Category Archives: work/life balance

Best and Worst States for Working Moms

To kick off Mother’s Day week (Wait, is my mom the only one who raised her kids believe the holiday was actually an entire week-long celebration?) WalletHub has just released its findings on the best and worst states for working moms.

They analyzed the attractiveness of each of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia to a working mother by examining three key dimensions: Child care, Employment opportunities and work/life balance. Data from 12 key metrics — such as median women’s salary, female unemployment rate and daycare-quality rankings — helped determine the list.

According to the rankings, Vermont took the top spot, followed by: Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Washington, North Dakota, Maine, Virginia and Ohio.

Meanwhile, Louisiana took the bottom spot in the rankings, preceded by: South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Nevada, Arkansas, Georgia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Oklahoma.

Other key stats include:

  • Day care quality is five times better in New York than in Idaho.
  • Child care costs (adjusted for the median woman’s salary) are two times higher in the District of Columbia than in Tennessee.
  • Pediatric services are 12 times more accessible in Vermont than in New Mexico.
  • The ratio of female to male executives is three times higher in Alabama than in Utah.
  • The percentage of single-mom families in poverty is two times higher in Mississippi than in Alaska.
  • The median women’s salary (adjusted for cost of living) is two times higher in Virginia than in Hawaii.
  • The female unemployment rate is four times higher in Nevada than in North Dakota.

In an a Q&A accompanying the findings, Zachary Schaefer, assistant professor of applied communication studies at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, says it’s actually getting both easier and more difficult for women to find the right work life balance because they are being put in a “double bind”:

As the number of organizations that offer “work-life” policies continues to increase, the expectations of women to be able to gracefully balance both spheres of their life will also increase. This is an unfair double bind where women are now supposed to be able to raise a family, head the household, and establish a successful career all because organizations now offer telework, more paid time off and flexible work schedules. Men are not faced with this.

So if you’re an HR professional working in an organization in one of the bottom-10 states for working moms, maybe it’s time to start thinking about what you and your organization can do to raise your state’s score.

After all, that’s an effort I’m fairly sure your own mother would be proud of.

To view the full WalletHub results, click here.

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Work/Life ‘Innovation’ in the Valley

As a session titled “Unlimited Time Off and the Leading Work/Life Benefits of Silicon Valley” reminded those attending this year’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, high-tech employers are innovating in areas well beyond technology.

ThinkstockPhotos-78521845Indeed, representatives from Adobe, Yahoo! and CA Technologies each detailed a wide range of work/life programs aimed at providing employees with greater flexibility and making their organizations more attractive places to work.

Lauren Vela, a senior director of member services at the Pacific Business Group on Health and the moderator of session, pointed out that bringing work/life balance to a high stressed, high-achieving population isn’t always an easy feat.

But that said, it’s clearly something companies such as Adobe, Yahoo! and CA Technologies take very seriously.

“In looking at our population,” explained Luz Garcia, senior Americas benefits specialist for San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe Systems, “people were not taking time-off. They were adding huge balances to their PTO accounts,” something that wasn’t in the spirit of Abode’s time-off program.

“We wanted people to take the time-off for rest and relaxation,” she said.

In response, Garcia said, Adobe revisited its program and implemented an unlimited time-off program.

Adobe’s policy states 

“… exempt U.S. employees will be paid their regular base salary at all times while they are actively employed by Adobe (including while on Adobe holidays and during Company break periods); the only time they will not receive their base salary will be during periods when they are on a leave of absence or are taking Sick Time Off, at which time they will be subject to the compensation and benefits provisions of the applicable Adobe leave of absence policy or the Sick Time Off provision below.”

Adobe, Garcia said, also enhanced its sabbatical program in 2009 with a tiered approach— so that after five years of service employees were entitled to four fully paid weeks off; after four weeks, five fully paid weeks off; and after 15 years, six fully paid weeks off.

Garcia noted that the changes helped reinforce the fact that “we value people taking time-off to decompress.”

Adobe also has instituted summer breaks. “We always had a winter break, where we shut down the last week of December. But now, with the summer break, we shut down the week of July 4,” she said.

CA Technologies’ Vice President of Global Benefits Lisa Mars, meanwhile, shared CA’s efforts in onsite day-care.

CA, with facilities in Silicon Valley, launched its first onsite Children’s Center in 1992 at its corporate headquarters in New York, Mars said. Since then, it rolled out centers in all of its large offices. “These sites have programs for children from six weeks of age to six years [and] teachers who we train … who are very highly skilled,” she said.

“It’s emerged as a wonderful influence on our culture,” Mars told attendees. “We have a very family friendly culture.”

CA also regularly holds onsite events, such as a “spring fling” (one was being held as Mars was speaking), where all of the families with children in the center, as well as other employees with children, are able to participate. (The events includes ponies, a petting zoo, kites and games.)

“It just nice to see people step back from all of that stress,” Mars said.

Mars noted she’s been required to do a lot of CEO education over the years, as new CEOs have joined CA and want to know “why we’re spending money” on these programs. “I have to explain to them [that it’s not just about] dollars and sense,” she said. “We have to look at it as something you can’t really apply a dollar value to, but it still brings the organization value.

“We’ve done studies that show that the retention levels of people who bring children to our programs are really much higher than those who don’t,” she added.

At Yahoo!, meanwhile, the goal of its various work/life programs is to not only make the firm a great place to work, but also to draw in “the best of the best.”

One of the areas the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo! has focused on is extending paid leave of new mothers and fathers, explained Joe Gracy, director of global benefits for Yahoo! “If you had a baby, adopt a child, provide foster care placement, you get eight [fully paid] weeks off. Birth mothers get an additional eight weeks [fully paid] as a part of their disability leave.”

Management, Gracy said, also wanted to make the experience fun for those new parents by introducing new-child gift baskets that included a diaper bag, toys and more.

All of the initiatives are aimed at “making the employee feel valued and engaged,” Gracy said.

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Making Workplace Meditation Work

Mindfulness appears to be alive and well in Fort Collins, Colo. Or at the Fort Collins Housing Authority anyway.

139980668-- meditationJust before the holidays, I came across this release about the FCHA completing a month-long mindfulness program for its staff.  Seems the organization’s top leaders took its annual wellness survey seriously when a common complaint came back suggesting improvements in work/life balance and health and general well-being were needed.

In the words of FCHA Chief Executive Officer Julie Brewen: “We are committed to implementing new programs for the health and well-being of our staff.”

In an industry that deals with tough issues such as poverty, homelessness and families in crisis, she says, the program was a step in the right direction. The program consisted of daily, hour-long sessions during work hours that blended presentations, group discussion and meditation practice.

The results? According to Brewen, lowered stress and depression, and an increase in work/life balance.

What’s even more impressive is what she shared with me just recently, that her organization’s commitment to this lives on, with additional mindfulness training planned for this year, and some added questionnaires and wellness-survey questions designed to keep a close eye on the workplace well-being meter.

“Many of the participants [intend] to continue [their] meditation and mindfulness exercises” into the rest of 2015, she says.

Of course, putting this kind of program together takes a huge and collective commitment to the idea and the practice. It needs to come from the top and be ingrained into the culture, as this column a year ago (to the month) by our benefits columnist, Carol Harnett, suggests.

Her column also suggests the concept could use some booster shots in the business community. “In my experience,” she writes, “most employers pay scant attention to stress and defer to employee-assistance programs as check-the-box solutions — despite poor utilization of this service.”

So what’s it going to take for the Fort Collins approach to become the approach of most? Perhaps when employers start acknowledging they have nothing to lose and everything to gain, even as it relates to your brand and reputation. As Harnett writes:

” … mind-body curriculums will please a growing portion of your employee population and improve your workers’ perceptions of the workplace culture. And that may be an employer’s greatest consideration of all.”

