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According to Friedman and Greenhaus (2000), there is increasing interest in family-friendly organizations by society. Family-friendly organizations offer employees options that allow them to balance their work and family roles. These options can include flexible scheduling, family-oriented benefits such as child care, and work location flexibility. Organizations that develop family-friendly programs hope these practices will help the organization accomplish its goals. Before starting programs, organizations usually investigate the cost-benefit analysis of both tangibles and intangibles in implementation. For example, some of the proposed benefits of family-friendly programs include a more committed workforce and lower turnover. Possible costs of implementation include coordination of the programs, costs associated with purchasing additional equipment, and resistance on the part of other employees including managerial staff.
Because family-friendly organizations are interested in reducing stress for employees balancing multiple roles as well as developing a committed workforce, they may be culturally different from organizations without this focus. Laycock (2003) wrote that some executives believe that work-life programs are fluff. She suggested that executives who hold this belief will continue to manage their organizations in a more traditional way that communicates that family issues are not work issues. Even if an organization implements some family-friendly programs, she indicated that the behavior of upper level managers can send a message that suggests to employees that they should not participate. An example she offered is that of the executive who arrives first and leaves last. Even if the organization had a family-friendly policy related to working hours, the executive’s behavior would convey a message of what the organization actually values.
Friedman and Greenhaus (2000) attributed increased interest in family-friendly programs to the gender equity movement, as well as to societal changes that reflect awareness of how work and personal roles shape each other. According to Wharton (2006), work, family, and gender were historically linked. The way people think about work—for instance, what they believe is appropriate work for certain people—and how work and family link, have become increasingly popular topics of research and debate.
Wharton (2006) indicated that in the beginning of the 20th century, women and children moved out of the U.S. labor force, and it became predominantly male. Prior to this, work and family were not as segregated because of the dominance of the agricultural economy. However, she stated that as industrialization occurred, society seemed to embrace the idea that men were workers and women were caregivers. Hence, in a family, men would focus on paid work and not deal with work in the home, which then became the focus for women. This of course, was not true for all families or women. However, the separation of tasks mentioned previously becomes important when trying to understand the modern work-life balance movement and its implications for organizations. Many of the family-friendly programs seen today specifically accommodate or support women workers in their return to paid work. While more organizations are attempting to make these programs gender neutral, male employees for a variety of reasons, do not participate at the same rate as women. Whether this will change in the future is also a topic of debate. Some writers (e.g., Laycock, 2003) suggest that males may become more aware of the need for such programs in the future. Upper level executives for the most part, did not have to deal with child care at the beginning of their careers to the same extent as their wives. Some authors suggest that men will become more aware of caregiving responsibilities as their own parents age.
Wharton (2006) also believed that besides defining men and women’s roles in the early 1900s, society also embraced new scientific ways of working. With new management techniques, job design and activities at work were controlled in ways that they had not been earlier. Specific job descriptions were developed, hierarchies of authority were established, and time spent working was closely monitored. Many organizations promoted the idea of a fair day’s work that implied that the employee labored without interference from the nonwork sphere (home and family). Wharton believed that these cultural beliefs even had an impact on the study of work over a number of decades. The perceived dichotomy between work and home led to research that did not examine the interrelationship between the two for many years. Some researchers studied life at home; others studied life at work. There was not a lot of overlap.
Wharton (2006) stated that toward the end of the 20th century as more women entered the workforce, the feminist movement questioned existing research paradigms, and the economy of the United States switched to a service rather than an industrialized base. All of these changes provided the framework for what we consider family-friendly practices. The workforce has become increasingly diverse in gender, family type, and ethnicity. An increasing number of individuals have begun to consider how work affects their ability to be a parent or even an involved member of society at large. In addition, the popular press has indicated that young workers without children, both male and female, desire more balance in their lives. These changes are occurring at the same time that organizations in the United States are facing global competition. Organizations must be attentive to their environments in order to survive. One organization response to competition is working harder. For example, Rapoport, Bailyn, Fletcher, and Pruitt (2002) reported that the U.S. workforce spends more time at work than workers in other industrialized countries do. Time is a fixed quantity. More time spent at work means less time available for nonworking roles. Given the interest in family, personal time, and careers, what can organizations do to remain responsive to their employees’ needs and remain productive? One option pursued by organizations, is the development of family-friendly programs and policies. This research-paper discusses common programs. These programs will also be put in the context of open systems theory to provide a framework for understanding the development of these programs, the response by employees to the programs, and finally to the impact of family-friendly policies on the actual work of the organization.
