Addressing the Care Deficit

Businesses that offer their employees flexible work options, paid family leave benefits and maintain a corporate culture that highlights a successful work-life balance may be more successful in retaining and attracting top talent while increasing daily productivity.

While nearly two out of three workers aged 45 to 74 care for an aging or adult relative, only 12 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave benefits, and almost 40 percent of private-sector workers lack access to any paid sick days, according to the June 2013 AARP study “Keeping Up With the Times: Supporting Family Caregivers With Workplace Leave Policies.”

Businesses that offer flexible work options and benefits packages may be able to set themselves apart to workers caring for an aging adult or young child. In addition, flexible work environments may help attract recent graduates wanting work-life balance, according to Ken Bansemer, a national talent acquisition and talent management leader at McGladrey LLP, a tax consultancy firm.

For McGladrey, and the company’s more than 6,700 employees, flexible work schedules have played an integral role in its corporate identity, according to Bansemer. The company received the 2010 Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility for offering its employees a litany of scheduling options such as a condensed workweek, a shortened work year and a work-from-home option.

“It has a direct impact on both employee engagement, retention and the bottom line,” Bansemer said. “I work from home. My entire work team is flexible. We’ve come to embrace it in meetings and trainings. It’s all about good discussion, and you have to understand your employees’ challenges and aspirations. You would hate to have a top performer resign because they couldn’t support a specific interest.”

For the one in four employees who care for children or an elderly family member, work options tailored to employees’ individual needs help address their personal concerns and may increase work productivity, according to Chris Duchesne, vice president of global workplace solutions for Care.com.

A top-performing employee, for example, may have a serious personal situation at home, causing him or her to take a week or more off from work on short notice. Giving the employee time to completely address a personal situation will, over time, help that person manage the situation and will allow him or her to focus attention on work in the long term, Duchesne said.

“The bottom line is if the employers aren’t thinking about this and doing something to address this culturally and put services in place, they are setting themselves up for a crisis,” Duchesne said. “Take preventative steps now.”

Companies don’t need to institute big, extensive changes to make their workplace more accommodating to their employees. Northwestern University, for example, uses a pooling program where the university’s employees can donate unused vacation days to employees who are facing a personal situation, such as caring for an aging parent, according to Duchesne.

Yahoo, on the other hand, is expanding the eligibility requirements for paid leave and extending elder-care benefits to encapsulate more distant relatives.

“In reality, if there’s something going on at home, people are going to be concerned about that just in the way when they are at home, and there’s something going on at work, they’re going to be focused on that,” said Maryella Gockel, the Americas flexibility strategy leader at EY, formerly Ernst & Young. “The lines are becoming more and more blurred between what is work and what is home or life.”

If employees are succeeding personally, they are more likely to give their discretionary effort and enthusiasm to their work, Gockel said. And companies can help facilitate their employees’ personal success by providing them with both flexible work options and outside resources and support for their personal needs.

Before companies can offer flexible work options, however, there needs to be a cultural tone stemming from the top demonstrating the importance of work-life balance, according to Gockel. Without that message in place, employees will be less likely to take advantage of support resources and programs.

“Flexibility is for everyone,” Gockel said. “It is a critical component to the organization. It’s a critical factor in recruitment and retention of people. It’s all about giving people an opportunity to take care of their life outside of work.”

Jessica DuBois-Maahs is an editorial intern at Talent Management magazine. She can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.