Printer Friendly

Family-care policies in the high-tech workplace: it's a good investment.

Some companies claim that cost and liability concerns prevent them from adopting family care policies. However, there are three underlying stereotypes that usually dominate this type of reasoning. The most common stereotypes are the view of the American family today, the role of women in society and the demand for quality child care.

First, consider the notion of the so-called traditional family. The traditional family is defined as one in which the mother stays at home and cares for the children while the father works outside of the home as the sole breadwinner for the family. In a 1986 Harvard Business School seminar for executives, participants were asked to estimate how many of their workers lived in a traditional family. Estimates ranged between 40 percent to 70 percent. In fact, in 1990 only 10 percent of all families fit into this mold. Not only that, but only one third of all families with pre-school aged children fit this definition. Clearly, the traditional family is a rarity in America today.

The reality is that the current definition of the term traditional family only came into being after World War II. Throughout history, women have worked to support their families. Prior to the industrial revolution, little gender differentiation existed in the work place. Most often, the work was in the home or near the home and all family members had to work. Child care was often shared by both the mother and the father. While the mother tended to the nurturing and feeding of the family, the father was responsible for the intellectual and moral upbringing of the children.

Today, the family cannot be described by one simple definition. In addition to the traditional family, children are growing up in families that are dual-income, as well as families headed by a single parent. In 1960, 28 percent of all couple families were dual income. In 1987, 29 percent of just those couple families with children under the age of six were dual income. Approximately 50 percent of all couple families were dual income. It is estimated that by the year 2000 that number will have risen to approximately 57 percent.

The family headed by a single parent is an increasing phenomenon of society today. In 1960, a mere 9 percent of families were headed by a single parent. In 1985, 21 percent of all households were headed by a single mother and 2 percent were headed by a single father. There are nearly 9.3 million single parents in the U.S. today. It is estimated that by the time today's children reach the age of 18, they will have had a 50 percent chance of having lived some portion of their childhood in a home headed by a single parent.

While many executives mistakenly believe that the traditional family is the norm, they also unfortunately believe that it is the standard to uphold. In a 1989 survey of executives from 30 U.S. corporations, 49 percent responded positively to the statement "the increasing employment of women has led to the breakdown of the American family." There is a widespread belief that a woman's place is in the home, and when a woman seeks employment outside of the home, she is placing her needs above those of her children. Noted author and sociologist Judith Auerbach states, "The dominant ideology of mothering holds that children need to be nurtured by their mothers at home to ensure proper physical, emotional, psychological and moral development. Any mother who does not stay home and care for her children is a bad mother who wants to rid herself of her children."

This misconception is based on two false assumptions. The first false assumption is that only the mother can provide the necessary care and nurturance for her young children. Fathers are equally capable of performing tasks traditionally reserved for the mother. Many sociologists explain the gender differentiation that exists in the home as a power struggle. Child-rearing is a job with no pay and low status. Men have assigned these tasks to women because they do not want them, and it preserves their monopoly of the higher status role as breadwinner for the family. Noted feminist Gloria Steinem states, "If men start taking care of the children, the job will become more valuable."

The second assumption of this philosophy is that women work for purely selfish reasons. In reality, women work for many different reasons.

While many women work for self fulfillment, most women work for economic need. Two-thirds of all working women are either single, widowed, divorced or have husbands who earn less than $15,000 per year. Among dual income families, 25 percent of the women are making more money than their husbands. Among single parents, the need to work is obviously critical. Sixty percent of all single mothers with children under the age of 14 earn less than $15,000 a year. Only 15 percent make more than $25,000 annually. These women are not working to get rich. They are working to put food on the table.

Another commonly held belief is that there is a lack of demand for family care policies. Approximately 26 million children need some type of supervision each day while their parents are at work. An estimated 11 million school age children go home to an empty house. There is an overwhelming need for before and after school programs. Between 1982 and 1985, the number of pre-school age children enrolled in day care rose 60 percent.

A 1989 survey indicated that 52 percent of AT&T unionized employees thought child care was an important issue in contract bargaining. A full one-third deemed it a high priority. Employees want corporate assistance in attaining quality child care at an affordable price. The average cost of child care for one child is $3,000 per year. Considering the average family has two or three children, child care can easily become a major item in the budget. In fact, for most working families, child care is the fourth largest item in the family budget -- after housing, food and taxes. For families headed by a single parent, child care accounts for an even larger portion of the family budget. Forty-nine percent of single mothers and 22 percent of single fathers spend 30 percent of their income on child care.