Beyond this research-paper and research, family-friendly programs have also become a popular topic in the media. The Wall Street Journal for example, has a regular column on work and family. Working Woman and Working Mother magazines regularly identify the best organizations for working women. Finally, work-family issues play a role in Fortune magazine’s annual best companies to work for list. Specifically, Fortune not only lists the best companies with the best work-life balance, but also details the organizations with the best child-care and telecommuting programs. Because of continuing media attention, it is highly likely that an increasingly large group of organizations will consider work-life balance programs.
An Open Systems View Of Work And Family
In order to understand how the interaction of work and life has lead to family-friendly practices, the seminal work by Katz and Kahn (1978) on the open system approach to organizations is very helpful. The open system model suggests that organizations interact with their environments. Each organization receives inputs from the environment, transforms these inputs in some way, and then produces output to the environment. The organization, by the nature of this transaction process, has a permeable boundary. Organizational boundaries in this sense are not necessarily physical; the boundary determines who is inside and who is outside the organization. This is very relevant to the family-friendly organization movement. Organizations have historically considered the family to be outside the organization. However, research on roles and stress suggest that roles and their associated expectations carry over boundaries.
In open systems theory, inputs could be employees, capital, or raw materials. Once these inputs enter the organization they are transformed to help produce a product or provide a service. The transformation involves the participation of employees in sets of interrelated roles defined by the organization. The transformation results in a product or service that is output to the environment. A familiar organization, the university, helps provide a framing example for open systems theory. Inputs for a university include students, faculty, and funding. For universities, one transformation process is educating students; another transformation process is the development of new knowledge through research. Students enter the university with one level of knowledge and leave with another. Professors conduct research, write papers, and invent new technologies in the other transformation process. Outputs for the university with regard to these two transformations would be educated citizens (the new alumni) and research discoveries.
Someone hired or admitted from the environment assumes a role within the organization. This role is defined through job descriptions, student conduct codes, and expectations sent by others within the system. Why is the open systems framework useful for understanding work-family interface? As indicated in the first section, individuals have roles both inside and outside the organization. It is difficult, if not impossible to check your other role at the door when entering the other organization whether it is the work organization or the family.
Many modern work organizations try to structure their organizations to engage or involve members. Employees committed to the goals of the organization are believed to produce higher quality goods or services. In order to engage employees, the organization may reward or punish certain behaviors. It is not unusual for the cultures of many organizations to communicate extensive involvement through long work hours, travel, and expectations of employees to work in the evening at home. Other organizational messages conveying commitment demands could include mandatory socializing during family time, participating in company sports teams during nonworking hours, or even working every weekend. From a family-friendly perspective, this involvement is in conflict with other roles the employee has such as spouse, child, and parent, or even as an individual who is not in his or her work role. There is only a fixed amount of time each day. Additional time in work roles leaves less time for nonorganizational roles.
To understand this conflict of roles, the concept of partial inclusion is helpful. Katz and Kahn (1978) said that partial inclusion suggests that only part of a person is involved in any social system. They suggested that when work organizations recruit, they need that employee to put aside the parts of their identity that are not organizationally relevant. If an employee behaves according to a nonorganizational role while at work, problems could develop that impact the transformation process. For example, what if all employees who were parents randomly left work to visit their children’s schools during the workday? This would be problematic for the organization: work might not be completed, customers may become angry, and the organization itself may be threatened.
Beauregard (2006) similarly stated that conflict can result when individuals have multiple incompatible roles. This does not mean that you cannot be a spouse or parent and an employee, but it does suggest that conflict can occur if roles demand we do different things at the same time. In the university example, students are supposed to attend class, complete projects, and take exams. Faculty are expected to teach, grade, do service, and contribute to knowledge through research. However, these are not the only roles assumed by those individuals. How could other roles of students or faculty result in conflicts and problems within the university? Consider the following scenarios that illustrate work-family role conflict. A female faculty member has a baby in the middle of the semester and cannot attend class. While the department chair understands about medical leave, he or she may wonder why the faculty member did not plan the baby for a nonteaching term, and wish she would return to the classroom quickly. The students in the class could become dissatisfied because they may have many substitute instructors. Conversely, suppose a student finds he or she has to deal with an acutely ill aging parent during the semester. If you are the instructor, you might make an accommodation that does not seem to disadvantage the rest of the class. This could become problematic if the class involved team projects. How does the team respond to the student not fulfilling project obligations, since the team also has expectations about what the missing student should be doing? Finally, suppose you are the single parent of a small child, and are teaching or attending a night class on the same evening as a very important school recital. Your child begs you to attend. Do you go to class, or do you go to the recital? All these situations demonstrate the challenges of multiple roles for individuals and organizations. Each decision made can influence the organization, other members of the organization, and the organizational transformation process. In some cases, the organization member might engage in substandard performance, develop poor attitudes about the organization, or even leave the organization. For example, if a professor repeatedly cancels classes because of a new baby, students might become angry. In addition, even if class is not missed, professors may be perceived by others in the university as not being committed to research if they are not in their office or lab on the weekends. If professors start to perceive that the organization is not supportive of their new role, they might start looking for jobs where they can fulfill multiple roles.
