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BENEFIT BEAT: TALK VS. ACTION ON CHILD CARE BENEFITS

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Though senior executives believe child care benefits increase productivity and decrease absenteeism, few companies actually offer them, new research shows.

Seventy-two percent of the 300 senior executives surveyed said child care services would "greatly" reduce absenteeism; 34% said they would reduce stress on employees; and 20% said they would increase productivity. Yet only 6% of their companies offer the benefits.

"The responses of the CEOs and senior officers surveyed show that they know their companies could benefit economically by helping their workers overcome the child-care obstacles," said Ellen Cannon, president of a Chicago consulting firm that bears her name and who did a survey as part of research for a book. "However, perhaps because of the costs of initiating these programs, companies have been slow to act."

Corporate daycare centers, for example, pay for themselves by reducing absenteeism-from 20 days to three on a national average-by increasing worker retention and by creating positive employee attitude towards the company, Ms. Cannon said. "This has moved from being a women's issue or family issue of the past and has now become a good business issue," she said.

"No more frustrated employees, absenteeism will decrease and you will have more secure employees," said one executive in the poll. "They can concentrate on what they are doing because they don't have to worry about who's looking after their children."

For a copy of the survey, call Cannon Consulting Group Ltd. at 312-654-0051.

Bethany Pendleton

DEARBORN, Mich.-Participants in Ford Motor Co.'s defined contribution plan now can choose from among 60 investment options.

Fifty supplemental investment options provide diversification choice for plan participants, said Lee Mezza, Ford's new director of its National Employee Service Center in the automaker's Dearborn headquarters. Mr. Mezza was an instrumental member of the internal project team that designed the new savings plan and takes over from John Ferguson, who has assumed a new job elsewhere in Ford.

The non-core options include 25 mutual funds managed by Fidelity Institutional Retirement Services, Scudder, Stevens & Clark, T. Rowe Price and the Vanguard Group.

Mr. Mezza said Ford considered offering a self-directed brokerage option but decided to limit its more adventurous participants to a set number of funds that allowed plenty of opportunity for "intelligent diversification."

Six new core investment options have been added and four options have been carried over.

Crain News Service

MIAMI-In its first year of operation, the HealthWorks Health Center at John Alden Financial Corp. in Miami has more than paid for itself by saving the company 8,285 hours that employees would have spent in trips to doctors' offices or hospitals.

"Adding in the physician fees that would have been assessed to employees, the potential savings to John Alden was about $420,000-well above the health center's operating budget," according to Kerry D. Clemmons, senior vp.

Since its opening on Sept. 14, 1994, the onsite center has provided emergency care, served as a source of confidential crisis counseling and provided a range of on-the-job care to employees.

In the past year, hundreds of the 1,500 employees at John Alden's corporate headquarters have gone to the center for free checkups.

The life insurer set up the center, which is open five days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., in response to employee needs, said Mr. Clemmons.