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Association Management, Nov 1994 v46 n11 p38(8)
Wanted: flexible work arrangements. (Workplace in Transition)(includes related article on Family and Medical Leave Act and a list of resources) (Cover Story) Diane E. Kirrane.

Abstract: The need to balance home life with work life remains an important need for many employees in associations. One way of satisfying this need is to implement flexible work arrangements. Demographic, sociocultural, medical, technological, business, economic and legal issues of flexible work arrangements are discussed. Some options for flexible work arrangements, child care and elder care are also presented.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT American Society of Association Executives 1994

Employers want flexible employees. Employees want flexible work arrangements. Here's the big picture, snapshots of association programs, and a few pointers.


* NEW LAWS, TECHNOLOGIES, and staff needs are leading associations to take another look at flexible work arrangements.

* WORK--FAMILY ISSUES remain a priority, and the trend to more tailored employment options can offer equity for all employees.

* FLEXIBLE WORK ARRANGEMENTS are a competitive advantage now, but several that are deemed innovative today are likely to become as commonplace as flextime has.

Men and women. Married people. Single people. Those with children. Those without. And those with families near and far. Today's workers, for all their differences, have this in common: full lives that require them to coordinate the demands of work and home. As a result, both organizations and individuals are blazing trails to work arrangements that increase flexibility.

For their part, association executives are working hard to

* comply with new laws without undue disruption of or hardships for their associations;

* satisfy the needs and wants of current employees well enough to retain them and support or increase their productivity; and

* offer options that keep their associations attractive to job seekers.

These days, as Robert Levering and Milton Moskowitz note in the 1993 update of The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America, Americans want to work where child care needs aren't a taboo topic and time off for self-development is in the realm of possibility.

In other words, although implementing flexible arrangements means spending organizational time and may require spending money and finding staff and space, there's an institutional upside, too. So more and more association executives and managers find themselves joining the pathfinders in the new environment of flexible work.

For good and ill, America is undergoing numerous changes that affect the work force and work arrangements. Many of these interrelated changes are

* Demographic. The baby boomers are aging. Some of them are sandwiched between the need to care for at-home children and no-longer-in-dependent parents. In six short years, today's 12-year-olds will come of age. These upcoming workers are likely to expect employer accommodation not only of diversity, but of their individuality.

* Sociocultural. No matter what one believes the definition of family should be, the traditional Mom-at-home, Pop-at-work, kids-at-school model is not a reality for most Americans.

Mores and Pops may be single parents: Nearly 13 million children were living in single-parent homes in 1993, the U.S. Census Bureau reports. Or parents may be remarried and trying to blend families from earlier marriages. In "intact" families, both parents may work, often of economic necessity.

Grandmother and Grandfather may work. They also may have adult children who boomeranged back home, bringing the grandchildren with them. Leaving the delicate subject of parental presence aside, more than 3 million children were growing up in their grandparents' homes in 1993.

Some people strive to add a child to their lives, while others consider themselves "child free" but still dote on nieces and nephews. Anyone's heartstrings and obligations may extend to relatives--whether younger, older, or peers.

[Expanded Picture] Beyond that, phrases such as significant other and longtime companion tell that friends and lovers may evoke family feelings, too. As a consequence, some organizations offer limited benefits for "spousal equivalents," including those of the same sex.

What's more, a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute, Washington, D.C., found that for the first time, most American workers would accept less pay or slower career progress in trade for more personal time. Nonetheless, the number of hours that people spend on work is rising, according to Harvard economist Juliet Schor's book The Overworked American: the Unexpected Decline of Leisure.

Besides tending to family ties, a working person may want to walk the dog, write poetry, or hike mountain trails. Some burnout-avoidance activities are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. As a result, the Kodak Company, Rochester, New York, developed an innovative policy: Show how your job will still be done to company satisfaction, and you may get leave for a "unique personal experience."

* Technological and medical. Computer-based communication means that work doesn't always require staff to congregate in one place or at one time. And advances in medicine, surgery, and knowledge about preventing bodily wear and tear are extending Americans' lives. There even are new, sometimes controversial, methods for having children, and having them later in life.