The university example is not much different from experiences at other organizations. Some for-profit organizations require employees to travel over a weekend for cheaper airfare. Being away from family on Saturday and Sunday could lead to role conflict. Other organizations expect employees to be available via e-mail, computer, or cell phone while on vacation. Expectations about roles develop within social systems. These role expectations often drive the culture of that particular organization. In recent years, many organizations have stated that they are high commitment. Is this statement itself in conflict with being a family-friendly organization?
Beauregard (2006) reported that with more and more families consisting of either dual-income or single parents, conflict between work and family roles has “reached a crisis” (p. 336). As indicated earlier, these conflicts could result in increased absenteeism, turnover, less job involvement, and less attendant satisfaction. Family-friendly organizations recognize these role conflicts and attempt to find ways to resolve these conflicts so that individuals can fulfill multiple role expectations and remain committed to the employing organization. Organizations that recognize that their environments are changing might be more likely to adopt such practices. Environmental changes could include more women in the workplace who are balancing work and family, a greater societal emphasis on family and children in general, perceived generational differences in work commitment and motivation, and even all those articles on the best places to work. Open systems theory proposes that organizations need to recognize and respond to these environmental changes.
Such response can lead to changes within the organization involving structure, reporting relationships, and even how or where work is done. Thus, by modifying role expectations, new programs and policies could facilitate member retention and organizational image.
The types of family-friendly practices that organizations can adopt vary depending on the work culture, the types of jobs in the organization, and the types of benefit packages the organization provides to employees. This section discusses a variety of practices. They are organized into schedules, location, and benefits. While these are discrete categories, there can be overlap between these types of practices within an organization. Not every family-friendly organization adopts all options. The family-friendly solution for any given organization must take into account the environment, organizational goals, and the organization’s transformation process.
Family-Friendly Practices: Work Schedules
Organizations can offer a variety of family-friendly practices that relate to when employees work. Among the most common practices are flexible scheduling or flextime, compressed workweeks, part-time employment, and job sharing. At one time, many work hours were rigidly set. Individuals working during the day, put in time nine-to-five or some close approximation to those hours. Hourly employees often used time clocks and had their salaries docked for tardiness. In manufacturing environments, employees may have worked different nonoverlapping shifts so that the organization could continue producing its product around the clock. Cohen and Gadon (1978) indicated that as demographics changed in the United States, there was a call for more flexibility and individual employee control over the hours of work. This call is related to the changing nature of work, the increased educational level within many workplaces, and the increased participation of women in the U.S. labor force. In this section, family-friendly practices related to the hours an employee works are discussed. Many organizations consider schedule options family-friendly practices. Keep in mind that not all scheduling options are appropriate for all work situations. The nature of the job itself may preclude certain scheduling options.
Suppose you are working a traditional nine-to-five schedule and you need to visit your doctor. If you are lucky, your doctor may have early morning or evening hours. However, many doctors do not, and in order to schedule this visit you will have to take off from work. This absence could be paid or unpaid depending upon the policies of your employer.
Similarly, suppose you are a parent of a small child. Your child’s class is going on a short field trip during the last part of the school day. Once again, this is during your normal working day. You might not get permission to leave early, and in some cases, you may need to take the entire day off as a personal day. In both of these examples, the employee may lose money by taking a day off, and the employer could lose productivity. How does flexible scheduling address these concerns?
