clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Mom-friendly firms

100 companies win praise for generous work-life benefits

Ikea allowed Cindy Clark six months off to care for 7-year-old son Ryan, who was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago.
Ikea allowed Cindy Clark six months off to care for 7-year-old son Ryan, who was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago.
Mark Stehle, Associated Press

NEW YORK — When Cindy Clark's 7-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia and for months required daily injections and medicines, Clark didn't have to quit her job in sales at Ikea to take care of him. The furniture company gave her six months leave.

"The freedom my company allows workers to have in their personal schedules is conducive to my idea of a good company to work for," said Clark, who has had a three-day workweek at Ikea in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., since Ryan was born. "I felt comfortable stepping away from my spot because I knew I could come back to it."

This type of support helped Ikea get a spot among the top 100 companies for working moms in Working Mother magazine's 18th annual survey, published in its October issue, which hits newsstands Tuesday.

"These companies are very committed to work/life programs for their employees despite the tough economic conditions," says Jill Kirschenbaum, editor-in-chief of Working Mother.

All the companies in the top 100 list offer flextime. That compares with 55 percent nationwide, according to the 2003 benefits survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management.

Susan Seitel, president of Minneapolis-based research firm Work & Family Connection, said companies have gone to great lengths to be more family-friendly because they want to retain their best employees.

Some "are training managers to help employees and penalizing them if they don't," Seitel said. "Also, human resources and finance departments are being forced to work together so that human resources can tell finance that a cut may improve the bottom line of a company but will also increase turnover."

Child-care for older children is the latest growing trend tracked by the magazine.

"There is a growing interest in programs for teens and so-called tweens because companies are realizing that employees need support at all stages of their children's lives," Kirschenbaum said.

Eli Lilly, for instance, runs a YMCA-managed all-day summer science camp at their manufacturing site in Indianapolis. Cost — $100 a week. The pharmaceutical company also allows employees to compress their work week into a combination of four long days or three long with two short days so they can match their family needs.

"Our philosophy is to work with our employees throughout their life-cycle with us so they have control over their personal lives and feel more fulfilled," said Candice Lange, director of work force partnering at Eli Lilly.

Eli Lilly is among the top 10 companies this year, along with Abbott Laboratories, Booz Allen Hamilton, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Fannie Mae, General Mills, IBM, Prudential Financial, S.C. Johnson and Sons and Wachovia Corp.

"This is not a feel-good program for us, this is about getting the best talent, the most sought-after talent, and keeping them happy at our company," said Ted Childs, vice president of global work force diversity at IBM, which made the top 100 list for the 18th year — and the top 10 for the 15th time. "We have $50 million available over five years in our global fund to establish day-care centers in the communities where our employees live and work."

Bevin Maguire, director of internal and executive communications for IBM at White Plains, N.Y., praised the company's programs.

"I've had three children while at IBM, and I didn't have to come back to an office until four months after they were born. I always eat dinner with my family, I use IBM's child-care referral program and I get $5,000 every year in pre-tax money as child-care reimbursement," said Maguire, who regularly pumped breast milk for her children while at work.

Elder care is another issue companies are taking into account — 98 percent of the 100 best offer elder-care resource and referral compared with the 20 percent nationwide measured by the Society for Human Resource Management.

"Companies realize that working mothers are the sandwich generation — they have children and older relatives to take care of," said Kimetha Firpo, president of the Washington-based not-for-profit Center for Designing Work Wisely. "They have to work hard to keep the work/life programs fresh at a time when they are struggling in a recession, and they have to make sure they are not simply paying lip-service to the trend-of-the-week."

Seventeen companies made their debut on the top 100 list this year. These included Harvard University, Lego Systems Inc., Microsoft Corp., Sallie Mae, UBS Investment Bank and Accenture.

Private and public companies of any size and within any industry, except the child-care industry, are eligible to participate. Applications are validated and scored on more than 500 points of information, including the number of work/life programs offered, the employee usage of such programs and the representation of women throughout the company.

This year, Working Mother gave particular weight to three issues: flexible scheduling, advancement of women and child-care options.

"Even as we filled out the application form, we could see where we could beef up our program," said Pamela Craig, director of global business operations at Accenture. "There's always room for improvement."