Work/Life Programs: Not Just Another
Employee Benefit

by Tara Pickering

What do American Express, Goldman Sachs, Marriott International, and Texas Instruments have in common?

They've all been recognized as an "employer of choice" on two prestigious lists: Forbes Magazine's "Best Companies to Work For" and Working Mother Magazine's "Best Companies for Working Mothers."

These and other progressive companies are increasingly realizing the bottom-line benefits of programs designed to help workers balance professional and personal demands. These include an enhanced ability to recruit and retain top talent, reduced absenteeism and health care costs, increased morale and productivity, and improved customer satisfaction and company image.

Some firms, however, remain reluctant to offer work/life programs because they perceive that they are costly to develop and/or participation is limited to employees for whom retention is not a priority. In actuality, most work/life offerings don't require a large capital investment, nor are they underutilized by high performers.

Work/life programs can be grouped into these five broad categories:

  • "Family friendly" benefits

    Meeting family obligations without compromising work quality or career advancement has always been a major concern for employees, and day care issues undoubtedly top the list. While an onsite facility may be cost-prohibitive for many organizations, there are a variety of other ways to help employees find and afford high-quality care for their loved ones. These include:

    • Forming or participating in an employer consortium that sponsors a local center;
    • Providing a resource and referral service that puts employees in touch with reputable providers;
    • Making arrangements with one or more centers to provide employee discounts and/or backup care;
    • Offering dependent care spending accounts from which employees pay expenses with pre-tax dollars.

    As many of today's "sandwich generation" have both child and elder care responsibilities, be sure that your efforts target both sets of needs.

    Additional approaches for addressing the family-related interests and obligations of your workforce include extending protected leave beyond FMLA requirements; providing financial assistance for adoption; offering domestic partner benefits; designating private space as a lactation room for nursing mothers; coordinating seminars, discussion groups, resource libraries, etc. to help employees effectively deal with family concerns and challenges; and sponsoring company events that include spouses/partners and families.

  • Alternative work arrangements and time off

    Many organizations are finding that almost any position lends itself to some degree of flexibility. When and where work is performed can often be modified to meet the needs of both employer and employee. For example:

    • Part-time schedules, including job share arrangements in which a full-time position is split between two or more individuals;
    • "Flextime" that requires employees to work certain "core" hours each day - usually a four-to-six hour span - but gives them freedom with respect to the remaining hours;
    • Compressed workweeks in which employees continue full-time employment, but do so by working three or four "long" days instead of a traditional five-day schedule;
    • Full or partial telecommuting.

    Requests for time away from work can also be accommodated by deducting all days off - regardless of the reason - from a single time bank (as opposed to separate sick days, vacation days, and personal days); providing a certain number of paid hours or days each year to participate in independent or company-sponsored volunteer activities; and allowing and supporting sabbaticals as an opportunity to pursue personal endeavors.

    Temporary and project-based work is also gaining popularity, as it enables an organization to expand and contract its workforce as needed. Such "nontraditional" staffing models not only increase a company's agility in today's ever-changing business environment, but also increase its access to high-quality candidates. Workplace flexibility is becoming a major priority of individuals who have much to offer, and changes to corporate practices could help companies better compete for top Talent.

  • Health and wellness

    You can help employees manage stress, keep fit, and stay healthy by offering confidential counseling provided through an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP); medical benefits that include annual checkups and comprehensive mental health coverage; an onsite fitness center or employee discounts at a local gym; and health screenings, flu shots, educational seminars, etc... at your worksite.

  • Onsite amenities

    Installing an ATM on premises and/or coordinating with a dry cleaning pickup and delivery service can save your employees precious time. Some companies even offer their workforce full concierge services to assist with personal travel and entertainment arrangements, errands, and gift giving!

  • Financial assistance

    While a few forms of financial assistance have already been discussed, others include voluntary insurance policies (e.g., auto, homeowner/rental, long-term care, and even pre-paid legal services) for which employees pay their own premiums, but at reduced group rates; tuition reimbursement; employee discounts to theaters, restaurants, etc.; and the ability to use "frequent flyer miles" earned during employer-paid flights for personal travel.

While the above recommendations provide a useful starting point, you must do more than implement a few indiscriminate benefits or scheduling policies to be recognized as an "employer of choice." Rather, you must carefully research and select offerings that meet the needs of your workforce, fully integrate them with other organizational programs and procedures, and create and sustain a corporate culture that supports the individuals who make use of them.

Undertaking a comprehensive work/life initiative is not difficult, but management buy-in and ongoing organizational commitment are essential to success. Should you want to learn more about best practice staffing strategies that organizations have used to increase their access to high-quality Talent and gain a competitive advantage, Advantage Human Resourcing would be pleased to share this knowledge with you.

Tara Pickering is Manager of Client Services, Greater Hartford Area of Advantage Human Resourcing®, a leading provider of professional and support-level Talent. For more information contact Tara at, visit, or call 800-WORKING.

Many more articles in The HR Refresher in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2003 - Advantage Human Resourcing®. All rights reserved.

Current Issue - Archives - CEO Links - News - Conferences - Recommended Reading