Flexible scheduling allows an employee, in conjunction with the employer, to set more flexible work hours. Generally, flexible scheduling is not ad hoc, and requires some degree of coordination to ensure that critical organizational goals are accomplished. An organization that offers a flexible schedule typically expands the range of hours that an employee can choose to work. This means that within the new parameters, an employee could arrange to come in to work early and leave early, or could come in late and leave late. If an organization had traditional nine-to-five working hours, a flextime policy might expand the range of possible work hours, or bandwidth, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Using the examples at the beginning of the section, this would allow someone to make a doctor’s appointment or go on a field trip with a child by flexing their hours earlier or later. In some organizations, there are hours all employees must be present; these are referred to as core hours. Cohen and Gadon (1978) indicated that the need for core hours is dependent on the degree of interdependence of workers. If employees need to coordinate with others on a semi regular basis, the core hours can be used to do so. In an organization where extensive interaction is needed, or where work is done in a sequential manner, flextime may not be a good option. For example, an assembly line needs the entire shift to be present to assemble the product. Employees would not be able to stagger their arrival in this sort of situation.
Cohen and Gadon (1978) also suggested that the use of flextime can accrue benefits to society in general. If working times are staggered, individuals will spend less time commuting. This can have the added benefit of less gasoline consumption and attendant pollution.
In some organizations, managers resist the implementation of flextime. They believe that they must be personally present during the entire bandwidth to supervise their subordinates. Usually when this occurs, there is some underlying trust issue within the organization. If an organization believes that employees must be closely monitored, flex-time is not a good option. An effective flextime program should not require managers to significantly increase their working hours.
The 5-day week, generally Monday through Friday, has become the standard in much of the United States. In the early part of the 1900s, many employees worked 6 or more days per week. Changes to the 5-day week are a result of legislation and union activity in the early part of the 1900s. A compressed workweek takes the hours worked in a standard week and compresses them into a shorter period. Compressed workweeks are considered full-time employment schedules. Instead of 5 days, employees may work 3 or 4 days and remain a full-time employee. Cohen and Gadon (1978) stated that this arrangement is a trade off. The employee gets more days off from work but has to work longer on the days he or she is present. Two very popular options in compressed workweeks are the 4—10 and the 3-36 schedules. On a 4—10 schedule, an employee will work 4 days for 10 hours each day. Similarly, in a 3-36 schedule, an employee works 3 days a week for 12 hours per day. In both of these situations, the employee works full time and receives the requisite organizational benefits.
Some organizations use compressed workweeks as recruiting tools. For example, many hospitals have nursing shortages. Nursing is a female-dominated field, and women who pursue this career may have child-care responsibilities. By offering a compressed workweek, these nurses can have full-time jobs as well as significant time off for family. Hospitals are staffed 7 days a week, so nurses may be able to arrange their compressed workweek to maximize the ability to find or share child care. This is a good example of how an open systems approach allows you to consider your environment and get important resources (nurses) from it.
During the change from year 1999 to 2000, many organizations needed to recruit computer programmers to deal with the Y2K problem. Programmers were in high demand. By offering compressed workweeks, some organizations were able to recruit programmers under this alternate schedule to meet their Y2K needs. Cohen and Gadon (1978) indicated that a compressed workweek can allow individuals who currently have a full-time job to moonlight with a second full-time job.
Not all organizations function 24/7 as hospitals do. If an organization pursues a compressed workweek option, they would have to consider a number of issues. These include employee fatigue, the structure of work, and the costs of extended facility downtime. Even though an organization may be able to design a job within a compressed framework and recruit employees to work the schedule, they will have to consider how effectively a person can work during an extended period of time. Is the job one that will result in significant fatigue during the last part of the shift? If so, this may not be the best work schedule for that particular job. In addition, the organization might consider whether it is possible to implement a compressed schedule throughout the facility, thus giving all employees an extended weekend. If some employees get more days off, the other employees may find the policy unfair. Additionally, if an organization does implement a compressed workweek, they must consider whether this change will cause difficulties for their customers during the off days. This is certainly an environmental interaction issue within the open systems approach. One possible option in this case is to stagger the compressed workweeks so that there are employees available during traditional times. Lastly, the organization should consider the cost of shutting down and restarting the facility when investigating this option.
While career planning often envisions a full-time position, one career strategy sometimes used by individuals with children, those transitioning into retirement, or individuals with other significant commitments is part-time employment. Part-time employment involves a reduction in the number of hours worked per week. According to Gottlieb, Kelloway, and Barham (1998), reductions could be as little as a 10% reduction or as much as 50%-60% in the hours worked per week. For example, an employee may be involved in a very demanding community service assignment such as developing a city charter. He or she may request a 10% reduction of hours for a period of time to complete this outside obligation. At the end of the project, the individual would return to 100% or full-time status. In another example, a working parent with a small child may only wish to use day care 3 days a week. This person could request a reduction in hours and work only while the child is attending a day care center. As the child matures, and spends more time in school, the parent may request a return to full-time status given the staffing needs of the employer. Not all employers would like to have large numbers of part-time employees; other employers may find this staffing option consistent with their goals. If there are part-time employees, organizations generally prorate benefits based on the percentage work reduction. Some organizations may eliminate certain benefits for part-time employees.