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Bound for a Breakdown

burnoutEmployees who describe themselves as perfectionists who take work home with them and can’t bear the thought of being average sound like a manager’s dream, right?

Not necessarily, according to new research that finds employees with such workaholic tendencies may not always work out so well.

In its recent study of 1,385 individuals taking a “Type A Personality Test,” online psychological assessment provider PsychTests found 86 percent of respondents classifying themselves as workaholics saying they push themselves to accomplish their goals. Sixty-five percent of those in this group said they take work home with them, with 63 percent claiming they “hate the idea of being considered an average performer.”

That all sounds fine and good, but there’s a downside to an intensely driven personality that can manifest itself in some nasty ways.

For example, 73 percent of those who consider themselves workaholics said they have trouble unwinding at the end of the day. The same number reported getting angry with themselves when they “don’t finish everything they wanted to do.” (These folks aren’t exactly thrilled with co-workers they see as creating distractions, either, as 68 percent said they “can’t tolerate people who slow them down.”)

In addition, 60 percent said they tend to be overcompetitive and impatient with co-workers. Fifty-eight percent report feeling tense, 49 percent have trouble falling asleep and another 46 percent find their lives are too stressful.

These figures certainly aren’t the first indication that workers who regularly push themselves to extremes may be barreling toward a breakdown—and may end up taking some of their colleagues along for the ride. And, other studies offer evidence that this type of employee often reaches a point where his or her efforts simply become counterproductive.

Just last week, in fact, HRE Managing Editor Kristen B. Frasch reported on recent Stanford University research findings that suggest employees working more than 50 hours a week are essentially spinning their wheels soon after hitting the half-century mark.

In that piece, work/life experts urged employers and HR leaders to implement initiatives such as paid-time-off banks and flexible hours for all employees as a way to encourage better work/life balance among the workforce.

While making such options available is certainly a positive first step, PsychTests President Ilona Jerabek advised managers to be a bit more direct in dealing with hard-charging workers who may sometimes need saving from themselves.

“This kind of extreme, ‘Type A’ personality has a shelf life as an employee, as [such an employee] cannot keep up this kind of schedule and work dedication for a sustained period of time,” Jerabek recently told Bloomberg BNA.

“You need to give them permission to take it easy,” she said, “and explicitly tell them to take some time off.”

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Fathers’ Jobs Enhanced by Father-Kid Time

487328649 -- father and childAn interesting finding comes to us from various professors at some well-reputed academic institutions — Northeastern University, Boston College and the University of Massachusetts — showing that the more time dads spend with their children, the better they fare on the job.

You’d think the opposite would be true, considering how more time with kids generally makes working mothers pull their hair out more and generally jeopardizes work, the release poses.

But in this month’s issue of Academy of Management Perspectives, a paper detailing the results of the study — based on a survey of close to 1,000 working fathers — will show that fathers spending more time with their kids and mothers spending more time with their kids yield very different results.

As the release about the study notes, researchers found that “the more time fathers spend with their children on a typical day, the more satisfied they are with their jobs and the less likely they [are to] want to leave their organizations.”

“Further,” the release says, “they experience less work-family conflict and greater work-family enrichment.”

Fathers spending time with their kids also put dedication to a career down a few notches on their career-identity/priority list, but the study says … hey, that’s … OK! As the release puts it, “any weakening of dedication can be effectively countered by management support with regard to work hours and family matters, the new research finds.” It goes on:

“In the words of the study, ‘Ideally, individuals should be able to foster a strong sense of involvement at home and still feel connected to their careers … . Analysis revealed that strong support from an organization via its management can mitigate the negative relationship between involved fathering and career identity.”

So why the difference between women and men? Though researchers Jamie J. Ladge and Maria Baskerville Watkins of Northeastern, Beth K. Humberd of U. of M. and Brad Harrington of Boston College don’t address it necessarily, an argument could be made that fathers are still getting the luxury of taking “baby steps” into more time with baby, whereas working mothers have long suffered “having to do it all.” (I say this as one who has been through multiple eras of this social experiment.)

