It Pays to Be Nice

By Hannah Wallace April 30, 2005

These days, the media-and employees-are scrutinizing companies' family-friendly practices. Companies that offer flexible schedules, compressed work weeks, guaranteed time off for childbirth, adoption aid, on-site child care, tax-free child care accounts and lactation programs are often best at recruiting talent and are making it onto coveted "best company" lists published by magazines such as Fortune and Working Mother.

The reason behind offering these feel-good benefits is simple. When companies make their workers feel valued, it boosts morale and builds a deeper level of commitment-and that translates into competitive advantages and higher profits, according to Great Place to Work Institute, which selects Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For" list. The institute, along with Russell Investment Group, recently studied the stocks of public companies on Fortune's list and discovered that family-friendly companies provided three times the gains over companies in the larger market.

Working Mother's editor-in-chief Susan Lapinski explains it this way: "It's becoming common knowledge that when we bring our best selves to work, it's with a calm sense that things are going well at home. You just can't do well on the job if you're very worried about your children. Giving employees a sense that they've got an ally in their company builds so much loyalty."

Lapinski says companies are evolving from offering essentials like maternity leave to taking the whole employee into consideration with wellness programs. Many companies are also growing more sophisticated in figuring out what families really need, as evidenced by one recent trend: counseling for kids (and parents) in making college decisions.

She adds that moms tell her they shop for employers based on their family-friendly culture. "It's a pretty powerful incentive for companies to listen to that," she says.

And some have. Here are ways local employers are allowing workers to make time for family while holding down full-time jobs.

Publix and Whole Foods

Fortune's 2005 list of the "100 Best Companies to Work For" names two grocers with area locations. Whole Foods Market, based in Austin, Texas, was ranked No. 30, its highest ranking in the eight years the natural and organic supermarket has been on the list. Publix Super Markets, based in Lakeland, Fla., moved from No. 98 to No. 94 last year.

Whole Foods, which opened in Sarasota in December 2004, offers flexible schedules and a child-care spending account. Michelle Grant, a single mother of two who moved from metro Atlanta to Sarasota in October to work for Whole Foods as a payroll benefits specialist, is appreciative. If her kids have a doctor's appointment in the morning, she'll work an evening shift. She also coaches her 7-year-old son's basketball team. "I can work my schedule around the basketball games and basketball practice and doctor's appointments," she says.

In Georgia, she worked as an account representative for a company with set hours of 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. If she needed to take off for a doctor's appointment, her pay was docked.

"Here, it's been great," she says. "It is very easy for me to deal with [being in a new town], getting kids registered, putting them in a new after-school program."

Shanti Walls, the store's team leader, says the grocery business needs people to cover shifts at all hours of the day, seven days a week. She's able to give her 180 employees the flexibility of being able to work mornings or evenings, or both.

"It's completely about life balance," she says. "Being able to have the time to do things you need to do at home gives you more time to focus on work, being part of the team, making yourself successful at work, also."

While Publix also has family-friendly policies and offers benefits for eligible part-time employees, employee Cindy Mote says the personal touches make her and her mother, who also works for the company, feel valued. When her father died of a heart attack in 2003, the store manager and assistant grocery manager attended his funeral. They also sent food to the family's home.

"It is a store run by the people and a company run by the people," says Mote, an employee in the Longboat Key store who has worked for Publix for eight years. "We feel like a family."

When Mote turned 46 in February, her mother was told to pick up a cream birthday cake with frosting and strawberries in the bakery from an undisclosed buyer and take it to her daughter. "I know who it's from-it's from my Publix family," says Mote.

PGT Industries

Beverly Jannelli and Rita Leopard approach summers and spring and winter breaks with peace of mind. Their children participate in camps run by the YMCA in partnership with Venice-based PGT Industries, a leading window and door manufacturer.

"We'd end up paying a lot of money in order to put them in camp all summer long," says Jannelli, who has two children.

The partnership began about five years ago when PGT realized that summer camps were putting a financial burden on employees, some of whom quit during the summer to stay home with their children, says Kathie Jette, PGT's employee services manager.

The company first encouraged employees to bring kids to the YMCA in Venice, and then subsidized half the cost. So many employees participated that the camps have expanded to other locations and school holidays. For one child, instead of $60 a week, the cost is $30, which is automatically deducted from the employee's paycheck. And instead of $120 for two children, the cost for the employee is only $40, just $10 more for any additional child.

Other PGT-sponsored family events include picnics and a kid's Christmas party with Santa. "It's the first place I've worked where they have really done a lot of things for employees. To me that means a lot," says Jannelli, an instructor at the PGT University dealer education.