Higgins, Duxbury, and Johnson (2000) reported that part-time employment as a staffing strategy has grown over the past 20 years. They also reported that women constitute a majority of those in part-time positions. It may be that male employees do not find this a career-friendly option. Higgins, Duxbury, and Johnson indicated that there is research that suggests that part-time work can both allow primarily women to balance career and family, and isolate the part-time workers in lower paid nonchallenging jobs.
In job sharing, two individuals share one job. Of the schedules discussed so far, this is the most uncommon. Organizations generally do not proactively design job sharing opportunities. Many individuals believe that job sharing can lead to career progression problems. In many cases, two individual workers with schedule needs come together and propose a job sharing arrangement to an organization. The schedule itself becomes part of the negotiation between the parties as well as with the organization. The individuals could both work half a day 5 days a week, they could each work half a week, or some other mutually agreeable schedule.
Whatever the particular schedule, the individuals need to communicate effectively and coordinate the job tasks. Even though the individuals theoretically split the time, organizations may actually get more than 50% from each of the employees because of the time spent between the sharers in activity coordination. Any position fringe benefits such as insurance or vacation are generally prorated.
What types of individuals might job share? In many cases, women with small children are those most interested in this option. There have been examples of elementary school teachers job sharing while their children were small. This allows each to keep their teaching certification and professional credentials while having more time to spend with their own children. In a case such as this, both teachers would most likely meet to discuss the development of their students. They might divide assignments by topic area, and they may both attend parent-teacher conferences. As you can see, coordination between job sharing partners is required. It would make no sense for both teachers to assign a social studies project on the same unit. An advantage of job sharing for the school is that if one of the individuals were ill, rather than calling in an unknown substitute teacher, the job sharing partner may be able to work the additional time until the other teacher recovers.
Family-Friendly Practices: Work Location
Siha and Monroe (2006) have written that telecommuting remains of interest to employers as well as researchers. According to these authors, the number of telecommuters in the United States in the early 2000s was about 19 million individuals. They note that other countries also have telecommuters: one million in Canada and smaller numbers in Britain, New Zealand, Singapore, and Finland. The reason for these differences in participation rate could be attributable to a variety of reasons: work culture, living distance from work, level of enabling technology, and the availability of public transportation. Telecommuting is sometimes referred to as telework and the virtual office. In the broadest sense, individuals who telecommute do not have to report to work at a central location. Organizations have also used telecommuting in times of disaster. After a severe earthquake in California damaged roads, it was difficult for individuals to get to work in a timely fashion. Some organizations used telecommuting to maintain productivity until the roads were repaired.
There are many different forms of telecommuting. Gottlieb et al. (1998) indicated that telecommuting can involve working at home, at a satellite office closer to the employee’s home, or at a client’s office. Telecommuting reduces the employee’s time spent commuting to work and theoretically can reduce traffic congestion. Siha and Monroe (2006) reported that if a person had a 30-mile commute (one way) in a major city like Los Angeles, where the average time spent in traffic jams per year is 56 hours, they would spend a total of 400 hours per year or 16 days sitting in their cars!
Hence, if an individual could reduce the amount of time he or she commutes to work, the saved hours could be redirected to fulfilling family or other obligations thereby reducing day care and gasoline costs.
According to Gottlieb et al. (1998), telecommuting is a way to reduce work-family conflict. However, according to Joice and Verive (2006), some employers do not permit employees to telework to facilitate dependent care. The rationale for this exclusion is the belief that trying to provide dependent care in the same location as the telework reduces the quality of both. These authors suggested that empirical research has not been conducted on telework and dependent care problems. Without such empirical work, guidelines concerning best practices in this area are limited. Joice and Verive do report on a federal study concerning this issue. Based on the report, they suggested that organizations take a results-oriented approach to the teleworker rather than voicing concerns about the employee’s ability to complete work and provide care. The best practices section of this research-paper will revisit results-oriented approaches.
Telecommuting is also a way to help the environment. Siha and Monroe (2006) indicated that organizations with more than 100 employees in states with the worst air quality in the United States were supposed to reduce the number of employees individually commuting by 20% because of a 1990 amendment to the Clean Air Act. In addition to vans and carpooling, two of the practices discussed in this research-paper, compressed workweeks and telecommuting, were other ways to meet this target.