* Business and economic. Downsizing has pared down many staffs to a core whose particular knowledge and skills are crucial. So it often saves time, money, and disruption for an organization to retain people by offering them flexible arrangements. Still, employers may avoid dealing with some staffing issues by outsourcing segments of business or using individual temporary workers.

* Legal. National Commission for Employment Policy Chair Anthony P. Carnevale says that today's laws are based on a traditional definition of employee, a definition that doesn't take such changes as the growth of the contingent work force into account.

Similarly, federal labor statistics only tell part of the story. For example, those usually count how many people work and for how many hours but not how many jobs each person holds. Meanwhile waves of federal and state laws and regulations keep employers busy reviewing organizational documents and practices. And new legislation often raises employees' expectations for flexibility.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 made pregnancy and maternity leave less of a career threat for women. But, naturally enough, it didn't affect parents' need to bond with their babies. Jennifer Glass, professor of sociology and director of a recent labor study at the University of Notre Dame, found that, from a sample of 324 women, those who took a relatively longer maternity leave were less likely to quit their jobs after returning to the workplace.

The Family Support Act of 1988 (with the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills, or JOBS, program as its main feature) was meant to send welfare recipients to jobs, job training, or school. But a lack of funds to subsidize child care limited its success. As welfare reform moves back into the spotlight, the work-home connection probably will receive more attention than before.

When the Immigration Act of 1990 came along, it had its good points. But it also restricted the number of foreign workers legally allowed to enter the United States to provide child care--and imposed tax and paperwork burdens on Americans who wished to hire them.

In February 1993, President Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides employees with options for taking leave to handle certain family matters. For example, many more employees became eligible to take unpaid leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child or an ailing parent. Yet employees don't always take the options that FMLA offers--because they can't afford its unpaid leave, fear that they'll return to careers impaired in a company culture that frowns on attention to family, or need or want to care for someone (for instance, a brother or sister) to whom the act doesn't apply.

Options and programs in practice

Countless combinations of options exist for flexible work arrangements. For now, most references to related issues use the term work-family. Employers' priority interest in work, immediately followed by compassion for employees' serious and emergency family responsibilities, is unlikely to change. Society at large clearly has an interest in having children brought up well. But the ongoing debate about "family values" is evidence of substantial lack of agreement about what being "brought up well" involves.

And partly to avoid polarizing staffers who have school-aged children and those who don't, more general terms (such as work-life and flexible work arrangements) are gaining favor. In the workplace, there is concern about equity. But equity need not mean that everyone is treated the same; it may mean, as a manager told The New York Times, offering everyone "access to the same, fair, consistent decision-making process, !in which^ the outcomes may be different."

When Dana Friedman (now at the Families & Work Institute, New York City) was with the Conference Board, New York City, she and Wendy Gray devised a "life-cycle approach" to employee benefits. Although many of the benefits of that approach pertain to traditional nuclear families, it charts a course from wellness programs to counseling on death benefits and taxes, so no one is left out.

In another tailored approach, some organizations provide legally mandated benefits, then set a per-employee dollar amount to be spent on selections from a "cafeteria" of optional benefits.

However an organization goes about implementing flexible arrangements, it's important to communicate priorities and to take an approach that encompasses at least a few broad employee interests.

Flextime. One such interest is flextime--a system in which employees choose their starting and finishing times from a range of available hours. It's become standard practice in so many places that it no longer seems unusual. And regular part-time or peak-period work has spread to more kinds of businesses that want organizational flexibility.

Alternative schedules. Lately, after years of talk, a gradual but significant move to alternative schedules is occurring: compressed work-weeks (same number of hours, fewer days), job sharing, voluntarily reduced work hours, and phased retirement. But these options remain bounded by longstanding laws, some of which haven't caught up with the trend.

Pat McGuire, staff vice president of human resources at the Electronic Industries Association, Washington, D.C., says that legal concerns are one reason that EIA addresses employee requests for alternative schedules on a case-by-case basis.

"It would seem easier to arrange pay and benefits if an employee is compensated for work per hour. But what about exempt employees under the new arrangement?" she asks.

