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Employers continue to increase the variety of work-life programs offered

In an effort to curb the negative effects of unscheduled absences, employers are turning to programs that increase flexibility in employees' lives. The 2006 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey revealed that on average, organizations are offering employees 11 work-life programs, up from nine in 2005 and eight in 2004. With one-third of survey participants reporting that unscheduled absenteeism is a "serious problem," it is not surprising to see this upward trend in the work-life programs employers are offering.

The survey results indicate that organizations are finding it difficult to determine what programs will be most effective for their particular employees. For example, in some instances the CCH survey found that the programs employers view as most effective in combating unscheduled absenteeism are not the programs that are most used.

Programs offered. Of the work-life programs offered by employers, the top five in use recognize that helping employees manage the many aspects of their busy lives is increasingly important. The top five programs are: Employee Assistance Plans (76 percent), Wellness Programs (67 percent), Leave for School Functions (65 percent), Flu Shot Programs (64 percent) and Alternative Work Arrangements (63 percent).

Programs rated most effective. As for the work-life programs rated most effective, survey respondents ranked Alternative Work Arrangements, Leave for School Functions, Compressed Work Week and Telecommuting as equally effective—each at 3.4 on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being most effective. Emergency Child Care rounds out the top five most effective work-life programs at 3.3.

Consider particular demographics. "The fact that only two of the programs companies rated as most effective—Alternative Work Arrangements and Leave for School Functions—were on the top five most used list is a good indication that the time may be right for employers to step back and assess if they have the most effective programs in place," said CCH workplace analyst Pam Wolf, JD.

The CCH survey shows, for example, that workers between the ages of 18 and 35 are nearly twice as likely to engage in unscheduled absences as are workers age 36 and older. Women, particularly in their child-bearing years (18-25 year-olds at 30 percent and 26-35 year-olds at 27 percent), are also more likely to take an unscheduled absence. Some organizations that have taken a good long look at their workforce realize that women of these ages are invaluable and are updating their benefits to accommodate them.

"The trend upwards in programs that offer flexibility on how and when work gets done is an indication that more workplaces are trying to accommodate the needs of different employees, for example, working parents with young children and Baby Boomers who, as they start reaching retirement age, may be interested in staying in the workforce, but also need or want additional flexibility to accommodate other interests," said Wolf.

The key to implementing successful work-life programs is understanding the needs of a particular workforce and providing programs that effectively meet those needs. Organizations that fail to take this step may find themselves with programs that fail to help employees achieve the work-life balance they need and therefore fail to show a return on investment.

Programs focus on well-being. The CCH survey revealed an upswing in programs that assist employees in maintaining physical and emotional well-being. In addition to some of the most used programs—Employee Assistance Programs, Wellness Programs and Flu Shot Programs—organizations are offering employees Fitness Facilities (59 percent), On-site Health Services (48 percent) and Sabbaticals (47 percent).

For additional information on this and other HR topics, consult CCH Human Resources Management or Personnel Practices/Communications.

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