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BALANCING ACT / NANCY RIVERA BROOKS

DWP's Work-Family Program Brings a Return on Investment

November 10, 1996|NANCY RIVERA BROOKS

One Los Angeles employer that has developed extensive and well-used programs to teach its workers prenatal, lactation, child-care and parenting skills has done so in the face of a surprising fact: Most of its employees are men.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power was recently hailed in a report by the Washington Business Group on Health as one of the leaders in work-family programs, particularly those involving the health of mothers and children.

"Companies have a vested interest in improving maternal and child health at the workplace and in the community. Not only are they concerned about the health and productivity of their current work force, but also that of future workers," said Mary Jane England, a doctor who heads the nonprofit organization, which analyzes health policy and workplace issues at large employers.

In addition to the DWP, the report on "Business, Babies & the Bottom Line" looked at work-family programs at six other big employers and found that each reported a significant return on investment. They are First Chicago NBD, a bank holding company; Haggar Clothing Co.; Honeywell Inc.; Kellogg Co.; Monfort Inc., a meatpacking subsidiary of Conagra Inc.; and the Dallas-Fort Worth Business Group on Health, an employer coalition.

The DWP said it saved $2.50 for every $1 invested in work-family programs. Employee turnover among participants in the family-care programs is 2%, compared with 7% overall at the utility.

In general, the employers in the report noted that their programs not only produced healthier mothers and babies, but also such side effects as reduced health-care costs, decreased absenteeism and lower turnover.

The employers' programs shared several characteristics, including:

* support of top management;

* employee involvement in the design;

* focus on family, not just women;

* an integrated and comprehensive approach;

* continuous marketing;

* various incentives to encourage participation.

At the DWP, which launched its programs in the 1980s, it boils down to good business sense.

"Even when a company is faced with stiff competition because of industry deregulation, there is real value in offering work and family programs to its employees," said Faye Washington, DWP assistant general manager and chief administrative officer. "This investment in the well-being of employees and their families is a strategy for the future that a company cannot afford not to do."

The DWP was a pioneer when it started its lactation program in 1988 to help women continue to breast-feed their babies after returning from maternity leave. But all this becomes even more unusual when you consider that nearly 80% of the DWP's 9,500 employees are men.

Unlike most employers, the DWP targets men with its work-family programs under the philosophy that men have babies too.

Indeed, the utility even offers a class called "Breast-Feeding for Men." That's not as strange as it sounds. Each participant learns about the breast-feeding process and is taught to be a coach to the nursing mother, who, especially in the early days, could use more than one pair of hands.

The DWP owns 100 Medela breast pumps, which are available to employees and their wives, partners and dependents. A lactation counselor can answer questions on breast-feeding or child care, even on nights and weekends.

The return on investment in the lactation program alone is 3 to 1 in dollar terms, said Rona Cohen, a maternal-child health consultant to the DWP. Participants felt they were able to return to work earlier and nurse their babies longer, which keeps babies healthier. Absenteeism was reduced by 27% and health-care claims were reduced by 35%, Cohen said.

The DWP offers a variety of classes and other resources to encourage its employee dads to be more involved with their families.

DWP family programs include beepers for expectant fathers, parenting classes, wellness programs, on-site child care, subsidized child care and parent support groups.

"We take them all the way from when they're pregnant to when the child goes to college," Cohen said.

*

Has your company developed an interesting way to help employees balance work life and family life? Write to Balancing Act, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. Or send e-mail to nancy.rivera.brooks@latimes.com

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