Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Employees, Managers Resist Work-Family Assistance Programs

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Employees, Managers Resist Work-Family Assistance Programs

Article excerpt

Lisa Genasci

Associated Press

NEW YORK _ Many companies increasingly tout the wonders of new employee assistance programs like flexible scheduling and family leave, designed to help stressed workers strike a balance between job and home.

But few workers are taking advantage of them.

Studies show a broad range of workers are reluctant to accept company offers that would allow them to spend more time with newborns, toddlers, spouses or dependent parents. Many of these workers fear they'll be labeled as insufficiently committed to their work.

This fear has persisted despite a growing perception among corporate recruiters that such family-friendly benefits boost morale and productivity.

"There is a gap between what companies offer and their unwritten rules," said Michael Wheeler, research associate with the business research group The Conference Board. "The company may have offerings but frequently management isn't supportive."

Take Ellen Kossek, a professor at Michigan State University with a doctorate from Yale. She had two children but declined to take an extended maternity leave following both births, fearing retribution from work.

After she received tenure, Kossek took an eight-week leave when her third child was born. After years of stellar performance reviews and solid merit raises, her next report wasn't glowing and her raise was lower.

"It was hard," said Kossek. "If you engage in anything that symbolizes that your family is equal to or more important than your work it will affect how people view you."

Kossek talked to university officials and her boss, who agreed to make up the loss in pay for that year in future wage increases.

A Conference Board study released in early June showed that 83 percent of 129 companies surveyed offered part-time schedules. But only 12 percent of employees chose to accept that option.

Sixty-five percent of the surveyed companies offered the option of telecommuting, or working at home via computer-telephone linkup with the office. Only 6 percent of employees had ever worked from home.

The Conference Board survey, taken last winter, assessed companies that have well-established work-family policies. Other studies have shown even lower usage.

In a 1993 survey, the Boston consulting group Work-Family Directions Inc. found less than 2 percent of employees use flexible scheduling options such as telecommuting, job-sharing and part-time work.

Kathie Lingle, work and family consultant with Watson Wyatt Worldwide, said that in her experience the average usage of all such programs, including child-care and referral services, is between 3 and 5 percent of a company's work force.

Part of the problem, she and others said, is many managers still value time spent in the work place above other measures of productivity. …

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