Family-Friendly practices: Dependent Care Benefits
In addition to scheduling options and allowing employees to work from remote locations, there is an increased interest in other benefit options related to managing family or nonwork roles. As mentioned earlier, some organizations consider the scheduling and location options discussed previously to be benefits. This section will discuss some alternatives that do not fall into the previous categories. Many of these options involve financial contributions to the employees’ compensation packages. Although this section lists these options separately, they are all types of dependent care options. According to Laycock (2003), over a third of today’s workforce consists of working parents with children under the age of 18. In addition, she indicated that almost a quarter of households in this country care for elderly relatives. In some cases, adults must provide care for both their children and their parents or grandparents. These adults, referred to as the sandwich generation, are in the middle of two other generations that need them to provide care.
Employer benefit support for child care can take a variety of forms. These include on-site day care, vouchers for child care at other locations, parental leave, and pretax dependent care accounts. Laycock (2003) suggested that organizations investigate the cost-benefit aspects of any of these options before making a decision on implementation.
On-site or Consortium Child Care. On-site child care means just that. The organization, regardless of its core business, starts a day care center at work. Laycock indicated that although on-site child care sounds like a good idea, such centers are not necessarily the answer for any given organization. If an organization were to start an on-site center, they would have to have appropriate space for the center. They would have to decide on the age range of the children who would attend the center. For example, a different staffing level is required for infants than for preschoolers because of many states’ licensing requirements. The organization would also have to make sure that the center was secure, that is, the center would be open only to parents or specific staff. In addition, the organization would have to forecast the utilization level of the center. It would be unwise to open a center and have it at best half full. If an organization were considering on-site care, surveys of intent should be conducted with the employee group. If this were not possible, a review of demographics of current employees would be helpful. There are several other issues to consider with this option. For example, if there were excess demand, which employees would get preference in acquiring space in the center? Similarly, what hours of operation would be most compatible with employee schedules?
A consortium center, according to Laycock (2003), involves a group of organizations banding together to build a center that the employees of each organization can use. The organizations may outsource the management of the center and share costs.
Mildly Ill/Backup Child Care. When children are ill, they cannot attend school or regular day care. Schools and day care facilities have rules about illness and under what conditions sick children can return. Because of this, some employers are recognizing the productivity losses associated with parents using sick days to take care of sick children. LoJacono (2001) reported that employed parents miss work between 6 and 29 days each year because of sick children. In order to reduce absenteeism, some employers are investigating mildly ill child care. These child-care facilities are set up to specifically deal with a child who is somewhat under the weather but does not need to go to a hospital. LoJacono said such facilities are more expensive than normal day care because of their special staffing needs (a lower staff-to-child ratio) and the availability of trained medical personnel.
LoJacono (2001) indicated that employers can contract with these facilities for a specific number of spaces a year. The organization would consider the demographics of their organization (number of employees with children below a target age). Generally, the employer pays part of the fee and the employee copays for the visit. Organizations may consider this option in order to reduce the costs associated with an absent employee.
LoJacono (2001) said another related benefit organizations could provide is backup care. There are times when a parent may need to miss work and the child is not ill. Usually these involve occasional days off from school for teacher in-service or development, school holidays, or even when the usual child care provider becomes ill. The employer may have a list of backup facilities or have a relationship with several facilities that could provide services for several children.
According to Timmermann (2006), the 2000s and 2010s will be the elder care decades. Many employees born during the baby boom years (1946-1964) have parents who are over 70 years of age. As people age, they begin to experience greater health problems and possibly limited mobility; therefore, the adult children of these individuals will have to assume caregiver roles. Assuming this role can result in role conflict as discussed previously. O’Toole and Ferry (2002) indicated that this caregiving role has an impact on employers. They classify this impact into categories including absenteeism costs, work disruptions, and replacement costs for workers who quit to provide care to an elderly parent. Although women are generally the primary care providers for small children, Timmermann said men play a more involved role in elder care.
What types of benefits are typically provided in elder care? Some of the benefits discussed by Timmermann (2006) include flexible scheduling and telecommuting. In addition, O’Toole and Ferry (2002) provided a list of other elder-care-specific benefits. These include toll-free call centers, Web sites with information on elder care programs, an organizationally developed list of services and discounts, assistance programs staffed by professionals with geriatric training, referral programs, and benefit services that can be purchased by the employee at a discount. In many cases, employees may not have a large extended family available to assist in care and may not know of services and discounts available to them.