In addition to needing assistance in finding quality child care at affordable prices, employees need flexible work options that include an unpaid parental leave. Nearly 2 million working women give birth each year. It is estimated that 80 percent of working women are in their child bearing years and that 90 percent of those women will become pregnant sometime during their career. When a valuable worker becomes pregnant today, she faces some very difficult decisions. She must try and find a balance between the needs of her newborn child and the needs of her employer. When parental leave policies are weak or non-existent, this decision can become even more difficult. The company stands to lose a valuable employee or may find that their once highly valuable worker has become disgruntled and less productive. Conversely, by offering a parental leave that allows a woman to find a solution that balances both her personal needs and the needs of her employer, the company retains a valuable, and probably more loyal, employee.

Arguments of cost and liability

Employers cite costs and liability as their biggest deterrents to implementing a family care policy. Employers want to know what is in it for them. The costs for family care policies are quickly offset by increased productivity, higher employee morale and increased leverage in recruiting. As will be shown, the liability of many child care solutions is zero.

Corporations who have implemented child care policies state that increased worker productivity as a leading benefit. Child care problems cause workers to be less productive because they are often required to miss work, come in late, and deal with family issues during the day. U. S. companies lose as much as $3 billion a year due to family related absences. In 1988 Dr. Gayle Kimball did a study in which supervisors were asked to cite problems they felt were caused by child care problems. Supervisors listed tardiness (83 percent), scheduling (66 percent) and poor on the job performance (62 percent).

The reasons for child care problems that result in loss of productivity are various. In a 1989 survey, 28 percent of men and 42 percent of women surveyed had missed work in the previous year due to personal and/or family matters. This does not include vacation time. Most commonly cited reasons were caring for ill children, sudden loss of child care provider and appointments with doctors and school officials. These problems can be easily solved at a relatively low cost with flexible work options and supportive supervisors. Employees of supervisors who are supportive of their child care problems are generally less stressed, miss less work days and are more loyal to their company.

Increased leverage in recruiting

Employers must also seriously consider family care policies because the work place is changing. As more employees demand family care policies, corporations that do not provide them will have difficulties recruiting and retaining highly sought after employees.

The "baby boom" generation entered the labor force in the 1970s and early 1980s. Employers enjoyed a large pool from which to select their future employees. The 1990s will see the entrance of the "baby bust" generation; decreased birth rates in the 1970s and early 1980s will mean a smaller labor force in the 1990s. From 1970 to 1985 the labor force grew an average of 2.2 percent every year. During the next 10 years, the labor force will expand more slowly than any time since the 1930s. The average growth per year is estimated to be a mere 1 percent.

In addition to the shrinking labor pool, employers will be facing a labor force that looks nothing like the labor force of the past. Over the next 10 years, two-thirds of those entering the labor force will be women starting or returning to work. Minorities and immigrants will make up a majority of the rest. Only 9.3 percent of those entering the work force will be white males. Figure 1 illustrates the changes taking place in the work force from 1988 to 2000.

Women are increasingly becoming a formidable figure in the work place. In 1960, women made up only 33 percent of the work place. In 1980 they made up 43 percent. This figure is expected to climb to 47 percent by the year 2000. In addition, an increasing number of mothers with young children are joining the work force. Between 1976 and 1986, the percentage of mothers with children under the age of one who worked rose form 51 percent to 71 percent.

While women are making up an increasing proportion of the labor force, they are likely to also be among the most sought after. The market place is increasingly demanding individuals with advanced education. In the 1950s, only 20 percent of all undergraduates were women; two-thirds of those never obtained degrees. However, in 1970, 42 percent of all undergraduate degree recipients were women. In 1985, women held the majority of undergraduate degrees with 51 percent.

The number of women entering the professional ranks has also risen dramatically. In 1960 there were only 7,500 female lawyers and judges. In 1989 there were 180,000. Likewise, the number of female doctors has risen from 15,672 in 1960 to 108,200 in 1989. The number of female engineers have gone from 7,404 in 1960 to 174,000 in 1989.

Employers who wish to successfully recruit and retain the best of the labor pool will have to change their benefits and policies to meet the changing needs of the labor force. Today, many employees base their decisions on promotions, transfers and job changes on family care issues. For example, in a 1989 study, one-third of employees questioned said they had seriously considered quitting their company in favor of one with better family care policies.

