Work and Family

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At Prudential: Family Flex-Time

You won’t find clockwatchers at Prudential, and the

reason is simple. Employees make their own hours or work from home.

Not the kind of lax system you would expect from the world’s largest

insurance company, but since Debbie Gingher, vice president

for policy and strategy, helped implement flex-time and other

pro-family

arrangements, Prudential has seen worker morale soar. Earlier this

year, Working Mother magazine recognized Prudential as one of the

"Top 10 Best Companies to Work For" in 1999.

That’s the kind of accolade a company needs in a tough job market,

says Gingher (U.S. 1, November 3, 1999). "There’s a war for

talent,"

she says. "There are more jobs then there are talented employees,

so in order to attract talent, you have to offer choice and different

ways of doing things."

When CEO Art Ryan left Chase to join Prudential in 1997, the

company beefed up its staff to create a new human resource strategy.

"Part of my charge was to figure out what makes sense in the new

world," says Gingher, who holds a BS from SUNY Oneonta, Class

of 1976, and has been in human resources for 20 years.

That new world, says Gingher, is comprised largely of Generation

X-ers,

working mothers, and single mothers. An office-wide survey revealed

that 48 percent of Prudential’s employees are female, 60 percent are

under the age of 35, and many are raising children. With that

information

in hand, Gingher went to senior management to make a case for

pro-family

personnel policies — flexible schedules, telecommuting, even

daycare.

These are the key to higher morale, and higher morale "translates

into dollars. Every time you lose a high skilled employee, take their

compensation and multiply it by 1.5, and that’s what you spend

replacing

them. That’s a pretty big business case."

Flex-time and other work arrangements are the way of the future, but

the 9 to 5 institution can’t be changed overnight. Take it slow, says

Gingher, and observe:

Study employees. Don’t assume. Conduct surveys to find

out who your employees are and what they want. Gingher discovered,

to her surprise, that some Prudential employees preferred services

like back-up daycare, take-home dinners, or dry-cleaning over flexible

schedules.

Set-up a pilot program first. "My initial approach

was an all or nothing approach," recalls Gingher. But when

management

insisted on a trial run instead, the company was able to learn more

about how to train managers and identify problems.

Treat each department individually. This is the

"fairness

is not sameness" principle. Not every job can be done from home.

Build a business case. The strongest argument for allowing

employees to set their own schedules is to keep morale high and keep

the best workers in the company. If turnover rate is low, retention

rate high, that’s a good indication that you don’t need to implement

a new policy.

For Prudential, on the other hand, "it was the right thing

to do," says Gingher. "We had an unbelievable number of

comments

from telecommuters saying `I’m more productive now because I’m not

sitting in traffic everyday.’"

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Work and Family

Mom is a corporate executive in a high-tech company.

Dad is an engineer. Who takes care of baby?

"The entire thing is a balancing act and you have to make use

of opportunities at work to make it happen," says Diana

Bendz

(U.S. 1, July 28, 1999), a senior location executive with IBM who

is concerned that the demanding pace of technical careers may keep

women from entering the field. "It seems one of their biggest

fears and excuses in not accepting a technical career is fear of not

being able to have a family, but many times you can overcome those

difficulties."

She did. In typical supermom fashion, Bendz stayed up late to

sterilize

bottles, brought the kids on business trips in the family motor home,

and packed Friday’s lunch on Sunday. Things didn’t always go as

planned.

One time Bendz made 15 lunches on Sunday night to feed three kids

for the entire week. "I thought I was doing a great job,"

she says, "but finally one came to me and said `do you have any

idea what that Thursday lunch was like?’ It’s humorous in some cases,

but not all."

Working moms may be far from perfect, but they can still be important

role models. Bendz’s daughter, Kathrina, says that having a mom who

works in high-tech gave her the incentive to stick with her favorite

subject: biology. "I’ve always been scientifically guided, but

other girls would just give up from the beginning," she says.

The maturity kids with working parents gain early on is something

that can benefit both parent and child. "They have to learn to

think for themselves," says Bendz, who has a BS in polymer

chemistry

and works out of IBM’s Endicott, New York, office. With the invaluable

input from her kids, Bendz offers some creative ways to close the

gap between family and career:

Take kids on business trips, a practice that is more

widely-accepted

today than ever before.

Don’t think too far ahead. Bendz and her husband, also

an IBM engineer, adopted their first child early on in their marriage.

"The key is we had no choice, and it forced us to find

solutions,"

says Bendz."One mistake that mothers and fathers make is they

look at the whole picture and they see a huge task in front of you

and get discouraged. We were impulsive and solved problems along the

way."

Maximize the quality of time spent with your children.

"Sometimes the guilt makes you do something that makes them feel

more appreciated than normal behavior," she says.

Bendz, who would send flowers to her daughter when she couldn’t

make events, is certain that the legacies will outlast the memory

of a few soggy lunches.


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