Identifying the Family, Job, and Workplace Characteristics of Employees Who Use Work-Family Benefits

Article excerpt

A contextual effects perspective is used to identify family, job, and workplace characteristics associated with the use of work family benefits by 527 employees in 83 businesses. Parents of dependent children are no more likely than other employees to use benefits but particular family problems predict female employee use of paid leave and mental health benefits. Workplace size, sector, and culture are better predictors of employee use than are employee job characteristics.

Key Words.* employee benefits, work and family issues, workplace policies.

The feminization of the workplace and the escalating competition for highly skilled workers in a global economy have prompted employers and policy makers to address the home and workplace challenges confronting today's workforce. Community and public policy interest in family-friendly workplaces continues to mount as discussion about family leave time and day care services moves from the kitchen table to executive office suites and to the House and Senate floor (Ferber & O'Farrell, 1991; Hansen, 1991; Thompson & Williams, 1995). Many employers have invested in an assortment of policies and benefits that support employees in balancing job and family responsibilities. Over the past 50 years, "employers have progressed from providing no benefits, to providing a standard package of benefits for a male-supported family, to providing innovative and flexible benefits to meet differing family needs" (Wiatrowski, 1995, p. 41 ). And, in 1993, the federal government acknowledged work-family benefits as part of the legitimate compensation owed to individuals far workplace labor or service by enacting the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Despite the recent attention to the family responsive workplace, little is known about actual employee utilization of workfamily benefits. The current study addresses this gap by using a contextual effects perspective to identify the family, job and workplace characteristics associated with employees who use a variety of work-family benefits within a wide range of businesses and organizations. Knowledge about employees who use these benefits can assist family practitioners, employers, and human resource managers in identifying the reach of existing familyoriented workplace policies, the employee groups who need special attention, and the policies and practices that are `user friendly'. The study also provides a framework to address future questions in the work-family policy and research area.

Literature Review

The array of family-oriented workplace policies can be categorized into four major benefit areas: (a) alternative work arrangements, (b) leave time allowances, (c) mental health/wellness programs, and (d) dependent care services (Bureau of National Affairs, 1986; Ferber & O'Farrell, 1991; Galinsky, Friedman, & Hernandez, 1991; Zedeck & Mosier, 1990). Alternative work arrangement policies include the modification of daily start and stop times, compressed work week, part-time work, jobsharing, and tele-commuting, all on a regular basis. Leave time policies and practices range from the federally mandated FMLA, to Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) plans, to informal arrangements of a few hours or a few days off, with or without pay, available on an ad hoc basis. Mental health and wellness services include Employee Assistance Programs (EAP's), stress management workshops; and seminars on family related issues. Dependent care initiatives can be on-site child care centers, vouchers to subsidize child care costs, pretax credit accounts for child care reimbursement, or information referral services for dependent care facilities and resources.

Family-oriented workplace policies are expected to comprise the fastest growing employee benefits category in the coming decades (Cook; 1987: Judy & D'Amico, 1997). However, the proliferation of such benefits by employers does not automatically assure adequate or full utilization by employees. …