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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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