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Work and Family: Policies for a Changing Work Force.

Work & Family: Policies for a Changing Work Force. By The National Research Council. Washington, DC, National Academy Press, 1991. 260 pp. $29.95.

Family issues are a legitimate employer responsibility, but the employer is not solely responsible for developing and executing policies to help individuals with family obligations. This assumption stems from the conclusions drawn by the National Research Council's Panel on Employer Policies and Working Families, which was asked to assess changes in the composition of American families and their participation in the work force and the changes in employer benefit policies that result. Work & Family: Policies for a Changing Work Force is the result of the panel's study.

Interest in employer policy regarding family benefits comes from a dramatic increase in dual-earner and single-adult families in the labor force, and an increase in women in the labor force. Labor force participation rates for women have increased to the extent that women now represent 45 percent of the labor force. Many of these women already have families. This has sparked interest in the potential conflicts between work and family obligations and development of adequate benefit programs to provide a better work environment for individuals with such obligations.

Work & Family is written as a report, providing statistics on the changes in the work force and incidence of benefit programs designed to meet these changes. As perceived by the panel, the broad focus of this book is on three major areas related to work and family: the effects of different employer policies (such as work scheduling, benefits and leave rules) on families; the effects of employees' family make-up (such as dual earner, single earner, female headed) and responsibilities (such as child care, eider care) on their work availability and performance; and the factors that influence employers to adopt family-related policies (such as size of firm, industry, economic conditions, public policies).

Work & Family begins with a short history of the American family and its economic evolution through the pre-industrial period, when women worked infrequently outside the home, through the industrial period, when employment of women became a much more widely accepted practice. A discussion of the changing workplace during the same periods follows, describing how the workplace has adapted to an increased number of women becoming an integral part of the labor pool.

Not only does the book address the effect of family on work, but also the effects of work on family. The panel recognizes the difficulties of balancing the responsibilities of work and family. Factors such as income and identity, marital satisfaction, and children's well-being are discussed. These topics also are approached with regard to race, describing differences that occur among ethnic groups. For example, in 1988, while 44.7 percent of all single women with children under the age of 18 had earnings below the poverty level, 38.2 percent of white women had such earnings, compared with 56.3 percent of black women, and 59.2 percent of Hispanic women.

Of particular interest is a discussion of several benefits directed primarily toward employees with family concerns. Paid and unpaid leave for pregnancy, childbirth, and care for sick children or other sick family members receive the most attention. Although employers are not bound by Federal requirements to offer parental leave, many employers are offering such a policy, even if it is unpaid. This allows employers to maintain favorable relations with employees and keep valuable workers who might consider changing employers due to the lack of a family-related leave policy.

Those employers offering a parental leave program almost always offer an unpaid program. Cost-effectiveness is the key, particularly if the employer is in an industry that dictates replacement of an employee for the period that he or she is absent.

Work & Family, citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employee Benefits Survey, reports that among medium- and large-sized private business establishments in 1989, unpaid maternity leave was offered to 37 percent of all employees, while 3 percent had paid maternity leave. But only 1 percent of all employees had paid paternity leave, while 18 percent had unpaid paternity leave. In addition, 15 States since 1987 have enacted some form of parental or family leave laws for men and women requiring employers to offer some minimum number of weeks specifically for this type of leave.

Employers also provide viable alternatives for employees to spend more time with family. Methods the book cites include part-time work, flexible work schedules, and alternative work locations. Part-time work is becoming increasingly popular, particularly among women with employed husbands and young children. Flextime is another alternative, giving employees a choice among work hours most suitable to their situations, although they must fulfill a weekly requirement, which typically is 40 hours.

Finally, alternative work locations (also called flexplace or telecommuting) allows employees to work in their homes. This strategy currently favors the self-employed and employees at the corporate level who perform clerical and high-level professional work not requiring much supervision. Advantages of working at home include greater control over time, saving commuting time and money, and the ability to meet household demands. For these reasons, this alternative work arrangement continues to grow in popularity.

Work & Family also addresses other emerging benefits, such as employee assistance programs, flexible benefit programs, and different methods for employers to provide dependent care for children and elderly dependents.

The final part of the book discusses family-related benefits in other countries and how they are administered, and compares provisions of relevant benefits in the United States with those of other countries.

--Kenneth R. Elliott

Division of Occupational Pay and Employee Benefit Levels Bureau of Labor Statistics
COPYRIGHT 1993 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Elliott, Kenneth R.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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