Moving from legality to practicality, she also asks, "What will the employee be doing? How much of the current job is going to get done? When? Where? In the office or at home? Does the work require use of EIA equipment? How will this arrangement affect member services and other external EIA relationships?"

EIA needs to work with an employee to answer these and other questions before determining whether there's a feasible alternative schedule for satisfactory performance of a job's vital tasks, McGuire concludes.

Flexplace. Another trend is to flexplace, a term that encompasses working from home (some or most of the time) without computer links to the office; telecommuting (with such links); or spending most work time on-site with clients and returning only occasionally to "the office," where a shared place is reserved.

Flexplace options work best with people who are self-starters--and finishers. Also, people who spend little or no time at an office may need to find new avenues for professional and social interaction--through a professional association or office sports team, for example.

Kathy Compton, director of public affairs at the Society for Human Resource Management, Alexandria, Virginia, says that SHRM considers flexible arrangements on an individual-by-individual basis. This past summer SHRM tried a three-month pilot of telecommuting--on Tuesdays and Thursdays by Michelle Neeley Martinez, senior editor of SHRM's HRMagazine.

Martinez, who writes about companies implementing flexible work options, agrees with the case-by-case approach because her research has shown that telecommuting isn't suitable for every job or person.

"You have to be able to set priorities and be disciplined," she says.

Although she has a young son, Martinez doesn't consider telecommuting a substitute for child care in her situation. But telecommuting does suit her early-bird nature; she starts work when she feels most productive, even if that's at 4 a.m.

After she realized that she'd like to try telecommuting herself, Martinez wrote a carefully thought-out proposal.

"When writing my proposal, I took the perspective of my immediate manager and top managers, to consider what they'd be thinking and to answer the questions running through their heads," she says.

She noted that in the preceding six years, she had occasionally worked from home before. Those experiences had built her supervisor's trust because the supervisor assessed the results: Deadlines were met and project quality stayed high.

Martinez's proposal also outlined how she would be accessible to job contacts. She had her own computer equipment; all that she asked SHRM to add was a modem and electronic mail software.

She now uses e-mail and voice mail for work communications as well as the telephone. To someone calling or sending her an e-mail message, her location is not evident; her home and office availability and means of response are the same.

During the pilot, Martinez kept a daily record from which she later compiled a summary report. Mid-pilot, Compton said that other employees were wishing Martinez well because even those who don't want to telecommute hoped to see flexibility increase. In September, SHRM deemed the pilot successful and decided that flexibility in work options would continue.

Need for child care. Increasingly, employers are taking au interest in employees' child care options. Some groups express concern about employers actually supplying child care--as opposed to acknowledging its importance and helping parents support their own decisions and arrangements. But nearly everyone agrees that child care is no longer "just a woman's issue"--or of little concern in the workplace.

In their book Ozzie and Harriet Are Dead: The Transformation of Men, Women and the American Family, to be published by Harper/Collins, authors Caryl Rivers, of Boston University, and Rosalind Barnett, of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, report on a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. The study sample was 600 Boston-area, full-time workers, most of whom were white and in their 30s. The study found that fathers in dual-career marriages were as stressed about child care arrangements as mothers. It concluded that job-related problems have less effect on a man's health than his relationship with his child or children.

Yet between the lines of fathers' responses was the implication that men are reluctant to speak of family-centered concerns at work, much less to ask for flexible arrangements. A 1992 study by the Families and Work Institute came to similar conclusions about what it dubbed "daddy stress." And in a related development, the U.S. Census Bureau recently estimated that 13 percent of American children now live only with their fathers.

And although the soaring number of single-parent homes attracts much comment, the U.S. Department of Labor also has reported that 75 percent of married mothers worked during part of 1992. For a while, several reports showed data that might have indicated that mothers' participation in the labor force was declining. But as more statistics were tallied, the data seemed to record a shift toward part-time work, not dropping out. That shift may reflect a lack of flexible full-time work.