The cost of losing employees because the company does not have a family policy may very well be much higher than the cost of providing one. On the average, an employer will spend approximately $30,000 training and developing an occupational employee through the course of a career. For a highly skilled position, that number could be as much as $100,000. Should employers lose an employee because of inadequate family care policies, they will pay an estimated $4,000 in recruiting costs alone in order to find a replacement. Surely, it is to the employer's best interests to provide employees with family care benefits.

There is mounting evidence that family care benefits are exactly what new members of the labor force want. Women make up nearly 600 business organizations. Their primary focus in the 1990s will be to change the work place, to battle the glass ceiling and to push for child care benefits.

Another indication of the increased demand for family care policies is the emergence of the status of Working Mother magazine's annual publication of the 75 best companies for women to work for. When the list was started in 1986, only 30 companies were on the list. Deputy editor Susan Seliger said she had to "beat the bushes" to find that many. Today she says that she is inundated with calls from companies asking how they can get on the list. A new member to the list this year, Sears, Roebuck & Co., stated that the magazine's recognition will help in the recruitment of new employees. Therefore, by bolstering their family-care policies, Sears has gained significant leverage in the recruitment of new employees.

Mandatory leave: good for business

An important part of any family care policy is a mandatory unpaid parental leave. In 1971, President Nixon vetoed the first family care bill, The Child Development bill. He reasoned that it was not in children's best interest to enact legislation that encouraged mothers to go to work. It took another 19 years for the next family care bill to cross a president's desk. In June of 1990, President George Bush vetoed the Act for Better Child Care bill - known as the ABC bill. The bill called for a mandatory unpaid parental leave of 12 weeks for most employees.

While a growing number of corporations offer a paid parental leave of at least one week, only 40 percent of companies offer women maternity leave with job security. Experts estimate that American companies lose as much as $700 million a year because of inadequate parental leave policies. They estimate that it would cost half as much to offer unpaid leaves with job security.

A 1987 study published by the National Council of Jewish Women revealed that pregnant women with supportive supervisors missed fewer days of work, felt better on the job and worked later in their pregnancy. In addition, they are more likely to return to work to the same employer after the birth of their child.

While seven states have passed comprehensive parental-leave bills and ten others have laws which guarantee maternity leaves, the U.S. remains the only western industrialized nation that does not have a national parental leave policy. The European Parliament now has a bill before them that would extend existing standards in Europe to 14 weeks with women receiving full pay. U. S. Rep. William L. Clay of Missouri, a member of the House Labor-Management Relations Subcommittee, believes that far from hurting our competitiveness, establishing this type of maternity leave will help us compete with countries that have already realized the cost benefits to such a policy.

Corporate solutions

As stated earlier, family care solutions are often simple ones that have no liability costs and are fairly easy to implement. A company on the leading edge of family care benefits is AT&T. When employees demanded family care benefits in labor negotiations in 1989, AT&T responded with a package that offers flexible work options, financial assistance, a generous parental leave policy and an opportunity for employees to become involved in providing quality child care in their community.

AT&T's policy offers employees increased flexible work arrangements. Beginning in 1990, employees were given a Flexible Excused Workday or Management Personal Day. The eight hours could be used in two-hour increments for personal emergencies that require immediate attention. Prior supervisor approval is not necessary. In addition, each location was given the authority to tailor their work hours to meet employee needs. While some locations are investigating the four day work week, others are implementing core hours when all employees must be present. By implementing core hours, employees would be required to be at work during a specified block of time. However, individual schedules would differ depending on individual needs. For example, if core hours were between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., all employees would be required to work during those hours. However, while one employee may choose to work from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., another employee may opt for 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

AT&T's plan also offers financial assistance for child care through reimbursement accounts and adoption assistance. Employees were given the option of setting aside up to $5,000 a year in pre-tax dollars to pay for either child care or elder care expenses. In addition, beginning in 1990, employees wishing to adopt a child will be able to receive up to $2,000 to aid in the expenses associated with the adoption process. Dolly Garrison, an AT&T employee from Memphis, Tennessee, used the program to adopt her infant daughter. "Adoption is a very complex and expensive process, and the program was a big help to me. It shows the company is closely in tune with what's happening in the personal lives of its employees," she says.

AT&T assists employees in obtaining quality child care through two programs. The first is the Child Care Resource and Referral Service. AT&T works with local services in each community to help employees locate and evaluate available child-and elder-care services. Currently, AT&T is working with a network of 270 community-based referral agencies. In its first year, the referral service has helped more than 6,000 employees find quality child- and elder-care services.

