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Employee conflicts arising from balancing work and family life extend well beyond the traditional need for child and elder care assistance, according to a study recently published by Baxter Healthcare Corp.
The Deerfield, Ill.-based medical device manufacturer surveyed more than 1,000 of its employees over an 18-month period ending in 1996 to evaluate its current work/life benefit programs and to better understand its employees' work/life needs.
It now is publishing the results of its research and offering advice to other corporations that seek to help employees balance work/life conflicts.
Overall, "employees view work and life as much more broad-based" and these issues affect "virtually everybody" in a corporation, said Alice Campbell, Baxter's director of work/life initiatives and one of the authors of the report.
According to Baxter's findings, all types of employees-men and
women, singles and married people, lower income and higher income, and all ethnic groups-are affected in some way by work/life conflicts. These conflicts, Baxter found, arise from lack of respect, a lack of balance, a lack of flexibility and a lack of programs within the workplace.
Respect issues-whether employees are treated with dignity and as a "whole" person who has a life outside of work-are considered the most "painful" experience for employees, Baxter says.
This was especially evident with Baxter's hourly shift workers, who must adhere to an attendance policy that penalizes employees for absences and tardiness for circumstances beyond their control, the report says.
Baxter suggests some "best demonstrated practices" for employers to help solve these respect conflicts. They include: voluntary overtime offered before mandatory overtime required; 24-hour advance notice for overtime; the ability to pool paid time off; and a 7-minute grace period before being charged as late.
The second most "painful" conflict, according to the report, results from a lack of balance, or whether the ratio of time between work and non-work activities is comfortable.
To solve these balance conflicts, Baxter recommends: adopting a "take as much time as you need" attitude; implementing alternative work arrangements; and offering voluntary overtime to anyone qualified, regardless of their department.
Lack of flexibility over the parameters of when and how work is to be accomplished against a variety of personal needs-is the next most serious conflict.
To solve flexibility conflicts, Baxter suggests: shift swapping; making up time; incremental time off; pooled paid time off; and four hours of time off for school visitation.
The least serious conflict for employees resulted from lack of work/life programs, which include financial and health assistance and time off.
The best practices to curb these types of conflicts include: back-up child care; casual days; vacation day rollovers; fitness centers; and use of sick days to care for ill family members.
Building on these four conflict components, Baxter created what it calls the "work and life pyramid of needs."
Likened to psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, the components of the work and life pyramid have a hierarchal relationship. At the base of the pyramid lies the "root" component-or lack of respect issues-which needs to be addressed first because they cause the most conflict for employees, according to Baxter. After that is addressed, employers should then address balancing and flexibility issues and then look at implementing specific programs.
"We're essentially recommending to take a look at work/life issues that affect employees and address the root causes," Ms. Campbell said. If an employer does not first address any respect issues, the benefits or programs offered instead will be perceived as "lip service," she warned.
According to Baxter's findings, employees who believed they did not receive the respect they were entitled to reported turnover, apathy, low productivity, vandalism, self-focus and an unwillingness to "go the extra mile."
As a result of its own findings, Baxter initiated several new and enhanced several of its existing work/life programs.
For example, when Baxter employees call a toll-free number to listen to all open job positions within the company, they now can also press a button and hear a list of all jobs available with alternative work arrangements, Ms. Campbell explained.
Before, an employee would have to listen to all the available job openings and then determine if a job offered alternative working arrangements.
The company also developed an emergency back-up child and elder care program for its about 4,000 employees in northern Illinois. That program is ending its first year in pilot and likely will be adopted, she said.
Also as a result of its initiative, Baxter developed an alternative working arrangement kit to assist employees in how to propose an alternative work arrangement and to assist managers in how to determine a good or bad proposal, Ms. Campbell said. The kits were distributed in December 1996.
Copies of "The Work and Life Pyramid of Needs" are available for $50 by contacting Baxter Healthcare Corp. at 800-422-9837.