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Toward a More Family-Friendly Workplace

by Jeff Worley

All large companies have investment strategies, but Jennifer Swanberg, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Kentucky, believes too many businesses fail to invest in their most important asset: their workers.

Photo of Jennifer Swanberg

In a recent report she co-authored, titled "Increasing the Visibility of the Invisible Workforce," she chronicles the impact of companies with innovative programs that benefit and retain hourly and low-wage employees.

"Too often there is a mismatch between the needs of working families and the needs of employers," says Swanberg, who came to UK in 2000. "The goal of our project was to find companies that have instituted new and innovative workplace practices for hourly workers. We were particularly interested in workplace strategies that assist employees in meeting their work, family and personal responsibilities." The project was funded by Fleet Bank & Corporate Voices.

Swanberg and her colleague Leon Litchfield, the former director of research at the Center for Work & Family at Boston College, interviewed managers and employees at 15 organizations, including CVS/Pharmacy, Eddie Bauer, Home Depot, Kraft Foods, and Marriott International, which have subsidiaries in Kentucky. These companies have adopted a number of policies that have resulted in not only happier workers but also increased productivity.

For example, Kraft Foods instituted the "Fast Adapts" program in 2002, an initiative that has created a variety of flexible work arrangements for hourly employees and production supervisors who work in round-the-clock manufacturing facilities. Kraft developed the initiative in response to employee survey findings that hourly workers were not able to use the traditional flexible work arrangements offered by the company.

"The new policy, which allows hourly employees to switch shifts, gives employees the flexibility to attend to family or personal matters without having to use vacation or sick leave time," Swanberg explains. "Anecdotal evidence suggests that this flexibility has led to higher retention and more dedicated workers."

Bank of America offers a program that reimburses employees for the cost of child care. Monthly reimbursement amounts range according to the age of the child and type of care. Levi-Strauss & Co. established the Red Tab Foundation, which provides company employees and retirees grants and loans for unexpected financial hardships.

"The intent of this report, which was targeted for a business audience, was to highlight best practices as a way to demonstrate that there are a variety of workplace strategies that can be employed to assist hourly workers."