In addition, AT&T implemented the Family Care Development Fund. The fund sets aside $5 million for management employees and $5 million for non-management employees to be spent over a three year period. Employees participate by developing plans to improve the quality and quantity of child care services in their community. In 1990, over $1 million in grants were given to community-based child-care quality of more than 150 child-care facilities in residential settings. The plan called for monthly training programs and a resource center that would lend child-care providers toys, educational equipment, crafts and books. The employees were successful in receiving $33,000 to fund their project. In Franklin Township, N.J., employees stated they had a need for better before- and after-school programs. They developed a plan that would expand and improve already existing programs. They received a $30,000 grant to implement their plan. The Family Care Development Fund allows employees in each community to determine what their specific child- and elder-care needs are and what would be the best solutions.

Although AT&T has had an unpaid parental leave policy since 1979, the new plan increased the previous leave of six months to one year. In 1990, 2,561 women took advantage of this. Because the policy is not restricted to women only, men are increasingly taking parental leaves as well. In 1990, 59 men took some time off after the birth or adoption of a new child. Michael Kechriotis, an AT&T employee from Pleasanton, Calif., took six weeks off after the birth of his first baby. He felt it was an important opportunity for him to get to know his new daughter. He states that his fellow employees as well as his supervisor were very supportive. "The people at work think it's great. My district manager is fantastic....He thinks you have to be happy at home before you can be happy at work."

In addition, under the new plan AT&T will pick up the premiums for health, dental and vision insurance for the first six months of the leave. This alone saves the average family $355 a month in insurance costs while on leave.


The face of the American family has changed drastically in recent years. No longer can the family be described by one simple definition. As the family has changed, so too has the work place. Growing numbers of women are entering fields that were once predominantly populated with men. As the work force continues to change over the coming years, companies that do not realize the changing needs of the work force will lose valuable leverage in hiring and retaining highly skilled workers.

States Bob Allen, CEO of AT&T, "By being sensitive and genuinely responsive to the concerns of our people, we're helping them to better manage their responsibilities both on the job and within the family. As far as AT&T is concerned, this is an important investment."

Corporations and government need to come to the realization that investing in the family is not only a good moral investment, it is also a good business investment.

Amy Hauth holds a B.S. in industrial engineering from the University of Nebraska and is pursuing a Master's of Technology at Arizona State University. She presently works in quality assurance at AT&T Technologies in Phoenix, Ariz. Jane Humble, Ph.D. has degrees in mechanical and industrial engineering and a Ph.D. in business. She is an assistant professor in the manufacturing and industrial technology department at Arizona State University.

For further reading

AT&T, Work and Family employee pamphlet, 1989.

Browne-Miller, Angela, The Day Care Dilemma, New York: Plenum Press, 1990.

Castro, Janice, "Get Set: Here They Come!" Time, October 1990.

Clay, William L., "The USA Needs a Family-Leave Law," USA Today, December 7, 1990.

Elmer-Dewitt, Philip, "The Great Experiment,"Time, October 1990.

Fee, Cathy, "Work & Family - The Daddy Track?" AT&T Focus, February 1991.

Fernandez, John, Politics and Reality of Family Care, Lexington Books, 1990.

Galensky, Ellen, Investing in Quality Child Care - A Report AT&T, Bank Street College, November 1986.

Richards, Cindy, "Seven Chicago Firms Earn Praise of Working Moms," Chicago Sun-Times, September 19, 1990.

Wallis, Claudia, "Onward Women!" Time, December 4, 1989.

Young, Randy, "Work & Family - You've Got a Friend," AT&T Focus, February 1991.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Employee Relations
Author:Hauth, Amy; Humble, Jane
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Previous Article:Using both head and heart in managerial decision making.
Next Article:Launching a new business ethic: the environment as a standard operating procedure.

Related Articles
Ticking Bombs: Defusing Violence in the Workplace.
The business case for work-family programs.
Catholics should fight for universal parental leave.
Balancing act.
The Human Side of High Tech: Lessons from the Technology Frontier.
What Constitutes a Psychologically Healthy Workplace?
Aging workers, changing value: employers that want to benefit from aging workers' changing value will need to show they are committed to their...
Correspondence: Don Edgar.
Looking back and forward at labour's industrial relations record: the major political story for 2008 in New Zealand is undoubtedly the general...

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters