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CAREERS / The Way Work Ought to Be

(For) Get a Life!

How does your company rate when it comes to flexibility over nonwork challenges? Here's a quiz.

September 15, 1997|NANCY RIVERA BROOKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It often starts with a Big Event: The pregnancy test turns out positive . . . the adoption agency calls with instructions to catch a plane to China by Friday . . . that sharp pain in your left arm becomes excruciating . . . you learn your mother has Alzheimer's disease.

At such times, the flexibility of your employer and the quality of the benefits offered become of paramount importance. But the little events--from your 9-year-old's soccer game to your dog's emergency trip to the vet--are also challenging.

Here's a quiz to determine if your employer realizes that you have a life outside the office:

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1. You've just discovered you're pregnant. Your company abides by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires employers with 50 or more workers to grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees, but the firm also:

a) Supplements disability pay and continues full salary for a time after birth, then guarantees your job for up to a year.

b) Gives the option of extra unpaid leave beyond the state-mandated six to eight weeks of leave, with disability pay after birth.

c) Subtly advocates "macho maternity," where you work until the last minute and return as soon as possible after the baby is born. Otherwise, the company takes the term "maternity leave" very literally--hoping you will leave after maternity.

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2. The child you dreamed of has just arrived via an adoption agency. Your employer:

a) Helps you cover part of the costs of the adoption, gives you paid leave to bond with the new arrival and sends a lovely gift.

b) Grants paid leave on a case-by-case basis, but the costs are your responsibility.

c) Is comfortable letting you use up all of your vacation days to spend time with your child--but you'd better not ask for anything else.

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3. Maternity/adoption leave is ending and it's time to find child care. You call your human resources representative and:

a) Are offered a spot in the company child-care center at or near the work site or given the option of calling a referral service for child- and elder-care providers. You are sent a form to arrange pretax set-asides for dependent-care expenses.

b) Are told the company contracts with a referral service that can help you find proper care. Pretax set-asides are also available.

c) Are given a generic state child-care referral number that you had already gotten from the phone book.

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4. You've returned to work after having a baby and you still want to breast-feed. Your company:

a) Has developed an extensive lactation program, providing female employees (or the wives of male employees) with company-owned electric breast pumps, a quiet room in which to pump, a refrigerator in which to store the milk and access to a lactation consultant and literature.

b) Requires employees to rent or buy their own pumps but does provide a private room for pumping and storage of the sometimes-bulky machines.

c) Has no program, so you spend all your breaks pumping in a restroom stall, and your boss blushes and turns away every time you return to your desk.

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5. You want to try a more flexible work arrangement, perhaps flextime, job sharing, a compressed workweek or telecommuting. Your boss' response:

a) "Good idea. Write up a proposal. Here are some examples to show you how it's done."

b) "Maybe. But you're going to have to prove to me how you will get the work done."

c) "No way. If we let one employee do it, then everyone will want to--and how will we know if people are working if we can't watch them?"

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6. Your child is in elementary school now and you find yourself wanting to attend school plays and field trips and soccer games. Your supervisor:

a) Never objects, because the company allots each employee a certain number of hours per year for school-related activities. A flexible attitude and trust means the job gets done.

b) Allows it from time to time, but employees frequently end up stealing time surreptitiously.

c) Tells you: "Why don't you quit? Then you can spend all your time at T-ball."

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7. Your children check in once a day by telephone and sometimes visit the office when school is out. Your employer:

a) Encourages it on the theory that workers are more productive if they aren't worrying about their children. The office has even set up an area with videos and toys so visiting children won't get too bored.

b) Turns a deaf ear to the phone-parenting ritual and a blind eye to the occasional child visit. They don't give you a hard time about it, but they don't encourage it, either.

c) Tells employees that personal calls must be conducted on the pay phone in the lobby or by your own cellular phone. They say they don't have enough insurance to allow children to visit, and besides, it's too distracting.

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8. You have no children or elderly parents, so many of the popular work/life benefits seem pretty theoretical. Your company:

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