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PRO-FAMILY EMPLOYERS ARE RARE COMMODITY Most workers struggle with juggling act


Family concerns are going largely unaddressed by Maryland employers, respondents to The Sun's work-family survey said last week.

"Companies don't care about family needs. They think family problems are your personal problems and you should take care of them on your own time," complained one woman caller, who was typical of many who answered the four-day Sundial telephone survey last week.

"My employer's attitude on child care and other family-related issues seems to be entirely dependent on how high up in the organization you are," another caller said.

More than two-thirds of the callers said they do not work in a pro-family workplace. And most callers said their employers don't offer job sharing, flexible benefits to cover child-care costs, or the chance to work from home when family needs arise.

Even workers who praised their employers acknowledged continuing problems.

Lisa Borman, for example, praised the Howard County public school system for the "wonderful day-care center" it has created for employees.

But she said working parents still face a tough problem when a child is sick and the employer isn't supportive. "If you stay home, you feel like a bad employee. But if you go to work you feel guilty because you're not staying home."

Work/family issues are vital to workers today, the survey showed. Nearly 73 percent of the callers said that if they were looking for a new job, a company's attitude toward family issues would be very important in deciding whether to work there.

Society may be changing, but women still bear most of the responsibility for the care of family members, said Donna R. Gaither, executive director of the Baltimore City Commission for Women.

And results of the Sundial survey seem to show that women are more concerned than men with work-family issues. Nearly 79 percent of the respondents to the survey were women -- and a number were single mothers.

"I'm a single parent and as a single parent, I think my employer should be more flexible in the quota I have to maintain, the hours that I have to put in and the meetings I have to attend," said Karen McCardy.

Maryland employers can do more to address work/family issues, specialists in the field say.

"Employers' biggest fears are fears of the unknown. They fear that it would be expensive to be flexible with workers. But it doesn't have to cost a lot," said Carolyn Burke, president of Work Share Resources, a Parkville consulting firm that seeks to help businesses become more family-friendly.

Some suggestions: Allowing employees who must care for young children or elderly parents more flexible work schedules. Or letting two employees share a single job. Neither step would add much to the cost of doing business, Ms. Burke said.

"Cultural barriers" often prevent employers from seeing opportunities to help workers, she said. In the traditional workplace, "there's a stigma that the part-time worker is not an efficient, dedicated worker, but there are studies to support the fact that part-time employees are more efficient than their full-time counterparts."

She added, "What most companies fail to realize is that if you invest in your human resources, in the long run it saves money because people feel better about their jobs."

"Employers need to be more aware of the competing demands && on many employees," said Susan Coller, manager of the Eldercare program for the Maryland Office on Aging in Baltimore. These days, many in the work force -- the "sandwich generation" -- are caring simultaneously for both children and parents, she pointed out. These workers need special help from employers. Her office has received a $100,000 federal grant to promote programs to increase employer sensitivity to family issues.

Still, there were some positive signs in the telephone survey. More than half the callers said they could leave work early for family demands. About half said they could use sick leave to care for a member of the family. And about half said their employers offer paid maternity leave.

Julie Klein, a former secretary who is now a government attorney, said she believes public sector agencies are more supportive on family issues than private enterprises. Although there's room for improvement, she said, employers with both public and private sector organizations are better than they were 10 years ago.

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