Worklife Benefits

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A generation ago, jobs in America were based on more than a day's pay for a day's work. Employees also gave companies their loyalty in return for job security, identity, steady raises and promotions.

But the decline of the manufacturing economy has killed that old understanding, and as Vincent Duffy reports in our latest installment of "New Work, New Families, America's Juggling Act," companies are searching for new ways to foster old fashioned loyalty among employees.

Last week, single mother Sharon Hewitt was having a difficult time balancing her responsibilities between her job and her children. Recently hired as a librarian at Cleveland State University, Sharon had used up her sick days when she was ill, and didn't have any left when her nine-year-old daughter caught the same flu...

Hewitt: She got sick in the middle of the night. I had to call the next morning to her doctor's office and they could only give an appointment during the day. So I ended up taking her to an emergency room after I had worked my 9 hours here. I went to the emergency room for 2 hours because I couldn't afford to take time off the next day to take her to her regular doctor.
The expensive emergency room visit was covered under Hewitt's benefits, but staying home with her sick daughter was impossible...
Hewitt: My 15-year-old daughter is old enough and responsible enough to take care of her. So unfortunately, I had to take her out of her classes and leave her to take care of the 9-year-old. And with no other options, you know, I can't stay with her.
When employees like Hewitt have to make difficult decisions to balance their work and home life, it does little to foster employee loyalty and if Hewitt were offered another job with a little better pay, she and millions like her would probably take it...
Darcy: You've got employees saying that they'll leave for an insignificant amount of money. They leave just for the new opportunity.
Laura Darcy is an executive business director with the Center for Families and Children in Cleveland...
Darcy: I think that the risk to an employer is that they are going to have a constantly changing workforce. And an expense to them is going to be recruiting a new employee, training the new employee. Those are significant expenses.
Companies face an uphill battle. Demoralized by downsizing and outsourcing, today's workers have little institutional loyalty, and are quick to jump ship. When that happens, companies have to spend money to hire someone, perhaps spend money to train them, and are short-handed during the process. In an effort to solve these problems, a number of influential companies are offering benefits designed to increase employee loyalty. Among human resources professionals, these programs are often called "employer of choice" or "preferred employer" programs. At the Center for Families and Children, the program is called Worklife Matters...again, Laura Darcy...
Darcy: I think worklife benefits are recognized as specific tools to help a company be more effective in recruiting and retaining employees. It's just recognition that there are issues in people's lives that they have to cope with and are going to cope with them one way or another. The employer can either enlist them in doing so, or not. And as the job market becomes more and more demanding, talented people are more and more difficult to recruit to a company. In order to be competitive and keep these talented people--worklife benefits have gained in popularity.
Worklife benefits go far beyond the traditional benefits of health, dental and retirement. The goal is to solve any problem that could keep an employee from focusing on their job. For example, if Cleveland State Uuniversity offered worklife benefits to Sharon Hewitt and her sick daughter, Darcy says her problems could have been solved...
Darcy: The employee calls in and gives us the characteristics of the kind of care they are looking for. Whether that will be a daycare center, an in-home provider, or care for a mildly ill school-aged child. Sometimes, the child is sick and you stay home with him. And the next day or day after, they are okay. You can go back to work. But sometimes, the child cannot go back to school. We help find those kinds of facilities.
Another program offered by worklife matters is a "Kids To Go" program, which provides all day field trips on school vacation days so moms and dads can go to work, and the employers subsidize the trip. Sound too good to be true? Darcy says offering these types of benefits actually saves companies' money...
Darcy: People will miss 11-13 days a year to take care of the children or parents. So if a company can help an employee avoid some of those absences through the eldercare, childcare, EAP services. They saved tons of money. Just multiply how much it costs per day to have a person absent times the number of employers you have and the amount of money--it's phenomenal. How much money a company can save by having people actually be at work as opposed to home taking care of the children or parents.
Some companies are so intent on keeping their employees at work that they'll run your errands for you as a workplace benefit. Known as concierge services, they will pick up your dry cleaning, mow your lawn, take your car to get the oil change, even walk your dog. Cedric Ball owns Bravo Concierge in Toledo, which markets itself to individuals, and corporations, and says the concierge services are very popular...
Ball: The top of the list is home services. People want to find reliable contractors to do work. A lot of times they don't know where to turn. It also takes a lot of time to get quotes from different contractors. So our service will actually do that in that way the client doesn't have to take the time to collect different estimates to paint their living room.
Companies buy blocks of time from a concierge service, and then dole the time out to employees however they wish. Rather than become an added expense, Ball says many companies find a concierge benefit improves their bottom line...
Ball: Somewhere between 20 and 30% of an employee's time is spent on personal distractions, if you will. And that's just money lost to the company. If you are a professional or executive, and that individual is taking time get to get his car washed--or leaving a few minutes early to get to the dry cleaners by 5:00, that's not the best use of that person's time, when you consider the opportunity cost of what she or he could be doing with that time. The objective is to help the employee and also the company, in terms of removing some of the activities that the employee would be better off not doing on company time.
One Cleveland area company known for the many benefits provided to its workers is Progressive Insurance. The 3,000 employees working on Progressive's main campus have access to employee development and a cafeteria, can shop, develop film, visit the ATM machine and do their dry cleaning all without leaving the building, and if they wish...walk past rotating art collections on their way to a work out...
Belair: Here in our fitness center you can see we have a wide-range of equipment. We have men's and women's locker room facilities complete with showers and lockers. An actual exercise room--where we offer a wide range of courses and classes. Anything from step classes to all kinds of aerobic courses.
And if you're working out during your lunch hour and injure yourself, don't worry, your primary care physician is also in the building...along with your kid's pediatrician, a chiropractor and a massotherapist. Elaine Belair is the Human Resource Director for Progressive Insurance...
Belair: We want happy and healthy employees from a holistic approach from being emotionally, physically, and spiritually well makes people more productive at work as well as at home.
Belair says the motto at Progressive is great pay, great people, and great benefits. She says the benefits not only keep good workers from leaving, but also help Progressive attract top talent. One senior level manager liked having a pediatrician at his job, because he had a special needs child...
Belair: The primary reasons he opted for Progressive was because he wanted to be able to participate with his spouse in the pediatric care of his child. He's able to do that here. He can take minimal amount of work-time away from work and still be very much a part of that process.
Other non-traditional offerings that are a small but growing part of benefit packages for companies trying to maintain employee loyalty include on-site elder care as aging baby boomers care for their parents as well as their children, pet services including grooming and insurance, and family outings paid for by the company. Corporations are hoping that while you might leave your job for a few more dollars, you won't want to leave all these benefits behind. I'm Vincent Duffy, 89.7 WKSU.
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