But all in all, this is good news.

Now let’s see how many organizations can support the notion that fathers spending more time with their kids is a good thing. One study from a few years ago, written about in this HRE cover story, suggests they have a long way to go. It also suggests dads are more conflicted, not less, when they take that stand with their employers.

Looks like baby steps for both sides are in order.

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Bullish on Wellness

Good news out of the Society for Human Resource Management yesterday for those looking to move the needle on greater employee buy-in for wellness.

174186054According to the association’s Strategic Benefits survey, more than one-half (53 percent) of the 380 responding employers said employee participation in wellness programs climbed last year. This follows similar findings in 2013 and 2012, when 56 percent and 54 percent of the respondents, respectively, reported a jump.

What’s more, more than two-thirds of the employers that offered wellness indicated that their initiatives were either “somewhat effective” or “very effective” in reducing the costs of healthcare in 2014 (72 percent), 2013 (71 percent) and 2012 (68 percent).

The SHRM study also found two-thirds (67 percent) of organizations with such initiatives in place offered incentives or rewards aimed at increasing participation, representing an upward trend from 2013 (56 percent) and 2012 (57 percent).

Of those organizations offering wellness incentives or rewards, 85 percent said these incentives were “somewhat” or “very” effective in increasing employee participation.

The study also found the number of organizations with wellness programs was on the rise in 2014, with about three-quarters (76 percent) of the respondents saying they offered some type of wellness program to employees last year, an increase from 70 percent in 2012.

In all, these findings paint a fairly positive picture as far as wellness is concerned. But one weak link uncovered in the SHRM research, not surprisingly, continues to be on the measurement front. Few companies, SHRM reports, are actually measuring the ROI or cost-savings analyses of their efforts (18 percent and 30 percent, respectively).

Nine in 10 (90 percent) of the respondents whose organizations had wellness initiatives said their organizations would increase their investments in its wellness initiatives if they could better quantify their impact.

(Some critics would argue that, were they to measure the effectiveness of these programs, they might not be nearly so bullish.)

The SHRM research also looked at flexible-work arrangements, finding that about one-half (52 percent) of organizations provided employees with the option to use FWAs, such as teleworking. Of those offering employees such options, about one-third (31 percent) said participation in these initiatives increased last year, compared to the year before. Just 1 percent indicated employee participation had decreased.

Though one in two employers provided employees with the option to use flexible-work arrangements, the survey found only one-third (33 percent) reporting that the majority of their employees were actually allowed to use them.

Something I would think employers will need to address, sooner rather than later, considering Gen Yers (big proponents of flextime) are projected to represent the majority of the workforce in the not-too-distant future.

 

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Working Hard for the Holidays

ThanksgivingLast week, HRE reported on the Heartland Monitor Poll, in which 45 percent of 1,000 employed Americans said there was “some chance” they will be working on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day. Now, with Thanksgiving less than 24 hours away, we see more data suggesting a fair number of employees will spend at least the first leg of this holiday trifecta watching the clock at work instead of watching football on the couch.

Bloomberg BNA’s annual Thanksgiving Holiday Work Practices survey—conducted since 1980—found that 33 percent of 364 responding organizations are requiring at least some employees to work on Thanksgiving this year.

That number actually represents a 4 percent drop from Bloomberg’s 2013 Thanksgiving poll, but that’s cold comfort for those stuck at work tomorrow. (Incidentally, the Bloomberg survey finds employees responsible for public safety, security or maintenance are most likely to be among this group.)

On the bright side, however, 74 percent of the companies requiring Thanksgiving work will provide extra pay and/or leave. (That number stood at 55 percent last year.) Thirty-nine percent of these organizations will offer time-and-a-half pay, with 25 percent providing double-time pay. Ten percent will give those working on Thanksgiving both extra pay and compensatory time, while 8 percent of these employees will receive regular pay, and 7 percent will only be granted comp time for their efforts on Thanksgiving day.

