B.C. Center Leads Business Week Survey

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Business Week and Boston College's Center for Work and Family have combined on a survey of corporate family-friendliness, grading some of America's largest firms on the support they offer working parents in their employ.

The Best Companies for Work and Family survey, appearing in the Sept. 15 edition of Business Week , cites 30 companies that provide outstanding environments for working parents by offering flexible hours, day care and other family-friendly programs.

But the survey also reports that many corporate "work and family" programs remain only half-heartedly applied, serving more as window dressing than offering actual relief to employees with work-family conflicts.

Twelve thousand employees at 55 companies participated in the survey, which gauged corporate policies and, predominantly, the employees' assessments. The top 30 firms did not all boast outstanding benefits, the magazine said, but "most have cultures that accept employees' lives outside work and encourage job flexibility."

MBNA America, Motorola and Barnett Banks were the top three finishers among companies in the Standard & Poor 500 index of the nation's largest companies. Each received an "A" grade of some form in both corporate programs and employee response.

The top-rated companies were cited for their culture, strong internal communication, and, in Barnett Banks' case, an on-site primary school and car cleaning service.

Among non-S&P 500 companies, First Tennessee Bank, Sequent Computer Systems and the Calvert Group each received "A" grades of some form in both catagories.

First Tennessee was cited as "one of the few employers to measure the effect of work-family strategies on profits." Sequent Computer Systems won praise for offering on-site kindergarten and first grade classes for employees' children, and Calvert Group was cited for paying for business travelers' child care.

Center for Work and Family Co-director Ellen Bankert said the center approached Business Week two years ago about a joint survey of the best of family-friendly companies. A partnership was struck, with the center agreeing to design a survey and analyze the resulting data.

As a result of the center's alliance with the magazine, Bankert said, "issues of work and family are now featured prominently on business pages, which is new. And standards of what's good are now based on employee input to issues of workplace culture, which can be far more important than specific programs, such as on-site child care.

"Companies put a high priority on making these lists," Bankert added. "Customers are asking more about company philosophy in this area, prospective recruits are asking more questions, and Wall Street analysts are showing interest in these lists and related practices."

But if family-friendliness is increasingly a corporate goal, the survey indicates many companies have done little to reform prevailing office cultures that place high demands on time-pressed working parents.

"Even leading companies have a long way to go," said Bankert. "Employees think companies have become more flexible, but they still complain of long hours and job stress. 'Flexibility' can only go so far if people are overworked and subjected to high levels of job-related stress. Only 49 percent said they could have a decent family life and still get ahead at work."

The Center for Work and Family, affiliated with the Carroll School of Management, moved to BC from Boston University earlier this year when founder Bradley Googins was named director of the Center for Corporate Community Relations at CSOM. Googins continues to oversee the center, which is co-directed by Bankert, Leon Litchfield and Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes.

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