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Working With Employees Pays Off

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Companies that accommodate employees create smiles and profit.

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Nothing clarifies the priorities of a working mom better than a sick child. As if I needed any reminding, that message is top of mind for me this week as I help my daughter work through a rough spell with a digestive disorder.

We're darting in and out of specialists' offices and learning all about digestive science and the world of dairy- and gluten-free foods. Meanwhile, she's managed to stop vomiting, which makes me feel a lot better as well.

Parenting is like that. When your child hurts, you do, too.

While I tend to wait too long for help with anything, this personal crisis forced me to ask for what I need at work -- more flexibility with my schedule and the ability to work more from home -- and I got it. I'm one of the lucky ones.

This week, Working Mother magazine released its 24th annual list of the 100 best companies that support working families and the advancement of women. These are the big boys of business. Companies must employ at least 500 people to be eligible for entry.

All the companies on the list offer flexible scheduling and telecommuting -- for all employees regardless of gender or marital status. By comparison, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, 54% of all employers in the country offer flextime and 45% allow employees to telecommute.

I spoke with Jennifer Owens, senior director for editorial research and initiatives at Working Mother about the trends uncovered in this year's research. All companies recognized must answer a 550-question survey and demonstrate year-over-year innovation. So while many of the same companies appear on the list each year, they can't stay there by doing the same thing year-in and year-out.

The biggest trend this year is benefits tied to the economy, Owens said.

Let's face it. Everyone's a little stressed out these days. The unemployed are looking for work. The employed are looking over their shoulder while doing the work of their former colleagues. Two-income households are learning to get by on one salary. Throw family responsibilities into the mix and it's a recipe for meltdown.

"A lot of companies are adding things that have to do with how to deal with stress and how not to let it get you down," Owens said.

These include things like health advocates, resiliency training, and meditation and reflection rooms at the office.

In a somewhat counter-intuitive trend, sabbaticals for the working and training re-entry programs for people who need to get back into the workforce are also on the upswing.

Flexibility remains the most important work/life benefit and all the companies on the list offer it, be it for a parent who needs to take a child to the doctor or a single employee who is running a marathon and wants to shift work hours to fit in training.

Women continue to shoulder a disproportionate amount of "second shift" responsibilities for childcare, elder care, and household care, said Jennifer Allyn, managing director for the Office of Diversity at PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has made the list for the past 15 years and is ranked in the top 10 this year.
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