Meanwhile, a recent CareerBuilder survey found 16 percent of 3,719 U.S. workers indicating they have to work on Thanksgiving (up from 14 percent in 2013).

More specifically, workers in leisure and hospitality (46 percent), retail (39 percent), healthcare (31 percent) and transportation and utilities (22 percent) will be leading the way among those most commonly reporting for duty on Thanksgiving, according to the study.

Interestingly, the same CareerBuilder poll found that nearly one in five employees will be giving thanks with colleagues tomorrow—even if they’re not working.

That’s right, 19 percent of respondents said they plan to celebrate the holiday with co-workers either in or out of the office.

I chuckled at that figure at first, as it struck me as odd that co-workers would be getting together on Thanksgiving, a day so associated with spending time with family and close friends. But I guess it’s not so strange that “family and close friends” would extend to include colleagues, given the bond that often forms among groups of people spending 40-plus hours a week together. And from an employer’s perspective, maybe it’s a sign that employees—or at least 19 percent of them—enjoy their co-workers and their work environment so much that they want to bring some of that atmosphere home for the holidays.

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Egg Freezing: Unique Benefit or Bad Idea?

pregnant womanThe Apples and Facebooks of the world are known for their original and generous employee perks and benefits. But these companies find themselves in the news this week for offering a new benefit that goes well beyond the usual on-site dry cleaning services and free haircuts.

Earlier this year, Facebook began covering up to $20,000 for female employees to freeze and store their reproductive eggs, so they can put off pregnancy as they establish themselves during their prime career-building years. Apple has announced it will start doing the same in January 2015.

Cryopreservation and egg storage could be seen as the latest advance from the tech firms that continue to blaze the trail for employee benefits that help attract and retain the best and brightest.

“Egg freezing is one in a long line of innovative HR practices intended to be attractive to educated people with many employment options, seeking a focus on flexibility in the difficult balance between work and life,” according to James Hayton, professor of human resource management at the Warwick Business School in Coventry, England.

“The cost appears to be moderate, although not trivial, at about 20 percent of average salary at these firms,” says Hayton. “The benefits, in terms of attracting and retaining employees, can be expected to significantly outweigh the costs. The positive PR will pay for itself by signaling these employers’ values with respect to women’s control over this important life choice to prospective female employees.”

All that said, the practice isn’t without its detractors.

Healthcare law and bioethics expert Seema Mohapatra, for example, wrote in August that egg freezing “seems to put a Band-Aid on the problem of how difficult it is for women to have a career and raise a family concurrently.”

This week, one woman, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the New York Times that delaying fertility for female employees is “certainly in the employer’s interest … from a business perspective. But in my experience, it’s more personal: Are you married or not married, and if you’re not and you’re over 35, it’s a health thing.”

In the same Times article, Mohapatra expressed concern that women who “do not fit that profile” could feel pressure to use the benefit.

“What I worry about is it’s not going to be just used by that population, but [it’s] going to be used by the population in their 20s and early 30s saying, ‘If I want to be seen as a serious employee and make it to vice president, I can’t take maternity leave,’” said Mohapatra, a law professor at the Barry University School of Law in Orlando, Fla.

Critics may also note that, “while perks such as these are very impressive and innovative, broader pay equity might be an even stronger signal of the importance of women in the workplace,” says Hayton.

Additionally, companies offering this benefit could draw the ire of religious groups with serious reservations over “the tricky domain of bioethics and reproductive choices,” he continues, adding that other observers may be “squeamish about the degree of paternalism when employers show concern for their employees’ reproductive choices.”

While we’re certain to see these and other strong reactions in the days to come, Hayton, for one, is confident that employers providing egg freezing options for female employees will prove to be a good thing.

“Ultimately … these policies are innovative and forward-thinking, and likely to benefit the employers [that are] creative enough, and bold enough, to offer them.”