This area will continue to receive media and business interest. The costs associated with the care of the elderly are increasing. These costs as well as the emotional stress of dealing with an aging and ill parent have an impact on the employing organization. O’Toole and Ferry (2002) suggested that organizations with elder care programs can improve stress for their employees with few administrative costs.
In addition to the options listed above, some organizations provide a range of other benefits. They can include options such domestic partner benefits, lactation rooms for new mothers, adoption assistance, and school vacation
programs. There are of course many other options available to organizations; however, the options listed above give an idea of the range of benefits some employers consider.
Domestic Partner Benefits
Some organizations provide insurance and benefit options to couples who are in committed relationships but who cannot marry. Organizations with these benefits usually require some documentation of a committed relationship. The domestic partner may then be eligible for medical benefits and other benefits such as tuition reimbursement.
As women return to the workforce after having a baby, many choose to continue nursing for health reasons. In the United States, many mothers return to work 6 weeks after delivering a baby assuming the delivery was not problematic. In spite of returning to work, these mothers may wish to choose to continue nursing. If they live a distance from home or the child-care provider, they may not be able to visit the baby during the day. Lactation rooms provide mothers with a comfortable and private location at work to express milk. Refrigerators are provided in order to keep the milk for later use. Prior to the development of lactation rooms, mothers would either have to use restrooms or some other private location at work to do this.
Couples choose to adopt for a variety of reasons: they cannot have biological children on their own; they have space for more children and want to help a child, and so forth. Some organizations now provide assistance for adoption in the form of leave for new adoptive parents.
School Vacation Programs
Once children begin attending school full time, parents may need occasional assistance for times when their children are not in school. School vacation programs may include referrals to summer or break camps or may even involve an organizationally sponsored camp for employees’ dependents.
Not all employees have children, aging parents, or significant family obligations. Because of this, there has been evidence of a backlash against family-friendly practices by single and nonparent employees. Parker and Allen (2001) suggested that this backlash may have to do with perceptions of unfairness. Rivera (2001) said that childless workers may feel taken advantage of because of the perception that their personal lives are not as important as those of employees with children. Burkett (2000), supporting this line of thought, reported that single employees may feel pressure to work extra hours to cover for parents who need to pick up children from school, travel more extensively for work than coworkers with children, as well as settle for less desirable vacation times. Finally, Parker and Allen also reported that childless workers are less likely to be able to use flexible scheduling. Using the open systems approach, providing support for a nonwork role to some employees may put other employees at a disadvantage with the organization. This perception could lead single workers to seek employment elsewhere.
From a benefits perspective, Burkett (2000) discussed how many family-friendly policies are actually benefits that the single or childless cannot access. These include but are not limited to on-site day care, parental leave, and day care subsidies. Rothausen, Gonzalez, Clarke, and O’Dell (1998) suggested that benefits that are only available to a subset of employees violate concepts of equity and equality of rewards. Rivera (2001) reported on organizations that have tried to deal with these perceptions by modifying family-friendly policies to life benefits. For example, some organizations allow employees to choose options from a set of benefits. A childless worker may choose tuition reimbursement. An employee with a small child could choose child care. The dollar contribution to benefits would be equal for both employees.
Some Global Perspectives On Family-Friendly Practices
Much of what has been discussed to this point concerns family-friendly practices in the United States. Organizations in other countries have also addressed these issues. This section presents family-friendly issues in several other countries. Most of the research on family-friendly practices is in developed rather than in developing nations. In addition, family-friendly practices are often linked to gender equity issues; therefore, in countries where women do not have the same rights as men, it is less likely that one would find organizations developing such practices.
Just as in research conducted in the United States, articles on family-friendly practices in other countries focus on work-family balance, the role of such programs in the recruitment and retention of employees, and the actual accessibility of the programs. For example, Schweitzer and Duxbury (2006) reported on telework in Canada. They found that organizations that permitted telecommuting were primarily larger and employed knowledge workers. They indicated that overall there has been modest growth in the use of telework in Canada. Surprisingly, they found that some employees who telecommuted did so at organizations that did not have policies. The authors suggested that this means that workers want to telework and negotiate parameters with immediate managers rather than wait for a policy to be developed. Schweitzer and Duxbury suggested that there may be organizational barriers that interfere with setting up telecommuting policies.