PGT also has a program called the Crisis Connection, which was formed a year ago to help employees suffering severe hardships. The program is funded by an employee volunteer group, which raises money though chili sales, raffles for Christmas baskets and other events. Employees fill out a form explaining the trouble, and a board made up of managers from throughout the company meet confidentially to discuss how to help whether it's buying a plane ticket for an employee needing to attend a funeral, helping someone with a critically ill or disabled family member or finding housing for a victim of a fire. Sometimes the help is financial; sometimes workers volunteer to perform manual labor.

Jette says as PGT has grown to more than 1,800 employees, it's important to keep the small-company feel. "When we were real small, we were able to help each other," she says. "You just have to keep coming up with creative ideas."

During the 2004 hurricanes, PGT president Rod Hershberger says almost 900 employees lost their homes, some permanently, some temporarily. The company found shelter for them and told them their priority was to take care of their families because their jobs would be safe no matter how long they had to take off.

Jette says new employees often can't believe all the things the company does for families. "That's what makes us unique," she says. "That's what makes us all want to be here."

Aladdin Equipment

For five years, Cyndi Gaugh has been able to take time out of her workday to visit her son at school, eating lunch with him in the cafeteria and helping out in the classroom. When he started kindergarten, it was a ritual every Friday, and as he's grown up, she still contributes at school events.

She can do so because of the flexibility encouraged by her employer, Aladdin Equipment, a Sarasota manufacturer of pool and spa replacement parts. "It makes you have a better relationship with the teacher and the school, makes you feel comfortable where he's going to school," Gaugh says.

Aladdin's owner and CEO, Lindy Smith, says she encourages parents to participate in their child's classroom and field trips, and the company is willing to pay for the time. "I'm very adamant about that," she says. "They need to know what's going on in the classroom."

No one has abused the opportunity to leave for a few hours to visit his or her kids at school, and it has only helped retention. "We're only talking a couple hours and we have a happy employee," Smith says.

Gaugh says having the time at her son's school is more important than money, and it's kept her loyal to the company. "I've always wanted to be career-oriented, but also to be a mom, too," she says. "Aladdin's allowed me to do it. It makes me want to go one step further for my company."

Aladdin also compiles a list of recommended child-care centers that are researched and visited by Aladdin staff. If a summer camp starts after the workday, employees can bring their child to work and then leave to drop them off at camp. "Whatever we can do to help the parent," Smith says. "You have to be a little flexible."


Banks are often ranked high on family-friendly lists for their generous maternity leave, paid days to volunteer, flexible work arrangements, adoption reimbursement and child-care options. Working Mother's most recent list of the "100 Best Companies to Work For" included Bank of America, Northern Trust Corp. and Wachovia Corp., which all have local branches.

Working Mother noted Wachovia's $5.1-million investment last year on child-care benefits such as on-site or near-site centers, summer programs and other services, discounts on elder-care services and its parental leave package and flexible work options.

Employees note the bank's 10 days of family care leave in addition to paid time off. The bank allows for 16 weeks in maternity leave with jobs guaranteed upon return, and adoption, educational and personal leave. The Employees Care Fund, which was dedicated to five employees who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, provides a way for Wachovia to support employees in time of need.

Another popular perk is volunteer time. Employees are given four hours a month or six days a year to spend in their child's school or in the community.

Jennifer Sessa, a Sarasota financial center manager, uses volunteer time to help out with holiday parties and other events in her 6-year-old son's classroom. Using the family care time when her kids are sick is "a relief" instead of having to cut into vacation time, she says.

Another plus for Sessa was being able to take 16 weeks off after giving birth (four more weeks than required by federal law) and knowing she would still have a job. "It gave me time to recuperate and get used to being a mom, which helped me out a lot," she says.

Brian Hall, Wachovia's Sarasota-Manatee market president, says he doesn't have exact figures on the impact on retention, but he believes the bank's family-friendly practices build a competitive advantage in the industry. "They're looking for a challenging work environment. They also want to know that their family or personal interests will be taken care of, too," he says.


You've read some of the best, now here are some of the least family-friendly business practices:

- Docking pay when an employee needs to leave to take a child to an appointment.

- Being rigid and not keeping the door open for moms to return to the company after a break. Moms want the opportunity to get back on the career track, and 94 percent of Fortune 500 companies recently told Working Mother they wanted to help moms returning to the workplace.

- Acting like family and work don't combine well.

- Not listening to employee suggestions about how to create a family-friendly culture.

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