In light of all this, employers see that the availability, affordability, and accessibility of good child care have a bottom-line impact. Lack of quality child care leads to employees' absenteeism, tardiness, distraction, and stress-related health problems. Conversely, employees' reliability, good morale, and motivation are positive results that derive from safe, stable, developmentally sound child care arrangements.

Child care options. Some employers set a per-employee dollar benefit or allow employees to set aside some pretax income for payment for child care--whether provided by family, friends, or nonprofit or for-profit facilities. Other employers subsidize care by paying for it at preapproved places: totally, at a discount, or on a sliding scale. Some employers have on-site programs, while other organizations simply compile a referral list of local day care facilities that meet written standards. Because many people find it convenient to use child care facilities near their work, multi-employer consortiums are cropping up in areas that have a concentration of offices.

The American Psychological Association, on Washington, D.C.'s Capitol Hill, is one of four partners in a consortium agreement: APA, two government agencies (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the General Services Administration), and Bright Horizons, Inc., a child care company headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Holly Holstrom, APA's director of office support services, says that in 1990 the association created a task force to investigate child care options for employees. An informal questionnaire revealed that about 20 employees were interested in child care services, but not necessarily immediately. The task force launched a study, came to the realization that the association's staff base was too small to support building an APA-only child care center, and began to explore consortium arrangements. In 1992 task force chair Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami's Medical School, contacted Patricia Kinney, deputy director of GSA's Office of Child Care Development Programs. In turn, Kinney knew that FERC, which had a child care center, was considering new arrangements--including a switch to the Bright Horizons program and the possibility of taking on partners.

FERC is very near APA. But even more important to APA is Bright Horizons's strong curriculum of early childhood development based on expert advice from an advisory board that includes Head Start pioneer and psychologist Edward Ziglar and Harvard child development researcher Jerome Kagan. The program is staged and the consortium center has separate plans for infants, young toddlers, older toddlers, and preschoolers. The staff-per-child ratio is 1-4 through the older toddler stage and 1-10 for preschoolers. Throughout the country, Bright Horizons centers are accredited or are awaiting accreditation through the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Washington, D.C. Teachers at the consortium center must have bachelor's degrees, experience in day care, and "love for children." A policy of in-house promotion helps to retain center staff and provide children with a stable environment of caregivers.

APA purchased priority rights to 10 program spaces for three years and also bought three backup spaces for use by employees whose other child care arrangements fall through temporarily. Holstrom says that trying the backup slots also lets employees and their children see how they like the center. Employees pay monthly tuition based on the age of each child in the program, but subsidies are available for families who can't afford the regular fee.

APA Chief Executive Officer Raymond D. Fowler was on hand for the center's July 1993 inauguration. A year later, 42 children were enrolled and plans were under way to add to the center's capacity.

Holstrom says the whole APA staff' is seeing children around the neighborhood more often.

"It's neat to see co-workers having lunch with their kids during the day or taking them out for a stroll. We also do center tours and have open houses to keep employees aware of the center as an option," she notes.

Elsewhere, child care for preschoolers or for young students during after-school hours may be supplemented by other initiatives. A few companies--among them Hewlett Packard, Santa Clara, California--work with school boards to coordinate plans in order to have schools near proposed work sites.

EIder care. Another trend is employer involvement in developing options for elder care. The needs of employees' elderly relatives vary somewhat more than the developmental needs of children. Some older people just need to get out of an empty house--to avoid loneliness and the feeling of a lack of purpose. They enjoy programs that have social activities (such as day trips, dances, and card games) or self-development activities (such as exercise, education, or creative arts and crafts). Other older people need more physical assistance and attention to their health. At this point, relatively few employers offer on-site elder care, but many provide referrals to community resources and offer some form of financial support for elder care services.

Still rare, but enthusiastically hailed where in practice, is intergenerational care that offers same-site child care and elder care, with activities to bring the old and young together for part of each day.

Of course, other, more familiar practices and benefits continue to contribute to flexibility, and strengthen family life: employee assistance program referrals, seminars, and counseling; assistance and subsidies for work-related moves; and leaves and subsidies for education of employees and their families. Looking ahead, as more American workplaces and homes become networked electronically, it is to be expected that some of today's new-fangled arrangements will become familiar, too.

