Raising the bar for family-friendly workplaces

Posted September 15, 2008

Smart companies have realized that the way to attract and retain top talent often lies beyond an annual salary. In the 10th and most competitive year yet, Carolina Parenting Inc. has awarded 40 impressive North Carolina companies with the honorable designation of being family-friendly. These 40 companies provide phenomenal examples of strong benefits packages, flexible work arrangements and other creative programs to help employees balance work and family life.

As an overview, we highlight four distinct organizations to demonstrate that companies of all types and sizes are capable of institutionalizing comprehensive benefits packages and family-friendly perks. In addition, we provide examples of innovative programs that are offered at other companies recognized this year. While some of these benefits/programs are financially based, many are creative approaches for improving the quality of the lives of their employees while maintaining or even enhancing productivity.

The following four companies represent a strong cross-section of employers recognized this year for their family-friendly programs and cultures. They range from a small agency to a large governmental organization, a mid-sized global corporation and a large private enterprise:

The Lyerly Agency

A Charlotte-based advertising, marketing and communications firm, this small company that is truly a goliath when it comes to living up to its family-friendly values. This 10-person company, founded by two sisters 30 years ago, manages to provide 100 percent of its employees’ health-care costs.

Beyond offering a comprehensive benefits package, Lyerly has been steadfast in its commitment to a fun, family-friendly work environment that includes innovative perks like closing at noon every Friday, providing a playroom in the office, allowing people to work from home whenever necessary and Thursday afternoon “group therapy” that includes snacks, games and great conversation around non-work-related topics. This is not surprising from a company with a tagline of Kick Butt, Have Fun.

U.S Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA, which employs 1,300 at its Research Triangle Park complex, offers an impressive array of benefits and programs. It provides solid benefits in each of our survey’s five major categories: health care, family care, flexible work and leave options and education. Specifically, the complex has an on-site, five-star-rated child-care facility, a fitness center, a café that includes a take-home meal option, a free health unit staffed by professionals focused on health monitoring programs and a variety of flexible work options that more than 80 percent of the staff uses.

In addition, the EPA offers programs that align with its commitment to the environment. Walking trails, alternative transportation options and environmental summer camps enable employees to live their values on the job.

Arysta LifeScience Corp.

Arysta is a global, mid-sized, private enterprise with 45 employees in its Cary office. Its benefits package is second to none, offering 100 percent employer-paid health, vision, dental, life, short- and long-term disability, as well as 80 percent coverage for dependents’ premiums. Particularly innovative are three new benefits offered in 2008: cancer, pre-paid legal and identity-theft insurance.

Beyond its comprehensive benefits, Arysta offers programs that are consistent with its employee-centric philosophy. Rather than dictating work hours, this successful company treats its employees as professionals by focusing on results versus time in the office.

SAS Institute

SAS has long been synonymous with both business excellence and employee satisfaction. With more than 4,000 employees in its Cary headquarters, this for-profit, growing company has too many top-notched programs to name.

Employee testimonials included with the SAS application reflect a high level of appreciation for the efforts made by management to create a family-friendly culture. According to a systems administrator, “On-site child care, plus the convenience of on-site health care and a flexible work schedule, has made it possible to adjust to being a parent … while continuing to maintain my work ethic and level of focus on the job. SAS provides a lifestyle, not just a job.”

Another employee states, “I was originally wary of working at such a large corporate company. … SAS and its wonderfully family-supportive culture have proven my fears groundless. I feel very lucky to be working for a company that walks-the-talk of helping its employees and their families find true work-life balance.”

Sharing innovative approaches

Several companies provide on-site child care, subsidized care or both. For one example, Wachovia partners with Bright Horizons Family Solutions to provide subsidized on-site child care or care at one of Bright Horizons’ centers across the country. More companies reported providing back-up care and sick-child care this year. There also is an emphasis on support for parents of older children, with more employers providing care during school holidays, summer camp programs and opportunities to bridge the divide between work and family.

Most companies recognized this year offer paid maternity, paternity, military and sick leave options, but Bank of America stood out in this category by offering eight weeks paid maternity and paternity leave. What is all the more impressive is that, as of 2009, Bank of America is extending paid maternity and paternity leaves to 12 weeks each. Also, a greater number of companies offer a phase-back program for new moms, as well as paid time off for adoption. Rex Healthcare not only provides leave to employees adopting a child but also offers $5,000 in adoption assistance funding.

As Pamela Stone eloquently concluded in her book "Opting Out?" the way to attract talented individuals, especially women, is by offering workplace flexibility. As job-share partners, we can testify to the benefits of a part-time work schedule for our family lives and improved work product as a result of collaboration and a higher level of commitment towards our employer. Other job-share arrangements indicate that this option is growing, given the benefits it provides both the employer and employee.

Cisco Systems Inc. has consistently demonstrated its commitment to flexibility by providing employees with laptop computers, handheld devices, mobile telephones, Cisco-paid home broadband and desk phone/video functionality on their laptops.

Each company on our list, regardless of size, provides some percentage of their employees’ health care. Many of these companies go well beyond basic coverage. For example, Child Care Services Association offers health insurance to part-time employees working as few as 20 hours per week. Similarly, Duke Energy offers part-time employees pro-rated health benefits. According to one employee, “I feel very fortunate that Duke Energy has allowed me, as a working mother, to work a part-time schedule … and offers great benefits such as health insurance, vacation and the option to participate in retirement savings and cash balance plans.”

There also is an expanded focus on wellness programs, including on-site fitness centers, discounts for gyms, on-site yoga classes, health screenings and disease prevention workshops. In an effort to support the healthy lifestyles of their employees, SAS and the Duke University Health System even host farmers’ markets at their facilities.

In addition to the innovative programs listed above, a few select companies have generated ways to assist their employees with the current state of the economy. For example, Replacements Ltd. offered employees three options for the summer: work four 10-hour days, work from home one day or adjust their schedule to make carpooling easier. AccruePartners offers its owners’ beach house to its employees for a week at a time.

To keep its fingers on the pulse of its employees, RED F Marketing surveys its staff semi-annually to see if they are satisfied with the company culture, specifically to see if they are happy with work-life balance, benefits plans and community outreach. The results of the survey are shared at a quarterly meeting, and action plans are developed to address this important feedback.

Having worked with the master's of business student population, we have witnessed a rise in expectations concerning benefits and perks offered by potential employers. Many of these and other Gen Y’ers prioritize corporate culture when considering which companies to target in their job search.

Having grown up in an era of technology, these individuals see few obstacles in completing work in nontraditional hours, means and locations. Like those who have come before them, valuable employees realize that if they prove their worth, companies are willing to change employee policies and, in turn, their corporate cultures.

The punch-the-clock mentality is rapidly becoming obsolete, and the businesses that do not follow the path forged by companies such as those recognized in the N.C. Family-Friendly 40 will fall by the wayside. Shrewd companies are realizing that the only way to attract and retain top talent is to offer flexible work arrangements and strong benefits packages. The onus also falls on employees to earn it, demand it and not abuse it.


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