Real World Work/Life Balance

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Beyond offering flextime and comprehensive health insurance coverage, many companies identified by Carolina Parenting Inc. as this year’s N.C. Family-Friendly 50 have come up with some creative ways to help employees manage work-life balance.

Staying Connected With a Newborn at Home
Employees at Grant Thornton LLP in Charlotte who are taking parental leave have access to a support network of other “off-ramped” professionals as part of its Stay Connected program available to workers for up to five years. The other benefits of this program include access to a laptop and e-mail address, ongoing training and networking opportunities to help maintain CPA and other professional licenses, the opportunity to participate in local office social and charitable events, and support through ongoing personal communication with firm personnel.

Homework Help and College Counseling
College planning is a big topic for parents, and several companies help moms and dads figure out the financing. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina in Durham offers workshops, individual counseling, a help line and virtual learning on subjects such as saving for, getting into and finding loans for college. And a Homework Connection, an online tutoring service, assists kids with school projects and studying, when parents can’t remember how to help their child compute those algebra equations.

Family Resources at the Office
By providing resources, classes, seminars, online assistance and more, companies help reduce employees’ stress and minimize time spent tracking down information. Workers are able to take care of these personal services while at work, instead of having to take time off .
IBM employees, for example, can get answers from specialists about dependent-care issues, adoption, adult disabilities, parenting, school achievement, planning for college or “caring for oneself – personally or at work,” says an employee. Parents with children who have a mental or physical disability, developmental or learning disorder, can get help paying expenses for certain treatments and therapy outside the scope of the IBM medical and dental benefit plans.

Other companies, such as SAS in Cary, offer seminars or classes covering elder care, special needs, adoption, divorce and separation, financial planning, prenatal programs, teens and college.

Filling the Gaps in Dependent Care
Most of our family-friendly companies provide some assistance with child care – either formally through a credit, subsidized costs, or resource and referrals, or informally by allowing kids to come to work when necessary or the ability to work from home when kids are sick. Several also provide discounts to nearby or onsite child-care centers.

The Deuterman Law Group in Greensboro provides backup care for employees who work at home, providing professional nanny care, either onsite or at the employee’s home, when a work-at-home parent must be in the office for training, meetings or other purposes.

Instead of job-sharing, employees at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Research Triangle Park can share daycare slots at the organization’s five-star facility, which allows kids to be home part-time when parents only work part-time.

Organizations that offer care for school-age children during the summer or after-school score big points with parents. At Novant Health, for example, the on-site day care also runs before- and after-school care and a summer program. SAS in Cary is another employer that offers an on-site summer camp for ages 6 to 13.

Support from Others Who Know What It’s Like
Sometimes talking to coworkers in a similar situation can be helpful for getting ideas, filtering information and sharing concerns. Several companies offer special support groups to help with family issues.

For example, a parent support group at RTI International in Research Triangle Park covers topics of interest to expecting and new parents such as daycare options, child health and breast-feeding. RTI also brings in speakers and experts on child care. Alston & Bird LLC, with offices in Raleigh and Charlotte, also has a caregivers support group.

Employees at Grant Thornton LLP in Charlotte who are taking parental leave have access to a support network of other “off-ramped” professionals as part of its Stay Connected program that is available for up to five years. The other benefits of this program are above and beyond the norm as well, including access to a laptop and e-mail address, ongoing training and networking opportunities to help maintain CPA and other professional licenses, the opportunity to participate in local office social and charitable events, and support through ongoing personal communication with firm personnel.

Right from the Top
Just because a company offers family-friendly benefits and programs doesn’t necessarily mean the philosophy is an integral part of the culture. In some organizations, however, the message truly comes from the top.

An employee at Ameritrust Mortgage Inc. in Charlotte wrote:
“Despite being a busy entrepreneur and owner of a mortgage company, (John) Owens leaves his office every day at 2 p.m. to volunteer at Charlotte Christian School and then coach the Charlotte Hurricanes – his Little League Team. Because he models the importance of family, his team knows that whenever they experience a sick child, have a school meeting or family event, that they are free to focus 100 percent on their family and leave work at work.”

And “Our culture is based on balance of life and work. John Owens coaches family first as part of the company’s mission.”

A worker at Capitol Broadcasting Co., based in Raleigh, wrote: “Employees are CBC’s most valued assets. CBC believes so strongly in this statement that it is the lead off in the company’s Code of Ethics: ‘We commit to ensuring a healthy work-life balance that nurtures both our personal and corporate families.’ ”

Duke University & Health System in Durham has a family-friendly focus that stems from the top. The President’s Office set a goal of having a lactation room within a 10-minute walk from any point on campus, and the architectural guidelines mandate having a lactation room in every new or renovated workspace of more than 50,000 square feet.

Crickett Gibbons is editor of Carolina Parent magazine.