The Benefits of Being Flexible

Associations that have adopted flexible ways to work are finding that these arrangements

* are good recruiting tools;

* help reduce absenteeism and turnover;

* support or increase productivity by easing employees' worries, saving them time, or helping them sustain a higher level of effort;

* boost morale because the employer acknowledges that employees have commitments and concerns outside of work;

* may improve customer service (for instance, by offering more means or hours of communicating with staff--or better problem-solving from the "two heads are better than one" approach of job sharing); and

* enhance public image.

Complying With the FMLA

August 5, 1994, marked the one-year anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and while complying may be frustrating in some ways--75 percent of human resource professionals responding to a recent Society for Human Resource Management survey said the law creates daily administrative problems--it is mandatory. The law generally applies to organizations with 50 employees.

Unpaid leave. The FMLA says that if someone has worked for the same organization for 12 months (and at least 1,250 hours in the past year), that person is entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for the

* birth of a child or care of a child after birth or adoption;

* care of a seriously ill spouse, child, parent, or foster parent; or

* hospital care or continuing medical treatment of a serious personal illness.

When employees take FMLA leave, the employer is to maintain their benefits and to return them to the same jobs or to those with the same pay, status, and benefits.

An employee may use paid vacation or sick leave as part of the leave, but the 12-week limit still applies. Whenever possible, an employee is to give 30 days' notice of leave, to estimate when he or she will return, and to keep in touch with the employer. Intermittent leave will be granted if medically necessary; otherwise, it's granted if the employer and employee agree. Again, the 12-week total limitation applies.

Paperwork. Meanwhile, there's paperwork. An employer must post a notice to explain employees' rights under the FMLA and tell how to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division. An FMLA leave statement is to be included in the organization's employee handbook if there is one. If not, the employer is to distribute an FMLA policy.

A copy of the FMLA and related regulations, a sample employee notice, a sample medical certification form, and other information are available from the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage & Hour Division, Room 53516, Frances Perkins Building, 200 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20210. Telephone: (202) 219-8727. Caution: Although these materials provide a useful starting point, it is risky to adopt any FMLA sample as is.

Policy review. State laws or employee agreements may seem to conflict with certain FMLA provisions. So before issuing FMLA documents, an organization needs to review its own policies and documents covering such matters as leaves of absence, attendance, scheduling, life and disability insurance, and pensions. To resolve apparent conflicts, it may be prudent to get advice from an attorney familiar with the FMLA, its relationship to state law, and its likely impact on human resource policies. Other changes usually can be handled in-house--for example, revision of time reporting, payroll, and administrative systems to account for new practices such as intermittent leave.

Preparation. Managers need to be well-versed about FMLA requirements and options for redistributing work when an employee takes leave. In the February issue of the magazine Across the Board, career adviser Marilyn Moats Kennedy recommended that managers remind co-workers that FMLA leave is covered by law--and talk in terms of organizational needs, rather than trying to elicit sympathy for the person on leave. If possible, Kennedy said, use the leave taker's unpaid salary to hire temporary help, even for professional posts. Finally, she urged managers to work out in advance how leave takers will stay in touch and phase back into work.

Compliance. Earlier this year, the San Francisco office of William M. Mercer, Inc., and the University of California at Berkeley published results of a survey of Family and Medical Leave Act compliance in their state. In the 299 employer organizations that responded, the most common actions taken were discussion of how the FMLA applies to the organization, examination of related programs and policies for consistency, posting of employee's FMLA rights, and preparation of a written family leave policy.

Although some respondents extended benefits beyond FMLA requirements, others did not meet its mandates. For example, the survey found that 8.6 percent of respondents did not guarantee jobs after leave; some let managers decide whether employees would get their jobs back. About 5 percent offered less than the mandated 12 weeks of leave.

The actions that respondents were least likely to have taken were to budget for unanticipated leave costs or to develop an appeal procedure--although, from a management perspective, an appeal procedure is a desirable first step for dispute resolution.

Getting Off to a Good Start

To get off to a good start in developing flexible work arrangements, plan to

* Develop awareness of work-personal-life issues as business issues with bottom-line implications.

* Manage fears and expectations. Help middle managers to see the advantages of flexible arrangements and explain how managers can monitor work results in the new situation. Develop clear measurable or observable performance standards; abandon "face time" as a standard. Let employees know that management has concern for their personal needs but will maintain business interests as the first priority. Point out the vital need to meet customer needs and demands.

* Assess current work-home issues affecting the association and its staff. If feasible, also assess the future needs of the work force and labor pool. Defuse concerns about invasion of privacy. Structure a needs assessment survey--for example, as a checklist that doesn't require respondents to show their handwriting or give their names. Or, within guidelines related to business needs, allow staffers to propose flexible arrangements for themselves.

* Assign responsibility for reviewing association documents and procedures to keep them in line with related law. Assign someone to keep up with the literature on flexible work options and track down outside resources that might support association initiatives.

* Review possible initiatives.

* Phase in selected initiatives through short-term pilot programs or support of off-site programs.

* Inform staff of flexible options. Train managers and employees as necessary. Managers may need to learn about new thinking on employee motivation and performance standards. Employees may need to be cross-trained for greater flexibility in assignments.

* Integrate concern for flexibility into the association's strategic thinking by developing ongoing means for communicating both work expectations and flexibility of options; tracking issues, options, and results, and then adjusting as necessary; and building organizational resources (for example, by making contacts for employee assistance program referrals or building a file on training resources related to topics such as family-related benefits or managing telecommuters).

Tap These Resources

Many newsstand periodicals--from The Wall Street Journal and Fortune to Working Mother--cover flexibility and work-life issues and practices. In addition, numerous organizations offer publications and training about flexible work arrangements. Among the resources:

* Bureau of National Affairs 1231 25th St., N.W. Washington, DC 20037 (800) 372-1033

Special report series on work and family

* Catalyst 250 Park Ave., S. New York, NY 10003-1459 (212) 777-8900

Publications such as Child Care in Corporate America: Quality Indicators and Model Programs, advisory services

* The Conference Board 845 Third Ave. New York, NY 10022-6601 (212) 759-0900; fax (212) 980-7014

Work-Family Roundtable (advisory panel); reports such as Linking Work-Family Issues to the Bottom Line, Strategies for Promoting a Work-Family Agenda, Emerging Role of the Work-Family Manager, and Job Sharing; also books such as Creating a Flexible Workplace

* Families & Work Institute 330 Seventh Ave., 14th floor New York, NY 10001 (212) 465-2044

Publications such as The Corporate Guide to Work-Family Programs and The Study of Children in family Child Care and Relative Child Care; seminars and management training

* Managing Work and Family, Inc. 912 Crain St. Chicago, IL 60202 (708) 864-0916

Books, videos, needs assessment, and training

* National Council on the Aging National Institute on Adult Day Care 409 Third St., S.W. Washington, DC 20024 (202) 479-1200

Policy review of eider care in the workplace, a fact sheet about costs and charges for adult day care, and a brochure called Why Adult Day Care

* New Ways to Work 785 Market St., Suite 950 San Francisco, CA 94103-2016 (415) 995-9860; fax (415) 995-9867

Print publications, information contained on computer disks, and management training on flextime, telecommuting, job sharing, compressed work weeks, and phased retirement

* Society for Human Resource Management 606 N. Washington St. Alexandria, VA 22314 (703) 548-3440; fax (703) 836-0367

Publications such as Family and Medical Leave Act Compliance Guide, Creating a Flexible Workplace, and The Employer's Guide to Childcare

* U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau--Work and Family Clearinghouse 200 Constitution Ave., N.W. Washington, DC 20210 (800) 827-5335

"Work and Family Resource Kit"; Elder care locator (from National Association of Area Agencies on Aging); Elder care options outlines

* Work/Family Directions 930 Commonwealth Ave., W. Boston, MA 02215 (617) 278-4000; fax (617) 566-2806

Seminars and advisory and referral services

Diane E. Kirrane is a Washington, D.C.-based policy consultant and business writer.


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