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US Firms Increase 'Work Life Benefits' - 2002-06-07

"Work Life benefits", free employer offerings such as child care, flexible work hours and training courses, are on the rise in the United States despite the recent economic slowdown. According to a new national survey, many companies say they are using the benefits to boost morale during difficult times.

Three quarters of the close to 1,000 major U.S. companies involved in the survey said they offer their workers flexible work options like part-time employment and the chance to work from home.

Forty-four percent offer help in financial planning, and half offer some kind of assistance for workers with elderly, infirm parents.

Jon Van Cleve of Hewitt Associates, the consulting firm that conducted the survey, says these work life benefits have grown continually over the last 10 years. "These programs used to be viewed as very light and fluffy and very nice. Now employers are tying them to the bottom line of the business and figuring out that yes, productivity can be impacted by these programs," he says. "Child care related absences cost U.S. businesses billions of dollars annually. As a result, Jon Van Cleve says, company sponsored systems to care for children when the regular babysitter does not come have become one of the hottest corporate offerings".

Rosemary Jordano, the founder of the back up child care firm "ChildrenFirst", says corporations are lining up for the service. "They are investing in their being able to keep employees at work rather than calling in sick or taking a day off," he says. "Our clients see $2 to $5 being saved for every dollar they invest in back up care."

Companies lease space in ChildrenFirst's child care centers for employees use when emergencies come up. "In some of our centers we will have five, ten, 15 companies participating and each of them can buy a membership that is sized to their employee base," says Ms. Jordano. "Our revenues have grown 40 to 50 percent a year since we founded the company 10 years ago.

Other popular work life benefits, Jon Van Cleve says, include group discount purchasing programs for things like auto insurance, and installing retail facilities at corporate head quarters. "Things like an ATM machine or an on-site dry cleaner, things that might make employees lives easier…. A company store where you can go in and buy stamps and maybe milk on the way home," he says.

Happier employees are more inclined to be industrious employees, Jon Van Cleve says. That's the theory behind work life benefits.