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Employees Bring Family Life to Office With Them

May 23, 1986|ROBIN DUNITZ | Dunitz lives in West Los Angeles

For employed parents, reconciling work and family life can create stress that impairs job performance. To alleviate that stress, some companies are offering workplace counseling and referral centers, financial assistance for child care and, in some cases, on-site child care.

About 1,000 companies nationwide also are offering parenting seminars that do not require the same commitments of money, space and personnel as other corporate child-care programs.

Finding a Balance

These seminars help employees learn to balance responsibilities of work and family, said family researchers Dana Friedman in New York and Sandra Burud in Pasadena.

"Management sees and hears the problem in their own workplace," said Karol Rose, a partner in Adolf & Rose Associates, a New York consulting firm that deals with problems relating to work and family life. "You can get in an elevator and hear people worried about child care. You can walk through an office at 3 o'clock and see everybody on the phone trying to find their school-age children.

"In the past, child-care centers were the only employers' support option that got a lot of attention. But we feel that seminars are a terrific option, and that they fit in with the trend of bringing child-care and parenting information to the work site."

Frances Litman, director of the Center of Parenting Studies at Wheelock College in Boston, said the seminars are especially popular at companies with a high density of women employees.

"In banks, insurance and other financial service companies, they have valuable, trained people and (employers) want to provide the kinds of benefits that are going to help parent-employees to reduce absenteeism, build morale and help with stress because (the employees) are valuable.

"Management doesn't want them to leave, or have to retrain them after a lengthy maternity leave. It's really a preventive mental health effort in my judgment," Litman said.

Corporations have been sponsoring parent-related seminars for about a decade, said Litman. "They have become increasingly popular in the last four years as corporate decision makers have recognized their value."

Mother of Two

Crystal Bailey, like many working parents, at times has problems balancing work and family life. The Transamerica Occidental Life Insurance Co. programmer/analyst describes as a "blessing" her company's lunchtime seminars on parenting issues at its downtown Los Angeles office.

"So far I haven't been disappointed by any of them," said Bailey, the mother of a 9-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son. "At the one on infant safety, I actually got more than I expected. I was aware of the usual things, like plugging empty electrical outlets. But there was a whole host of stuff I had just not thought about. Like how many household paints are poisonous and could kill kids because they're always sticking stuff in their mouths."

Some experts believe parent-related seminars have limited effectiveness. Sandra Burud, president of Burud & Associates, a Pasadena child-care consulting firm, said she believes the popularity of the seminars may alert management to how big the child-care problem is for employees, but does not believe the seminars are particularly valuable.

"Seminars don't do much to help employees unless they become a stepping stone to more direct solutions, such as helping with the cost of child care through direct reimbursement or other financial assistance programs, creating more care through company child-care programs or improving existing child care in the community through corporate contributions," Burud said.

However, Burud agreed with Friedman's observation that the number of companies sponsoring parent-related seminars probably has doubled in the past year. Major Eastern corporations, such as Time Inc., the Bank of New England Corp., and Ohio Bell Telephone Co. have well-established programs.

The Lomas & Nettleton Co., a Dallas-based mortgage and banking firm, operates a preschool for 70 of its employees' children and presents monthly seminars featuring experts in child rearing. Employees are encouraged to bring brown-bag lunches to the talks which attract 25 to 40 workers.

Progress in California

In California, parenting and family-related seminars have developed more slowly than other forms of corporate child-care support. In 1984, Union Bank's San Francisco office sponsored a lunch-time lecture series on parenting, but dropped it about a year later when participation lagged. The bank's new data processing and service center, under construction in Monterey Park, will include a child-care center for 58 youngsters when it opens in October.

Six years ago Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena started a preschool which now serves 170 families, about half of them JPL-connected. Classes for participating parents are offered on subjects like discipline, the nature of play and educational toys.

Transamerica Occidental presents lunch-time programs at least once a month on such subjects as taxes, health care and parenting. More recently, Rona Cohen, a counselor at the company's Child Care Resource and Referral Center, has begun leading discussions on breast-feeding at work and on combining work and family responsibilities after giving birth.

Wheelock College's Litman said corporate attitudes have changed. "There's more sanction now for going to a parenting group, versus six or seven years ago. Then someone would think there was something wrong with you as a worker or as a parent. Now I get the feeling there's much more validation within the corporation for this kind of activity."

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