Corrections or additions?
These articles by Kathleen McGinn Spring were prepared for the
April 4, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Work/Life Consultants Help Harried Employees
<B>Barbara Kaplan describes her position as "the
job of the decade." She is the work/life consultant at American
Re-Insurance Company, heading up the Work Life Partnership within
its human resources department. "Corporations have discovered
it’s hard for employees to balance work and home life," she gives
as the raison d’etre for the new position. How does a family deal
with child care, elder care — or even shopping — when both
spouses toil eight-plus hours a day to keep their corporations’
high? Work-life consultants’ days revolve around supplying answers.
There is a national Alliance of Work/Life Professionals
and while attending the organization’s convention last year, Kaplan
was struck by how helpful it was to toss ideas around with colleagues
in her infant profession. "I had a chance to commiserate with
co-workers’ successes and failures," she says. "I was totally
impressed with the way people were willing to share." Flying home
from New Orleans, where the annual event had taken place, Kaplan
how valuable it would be to have ongoing access to the wisdom of
consultants working right in her own backyard. The result of these
airplane musings is the Princeton Work/Life Alliance.
When Kaplan returned from New Orleans she called Bernadette Fusaro,
who holds a similar position at Merrill Lynch. Together, they sent
out a letter to 55 area companies announcing the formation of the
new organization. The first meeting was held in October, and 20 people
came. In addition to American Re and Merrill Lynch, companies involved
in the six-month-old group include Bristol-Myers Squibb, Sarnoff,
Nycomed Amersham, New Jersey Manufacturers, New Jersey Hospital
McGraw Hill, Firmenich, i-Stat, Princeton Insurance Company, Siemens,
CUH2A, Sovereign Bank, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, MIIX
Group of Companies, and Dow Jones.
Kaplan conducts a meeting of the Work/Life Alliance on Tuesday, April
10, at 9 a.m. at Merrill Lynch in Plainsboro. Call 609-243-5563.
American Re has had a work/life consultant for about six years, and
Kaplan has filled the position for the past 2 1/2 years. She is a
graduate of Middlesex Community College and holds a communications
degree from Rutgers (Class of 1993). In one of her earlier jobs,
started out at the New York Blood Center as an account representative,
but soon found herself doing "stand up motivational talks on the
benefits of giving blood." She explained to her audiences that
it is a finite resource and "God forbid someone you know is in
an accident, and needs it." Of her effectiveness she says, "I
had people saying `I’d never give blood.’ When I finished they were
holding out both arms."
Kaplan’s next move was to the American Heart Association, where she
worked as a fundraiser. "I figured if I could get people to give
blood, I could get them to give money," she says. Then it was
on to American Re, where she worked as a business analyst for one
year before being tapped for the work/life consultant job, which falls
under that company’s human resources department. American Re has had
a work/life consultant for about six years. In some companies, Kaplan
says, the job is called "employee benefits coordinator."
Whatever the title, the issues are the same. The work/life coordinator
is responsible for everything from distributing discount tickets to
area theme parks to helping employees take care of household chores.
At this year’s Work/Life Alliance convention, Kaplan says there were
more displays by concierge services than by other type of vendor,
indicating that helping employees shop for birthday gifts, pick up
groceries, and let the plumber in may be the next big thing. For now,
however, "child care is the hottest area," Kaplan says, with
elder care not far behind.
Whether caring for a toddler, taking responsibility for a 95-year-old
parent, or trying to stay fit, employees are pulled by forces
far beyond their cubicles or corner offices. It is the job of the
work/life consultant to come up with programs to help them deal with
these conflicting demands. Solutions include company-wide health club
memberships, vouchers for emergency child care, or installing a system
of buzzers that ring at a parent’s work station in response to a
message that he has arrived safely home from school. To help with
elder care, Kaplan says, companies are contracting with consultants
who will survey the area where a parent lives, turning up
that provide services to seniors.
While the worry over a relative with failing health who lives in a
distant state may be a major distraction for an employee, even the
little things take a toll. "Employees have only an hour for
Kaplan says. Just getting into Princeton from American Re’s College
Road East headquarters and driving back again would eat up most of
that time, so Kaplan has vendors come in every Thursday to provide
an on-site shopping experience. She also holds "Food for
lunchtime seminars on everything from golf to home improvement to
Work/Life programs are a new, and evolving, phenomenon at American
Re and elsewhere up and down the Route 1 Corridor, and Kaplan says
they are here to stay. One big reason is the concerns of the employee
of the future. Says Kaplan: "People just out of college want to
know if there is health club reimbursement, child care, business
Where the answer is no, it can be up to the work/life specialist to
come up with an appealing alternative, which is where brainstorming
with fellow Work/Life Alliance comes in. For instance, asks Kaplan,
in a question that could be batted around during an alliance meeting,
"How do you overcome `no business casual?’"
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