Balancing the demands of work and home is an increasingly difficult challenge. You must confront occupational expectations, spousal expectations and employer expectations, not to mention soccer practice and scouting, plus grass cutting and dog walking duties. If your job demands over-night travel, the line between work and home becomes even more stressful.

According to a recent study conducted by Aon Consulting (Chicago), workers spend an average of 5 days a year attending to personal matters while at work. In addition, workers lose an average of 6 days a year to a variety of family circumstances, such as caring for a sick child or parent.

"I was surprised at how important the work/life balance issues have become over the past 3 years," says David Stum, president of Aon Consulting's Loyalty Institute. "They're at the top of the mind for most workers.

"Workers are asking, 'Am I able in this position to have some sort of balance between this job and a real life?'" Stum explains. Salary ranked 10th among 17 commitment factors. The top-5 factors that contribute to employee loyalty are:

  • Recognition of the importance of personal and family time.
  • A clear vision from management about the direction in which the company is heading.
  • Opportunities for personal growth on the job.
  • The ability to challenge the way things are being done.
  • Satisfaction from everyday work.
Fortunately, more and more companies are recognizing that employees need help balancing work demands and family pressures. A recent study conducted by Hewitt Associates (Lincolnshire, IL) discovered that the percentage of companies offering work/life benefits increased in 2000 despite the economic downturn that occurred in the later portion of the year.

"The expansion of work/life benefits demonstrates that most companies are not viewing this dip in the economy as a chance to cut back on the perks they offer their employees, but rather as an opportunity to gain a competitive advantages in this continuing tight labor market," says Carol Sladek, work/life consultant. "Employers must provide these benefits in order to attract and retain the best people."

The programs that experienced the greatest growth over the past year in terms of the number of businesses offering them include on-site personal services, group purchasing discounts and personal growth programs.

Child care remains the most prevalent work/life program, with 91 percent of companies offering some kind of assistance to their employees. Dependent care spending accounts (offered by 89 percent of employers responding to the Hewitt survey) and resource referral services (43 percent) are the two most prevalent programs used.

Nearly half of all companies (49 percent) offer some form of elder care assistance. Resource or referral programs are the most common.

Flexible scheduling arrangements are offered by 73 percent of businesses. The most common work options are flextime (58 percent) and part-time employment (48 percent). Other popular programs include work-at-home options (29 percent), job sharing (28 percent) and compressed work weeks (21 percent).

As more employees struggle with time management issues, onsite personal services are becoming more prevalent. Today, 57 percent of employers offer some type of onsite personal service, such as ATMs, travel services and dry cleaners.

"When workers feel burned out by their jobs, when they don't have the time and energy for their families, these feelings spill back into the workplace, reducing job performance," says Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute (New York). "The more support employees receive on the job, the higher their productivity, the more willing they are to go the extra mile, and the more likely they are to stay with their current employers."

Automakers are leading the way when it comes to child care programs offered by manufacturers. Working in conjunction with the United Auto Workers (UAW), Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI) recently announced plans to establish a network of Family Service and Learning Centers (FSLC). The programs and services offered will range from before-and-after-school preteen and teen programs to adult and family education classes.

In areas with the largest concentration of UAW members and employees of Ford and Visteon Corp., such as Detroit and Cleveland, new state-of-the-art centers will be built and will provide 24-hour child care. Two FSLC centers are scheduled to open this year. Eight more will follow next year and three more in 2003. Eventually, the FSLC effort will bring services and programs to more than 30 locations around the U.S. Each center will handle more than 200 children.

Other automakers, such as General Motors Corp. (Detroit), also offer child care programs at some of their plants. For instance, the UAW-GM Child Development Center serves more than 130 children in Flint, MI. The Saturn Center for Discovery serves more than 200 children in Spring Hill, TN. In addition, GM and the UAW operate a 24-hour child-care resource and referral program for working parents.

Ford, GM and other manufacturers are also putting more emphasis on elder care programs. Today, more than 14 million U.S. workers are estimated to be caring for older family members, and the number is expected to increase in the near future.

Earlier this year, Ford began offering its workers free house calls by geriatric-care managers who assess the health of elderly relatives and develop plans for their care. The UAW-GM Elder Care Program provides a 24-hour response line to support workers who are caregivers.