In another study, Budd and Mumford (2006) examined family-friendly work practices in Britain. They found that even though workplace statistics say that family-friendly practices are available, employees themselves did not perceive that these policies were available to them personally. This is an important point. Organizations may respond to surveys indicating that they have policies. This is not the same as asking employees (the potential policy users) to what extent they believe they can use such policies. As stated earlier, employees receive subtle messages about appropriate role behavior. Budd and Mumford proposed three reasons why there could be a disconnect between policy availability and accessibility. These include policies not being available to all employees, employees not being aware of the benefits, and barriers interfering with accessibility such as financial situation or fear. These certainly are issues that would be of concern in the United States as well as Great Britain. In conclusion, based on analysis, Budd and Mumford suggested that British employers are responding slowly to what the authors perceived as increased societal demand for such programs.
Remery, van Doorne-Huiskes, and Schippers (2003) examined family-friendly policies in the Netherlands. They indicated that while organizations in the Netherlands were slow in responding to such initiatives compared to the rest of Europe, they are now more responsive. They surveyed 871 organizations and found that family-friendly arrangements had become common. They believed that this is because employers know that work-family balance is an important issue for employees.
Finally, Sato (2000) has written about family-friendly policies in Japan. He indicated that such policies are not commonly accepted in the managerial levels of Japanese firms.
Future Directions: Research And Best Practices
Konrad and Mangel (2000) stated that because of the interest in family-friendly practices, there is a growing body of research that examines the impact of work-life balance programs on productivity. In addition, books and articles are appearing that provide best practice models. The last section of this research-paper will examine these two areas.
Productivity and Family-Friendly Practices
There have been suggestions that the adoption of family-friendly practices will benefit organizations. More empirical research is needed to see if this is true. A recent article by Konrad and Mangel (2000) summarized a survey of human resource professionals in over 600 organizations. They found that productivity impact was a function of the type of worker at the organization. That is, the more professionals and the more women in an organization, the stronger the relationship between productivity and family-friendly benefits. If organizations had less skilled employees, who were also lower paid, and had jobs that were more dependent on others, the impact of these programs was negligible. Why might this be? As seen in earlier sections of this research-paper, not all family-friendly practices are appropriate for all situations. Some of the options listed in the Konrad and Mangel survey included flextime and part-time work. An individual who is in a job that requires significant dependence on others may not be able to flex his or her schedule. A lower paid person may not be able to afford to work part time. Other options listed in their article included on-site day care. As discussed earlier, working parents without a lot of money may rely on relatives for free day care and would not use this particular benefit. Baughman, DiNardi, and Holtz-Eaken (2003) conducted a survey of 120 employers and found that employers who offered child-care assistance and flexible sick leave had lower rates of turnover than employers who did not.
A starting point for effective implementation of family-friendly programs is to recast them as work-balance programs. As seen in the backlash section of this research-paper, by defining the program as family friendly, the organization may unintentionally alienate employees without spouses or children. Some perceptual problems related to equity are resolved by considering the initiative a work-life balance program rather than a family-friendly program.
Next, according to Nord, Fox, Phoenix, and Viano (2002), design issues and interrelationships with other human resource administrative concerns can limit work-life balance programs’ success. In addition, they suggested that even if an organization has such programs, employees do not always take advantage of them. Hence, neither the employee nor the organization accrues benefit from the program. Based on their research, which examined several companies with these policies, they made a number of suggestions. First, top-level managers must be committed to the program. This means that these managers must be willing to deal with clients in the organization’s environment as well as to send a consistent message about valued behavior. Second, human resource managers must serve as liaisons between top management and employees. In cases of conflict, employees may be more willing to approach the human resource department than their immediate manager. Third, lower level managers may have to modify their managerial styles. This might involve how they manage and evaluate telecommuters or users of flextime. Fourth, the organization must monitor perceptions of the programs for fairness. Fifth, the organization should examine how these programs mesh with the performance evaluation system currently in effect. They should study whether employees are being evaluated on the actual results of their labor or just on the amount of their face time at work. Finally, organizations should make sure that there are enabling resources available to employees in the programs (such as telecommuting) that facilitate good performance.
As the workforce changes, a number of organizations will investigate some of the practices listed in this research-paper. Organizations will have to consider and refine goals for effective implementation of these programs. It is possible that many organizations will use a more results-oriented approach to work, especially in areas where employees are self-directed and function at a more autonomous level. To resolve equity concerns, it is likely that family-friendly policies will be renamed work-balance policies. Regardless of the name of the program, the underlying goal will be resolution of role conflict to the benefit of the employee, organization, and society.
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