Work Institute created this index to compare work/family

policies at large companies. It rates them according to whether they have

these options -- and gives higher scores for companywide, formal programs

Policy Maximum score

FLEXIBLE WORK ARRANGEMENTS 105

Variable starting and quitting times, part-time work

LEAVES 40

Length of parental leaves, who's eligible, job guarantees

FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE 80

Flexible benefits, long-term-care insurance, child-care discounts

CORPORATE GIVING/COMMUNITY SERVICE 60

Funding for community or national work/family initiatives

DEPENDENT-CARE SERVICES 155

Child- and elder-care referral, on-site centers, sick-child programs

MANAGEMENT CHANGE 90

Work/family training for managers, work/family coordinators

WORK-FAMILY STRESS MANAGEMENT 80

Wellness programs, relocation services, work/family seminars

TOTAL POSSIBLE SCORE: 610

DATA: FAMILIES & WORK INSTITUTE

Aaron Bernstein in New York, with Joseph Weber in New Brunswick, Lisa Driscoll in Hartford, and Alice Cuneo in San Francisco


Best LBO Ever
LIMITED-TIME OFFER SUBSCRIBE NOW
 
blog comments powered by Disqus