Thursday, 28 October 2010

Work-life over the years

by WFC Resources

Jobs Vacancy, Employment, Job Vacancies

Each year the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) picks a random sampling of its members (this year that number is about 200,000) and asks them what they're up to in the way of benefits. The results give us a snapshot of about 375 companies that have from five to more than 500 employees. We don't have a breakdown, but we assume these are mostly small and medium employers.

A little later in the year, Hewitt Associates polls about 1,000 companies, the smallest with 1,000 employees and the largest with 50,000 or more. We've been collecting SHRM surveys since 1999, and Hewitt since 1995 (now Hewitt conducts their poll every other year). Neither organization asked as many questions in the early days, but it is possible to make some comparisons. If you're someone who doesn't like to read about numbers you can skip this column, but we thought it was an interesting exercise.
Flexible work arrangements have not done well in companies large or small.

We could never have predicted what happened to flexible work arrangements in ten years. Back in 1995 it looked good for flexibility, and Hewitt said alternative scheduling was becoming increasingly popular, offered by 67% of employers to at least some employees. But in ten years that number went up just seven percentage points; just 74% said they offered flex options to at least some employees in 2005. And we can't figure out what they're providing. Of that group, the individual offerings have dropped drastically.

Between 1995 and 2005 . . .

• The percentage of large companies offering flextime went down from 73% to 59%.
• The number offering part-time work plummeted 18 points, from 65% to 47%
• The percentage offering the opportunity to job share dropped from 36% to 26%.
• The number offering compressed workweeks changed little in ten years (from 21% to 22%)
• The only option that gained was telecommuting, which went from 19% of companies to 32%.
• Even the "flexibility at manager's discretion" category, often nothing to brag about, dropped from 3% to 1%.

In 1999, the earliest year we have for SHRM, alternative work schedules were offered by about one-fourth of small and medium employers (the larger companies on this list were more likely to report offering flexibility). This year the report didn't give an overall percentage, but here's how the comparisons break down:

• Flextime among small companies crept up from 54% of the total in 1999 to 57% this year.
• Compressed workweeks rose a more respectable 10 points (25% to 35%).
• Job sharing dropped from 22% to 18%
• Telecommuting soared – from 28% to 51%

Little has changed in childcare assistance

If you covered up the dates you'd be hard pressed to figure out which was the 1995 Hewitt work-life survey and which was the new one. Overall there was some difference; ten years ago 85% of large employers were offering some kind of childcare assistance (up from two-thirds in 1990) and by 2005 that number had gone up to 97%. But looking at the breakdown within that percentage, the figures were amazingly similar among large companies. They were nearly identical for . . .

• dependent care spending accounts (96% then, 97% now)
• resource and and referral services (40% then, 42% now)
• sick and emergency childcare programs (13% then, 14% now)
• onsite or nearsite centers (7% then, 9% now)
• discounts at neighborhood centers (5% then, 8% now).

In the SHRM sample of smaller employers, the number offering childcare referral services has gone up a little more, from 15% in 1999 to 22% this year, and the percentage providing some kind of assistance in emergency or sick childcare rose slightly; it was 11% and now is 14%, the same as Hewitt's results.

Only 4% of small companies report having onsite childcare centers; in 1999, that number was 6%.

Here are some of the offerings that have grown two points or more in the SHRM sample in the past seven years:

1999 2006
Dependent care spending account 64% - 76%
Domestic partner benefits 25% - 32%
Paid family leave 27% - 32%
Eldercare referral services 19% - 26%
Lactation programs 16% - 23%
Adoption assistance 16% - 22%

The percentage offering family leave above FMLA dropped from 29% to 25%.

In large companies, Hewitt tells us these offerings have grown two points or more since 1995:

1995 2005
Eldercare assistance, general 47% - 39%
Childcare assistance, general 90% - 97%
Dependent care spending accounts 88% - 96%
Childcare centers 10% - 12%
Lactation programs 7% - 12%
Adoption benefits 31% - 41%

As costs have gone up, employers have become more generous with adoption assistance; 28% offer $5,000 now, compared with just 7% in 1995, and 9% offer more, vs. none ten years ago. Also, the number of employers who are offsetting unpaid leave with paid leave has grown from 46% in 1995 to 73% last year.

Work-life obviously hasn't progressed as fast or as steadily as one would wish, maybe because of that deep dip the economy took in 2001-2002. But here's the truth, and it's not just because we're optimists at heart. It has more to do with the fact that we read virtually everything that's written about the workplace and the workforce. I say we're on the edge of a big increase in every initiative that will recruit and retain much-needed skills, especially those young people who are more clear about priorities and refuse to sacrifice their personal lives for work demands. We'll save this column and revisit it in a couple of years, just to check it out.

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