Family Provisions at the Workplace and Their Relationship to Absenteeism, Retention, and Productivity of Workers: Timely Evidence from Prior Data

Article excerpt

Introduction

Changes in family structure and in the number of mothers working full- or part-time have altered employment patterns, the composition of the work force, and the roles that mothers and fathers perform in families. The new 24-7 economy, the mixing of traditional gender roles, and the feminization of the work force have been noticed by employers. Indeed, a growing number of employers know that family and work demands often conflict and that this conflict can affect the morale, productivity, and retention of workers. The concern that difficulties in juggling family and work responsibilities can negatively affect worker performance has led some employers to provide on-site child-care or add family leave to benefit packages. If such initiatives, employers have assumed, reduce friction between family responsibilities and work demands, then worker productivity should increase and unexcused absenteeism and unnecessary turnover should decrease.

The assumption that workers and employers both benefit when employers provide child care and family leave is appealing but heretofore it lacks empirical verification. Few studies have established that worker performance is related to such family provisions or leave policies. Indeed, few studies have possessed a representative sample of workplaces to investigate the question: Do work-based child-care and family-leave provisions improve worker performance? This study, however, uses a representative sample of Australian workplaces from the early 1990s to test the hypothesis that these provisions are associated with the productivity, absenteeism, and turnover of workers at the workplace. Though these data used here are ageing, they remain one of the only sources of workplace data in the world capable of generating findings that have enormous implications for contemporary Australian workplaces and families. The implications of the findings from these data for workplaces and families, and for future data collection efforts on workplaces and families are discussed thoroughly in the conclusions section of this study.

Background

Due to demographic changes in the work force, the welfarist approach to human-resource management has resurfaced. In the past, benefits to individual workers were emphasised; today, family provisions are the centerpiece of the new corporate welfarism. Although employer-supported child care and family leave characterise contemporary corporate welfarism, most research has focused only on employer-supported child care. Friedman (1986) cites figures suggesting that child care is becoming a major employee benefit. In the late 1980s, over 3,500 major companies in the United States offered some form of child-care support to employees (Edgar, 1988); 775 of these companies supported on-site child-care centers. In fact, Mayfield (1985) and Grant, Sai-Chew, and Natarelli (1982) argue that Canadian employers have supported various forms of child care for 25 years.

The limited scope of existing studies makes generalizations about the extent of employer-supported child care across industries difficult. Burud, Aschbacher, and McCroskey (1984) claimed that employer-based child care in the United States has grown, even though their tabulations were generated from choice-based samples taken at different points in time in different parts of the country. They found that in 1978, 71% of employer-based child-care programs were found in hospitals and only 9% in industry; the other 20% were in public agencies and unions. In contrast, by 1982 47% of the programs were found in hospitals and 47% were found in industry; the rest were found in public agencies and trade unions.

Burud et al.'s study typifies most studies of employer-based child care: documenting the prevalence of employer-based child care, sometimes stratified by public and private sectors. Few studies have moved beyond this line of research to identifying workplaces with family leave provisions, to examining how workplaces with child care differ from workplaces without child care, and to gauging how child-care provisions influence key worker outcomes. …