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Get Outta Here!

leaving officeMany contend that the unique perks the Googles and the Qualcomms of the world offer employees—on-site dry cleaners, pet-friendly workspaces, employer-hosted farmers markets—are as much about keeping people at work as they are about making their lives easier.

So it was interesting to read this recent Washington Post article, which highlighted a few companies that seem intent on helping their employees actually stay away from the office, and remain disconnected from their work after punching out for the day.

For instance:

  • Redwood, Calif.-based software company Evernote offers employees a $1,000 stipend for taking a full week away from work.
  • FullContact, a Denver-headquartered provider of contact-management software, gives employees $7,500 a year if they take time off of work. According to the Post, use of vacation time among the firm’s employees shot up after the policy was introduced.
  • Dutch design firm Heldergroen makes it impossible—or at least pretty uncomfortable—for workers to hang around the office past 6 p.m., when employee desks are lifted to the ceiling via steel cables, and all furniture is cleared from the floor.
  • Menlo Innovations opts not to offer technological tools for remote work. No employer-provided laptops, no virtual private networks and no remote-access software. The message to employees is clear, according to Richard Sheridan, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based software design firm’s CEO. “You can’t take work home with you,” Sheridan told the Post.
  • Quirky, a crowd-sourced consumer product maker with headquarters in New York, takes things a step further, shutting down completely for four weeks out of the year. Founder and CEO Ben Kaufman began the practice in early 2013, closing Quirky’s doors the first week of every new quarter.

Yes, most of these and the other examples cited in the Post piece are smaller and/or start-up type tech companies. But, with larger, more traditional-minded organizations always looking for ways to help employees strike that ever-elusive work/life balance—and position themselves as “cool” places to work—wouldn’t it be interesting if we started to see more Fortune 500 firms co-opt this piece of the freewheelin’, forward-thinking start-up culture?

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Larry Page Wants You to Work Less

Larry PageIt may seem a tad unrealistic to those of us who didn’t help start a billion-dollar behemoth of a company such as Google, but you have to like Larry Page’s concept of a world where we all spend less time at work. At least in theory.

In a recent interview with technology venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, Page and his Google co-founder Sergey Brin touched on subjects ranging anywhere from the San Francisco housing market to artificial intelligence.

During the interview, Page also offered up his vision of an ideal working world, in which employees work fewer hours, are more productive and “have more time with their family or to pursue their own interests.”

While theorizing that many of today’s employees are driven to work longer and harder mostly by a desire to feel valued and useful, fulfilling that need shouldn’t require a superhuman effort, he said.

“I think there’s a problem that we don’t recognize that,” said Page. “And I think there’s also kind of a social problem. A lot of people aren’t happy if they don’t have anything to do. So we need to give people things to do. [People] need to feel needed and wanted, and need to have something productive to do.

“If you really think about the things you need to make yourself happy—housing, security, opportunity for your kids—it’s not that hard for us to provide those things,” continued Page. “So the idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet peoples’ needs is just not true. The amount of resources we need to do that, the amount of work that needs to go into that, is pretty small.”

Page suggested a few alternatives to free up more of employees’ time while maintaining a productive work environment, such as adopting four-day work weeks, or splitting full-time jobs between part-time workers.

“I was talking to [Virgin Group founder] Richard Branson about this,” he said. “They have a huge problem there. They don’t have enough jobs in the U.K. He’s been trying to get people to hire two part-time people instead of one full-time [employee], so at least the young people can have a half-time job rather than no job.”

Brin wasn’t so sure that idea would fly, however.

“I don’t think that, in the near term, the need for labor is going away,” said Brin. “It gets shifted from one place to another, but people always want more stuff, or more entertainment, or more creativity or more something.”

Brin has a point there. And there’s also the question of how the average employee would maintain his or her current standard of living on a part-time job that would presumably mean less money. Page didn’t shed any light on just how that might work. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be an HR professional given the task of clearing it up for a full-time employee who was just bumped back to part-time status.

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