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A NEW USE FOR VOICE MAIL

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Implementing an interactive voice mail system that allows teachers to leave daily messages for working parents about their children's school work could be well worthwhile for employers.

Employees using such systems reported reduced stress, improved productivity and more positive feelings toward their employers.

These are the findings of the first report card on a national pilot project, dubbed the Bridge Project, designed to allow working parents to be more involved with their children's education while still being productive at work.

The Bridge Project was funded by the American Business Collaboration for Quality Dependent Care, a national coalition of 22 major corporations seeking to enhance the quality and number of child care, school-age and elder care programs in the 68 communities across the country where their employees live and work (BI, Sept. 18, 1995).

Eleven Collaboration companies helped fund the $1.4 million pilot project, which provided 102 urban and suburban elementary, middle and high schools in seven states with computer hardware and software, teacher training and technical assistance. The project, which began in the 1995 school year and cost on average $15,000 per school, provided individual voice mailboxes for teachers to leave daily messages for parents regarding school activities. Parents also could leave messages for teachers.

The Betty Phillips Center for Parenthood Education at Vanderbilt University, which conducted the study, found that 43% of the surveyed parents used the voice messaging system regularly, calling to listen to daily messages from their child's teacher at least once per week.

As a result of the project, 34% of the surveyed parents reported feeling less stress at work because they felt more comfortable knowing what their children were doing in class.

In addition, almost 75% of the employees reported feeling more positive about their employers; 30% reported spending less time at work worrying about family issues; 21% reported that their work productivity improved; 14% reported taking off fewer days from work; and 16% reported being late less often.

"We've had very, very positive feedback" from the pilot project, noted Janine Rouson, manager of compensation and benefit programs for GE Capital Services Inc. in Stamford, Conn., and one of the participating employers.

Employees had expressed concern over their ability to be involved and connected to their children's education due to their work schedules and positions, Ms. Rouson said.

The voice-mail system "is a great way for parents to feel they are in touch with their children's school and still be productive at work," she said.

GE Capital Services participated in three communities and plans to expand the voice-mail project to two additional cities in Ohio where it has large employee populations, Ms. Rouson said.

Amoco Corp. also is considering expanding its involvement with the Bridge Project, noted Pat Massucci, director of policy and work/family programs for the Chicago-based oil giant.

"It is one of the most popular programs we've supported," she said. "It affects about 200 of our employees' children."

Amoco was involved in the project in the Chicago and Atlanta areas.

In addition to GE Capital Services and Amoco, the other nine participating Collaboration employers are Aetna Life & Casualty Co., Allstate Insurance Co., Bank of America, Deloitte & Touche L.L.P., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Johnson & Johnson, NYNEX Corp. and Xerox Corp.

Plans are underway to expand the Bridge Project into seven new communities and to other American Business Collaboration employers, said Leanne Barrett, director of the Bridge Project for WFD, a Boston-based work/family consulting firm that is coordinating the project.