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Companies are finding it pays to care

Michael Henrickson wasn't especially enthusiastic when Honeywell Inc. offered him a transfer from Glendale, Ariz., to Clearwater. "They had a need for what I can do and the job was good," said Henrickson, a principal contract representative for Honeywell's Space Systems Group. "But we were very happy in Arizona."

However, he agreed to come take a look _ and when he saw Honeywell's new on-site school, moving to Clearwater suddenly became a lot more appealing.

"Our daughter was in private school in Arizona, and it was very expensive _ $250 to $300 a month," he said. "When I found out this was a free benefit and it was run just like the private school, I started licking my chops."

Henrickson agreed to the transfer _ provided that Honeywell would save a space in the kindergarten class for 5-year-old Kristin. He started work and she started school two weeks ago, and both of them are pretty happy about the situation.

"At the other school, they had boring stuff to do," Kristin said. "Here it's fun."

Henrickson's recruitment is just one example of the way a new emphasis on family benefits is beginning to pay off for Honeywell's Clearwater operation.

In addition to the on-site school, which is part of the Pinellas County public school system, Honeywell's "Work and Family Matters" package includes subsidized sick-child care, unpaid leave for family concerns and flexible work schedules. Most of the programs are only a few months old.

Under consideration are an on-site or near-site day-care center for preschoolers, work-at-home and job-sharing options and resource-and-referral services for child day care and care of elderly relatives.

Honeywell views the effort as more than just public relations. It expects to save money by reducing employee turnover and the number of sick days employees take to care for their children.

"We know what it costs us to hire an employee or train an employee, and we spend a lot of money on that," said Charles Peters, who manages compensation and benefits for Honeywell's Clearwater operation.

He said the company expects the new emphasis on family will reduce turnover by at least seven employees per year, and that alone will be more than enough to pay for its cost.

"The bottom line (projected) is that we would show a $2.50 return for every $1 invested in the program," he said.

Peters said an engineer recently told him he turned down a job offer from another company because he didn't want to give up Honeywell's family benefits.

Honeywell's comprehensive approach is unusual, but some day it may not be. Corporate interest in family benefits has increased dramatically, particularly in the past two years.

According to a survey done in 1978, only 110 major U.S. employers offered any family benefits, said Carol Moenning, a consultant with Hewitt Associates, a compensation and benefits consulting firm based in Lincolnshire, Ill. Now about 5,400 do, she said. That's still a minority of U.S. businesses, but it includes most of the largest corporations.

"Companies are realizing that demographic changes are affecting their labor supply," she said. "In order to get good, high-quality workers and to retain them, they (companies) are going to have to put some of these things in. They also realize that the stress people feel balancing work and family is affecting the bottom line. People miss work. People who can't handle balancing work and family at the same time give up their jobs. Productivity goes down if people are disrupting their day to make child-care or elder-care arrangements."

When a top boss realizes that's happening, the corporate impact can be dramatic.

The family benefits offered by NCNB Corp., the Charlotte, N.C.-based banking company, grew out of the day-care difficulties of chairman Hugh McColl's secretary, said Joy Sheets, manager of work-family programs for NCNB National Bank of Florida.

"She was having difficulty getting to work on time or having to leave early because of her day-care situation," Sheets said. "He got very involved with it and gave personnel the go-ahead to put together the work-family task force. Today we have very strong support from our chairman."

The company's first major effort was a day-care resource and referral system that became available to all NCNB employees in 1988 after pilot programs in several cities, including Tampa, proved successful.

One of NCNB's newest benefits is subsidized day care for low-income and middle-income employees. The company will pay up to half the day-care bill for qualifying employees' children. The budget for that program this year is $1-million, Sheets said.

"It's a great incentive, and it's definitely helping my pocketbook," said Sherry DeFazio, a teller supervisor at NCNB's Northwood branch in Clearwater.

NCNB also has generous family leave policies, including paid paternity leave for employees who qualify. In addition, the company offers an option of part-time work with full benefits that about 30 Florida employees have chosen, including Sheets, who works three days a week.

"It gives me an opportunity to spend more time with my child," said Sheets, who has an 18-month-old son.

Increasingly, employers are adopting more flexible personnel policies to allow employees to meet family needs, consultant Moenning said.

"At first, everyone thought the way to go was to build a child-care center and that would solve everyone's problems," she said. "We found that only solved the problems of people with small children who wanted to bring them to work with them. We've seen a tremendous trend toward flexibility. What most people are struggling with is just the need for more time."

"There's a lot of interest in flexible scheduling because that's very easy for many employers to do," said Thomas Boudreau, a consultant in the Tampa office of William M. Mercer Inc., an employee benefits and compensation consulting firm. "It allows them to cater to individual needs."

In addition, being more flexible doesn't have to cost a lot of money.

While flexible hours are the most common approach, some companies are trying or considering work-at-home options, particularly for employees who use computers. Honeywell expects to have its program ready to go within a month, Peters said. Some types of jobs _ including production work and janitorial work _ will be excluded.

"The underlying requirement for work at home will be that it meets the needs of the business," he said. "We're not going to grant it just because an employee requests it."

Companies are continuing to get involved in providing day care for employees' children. However, that doesn't necessarily mean building and operating their own child-care centers.

One common model is for a company or a group of companies to contract with a child-care provider to operate a center serving its employees as well as the public. Typically the arrangement involves little or no subsidy from the company.

Florida Power Corp. offers its employees this type of child-care option through Manchester Academy, which opened a day-care center across the street from the company's St. Petersburg headquarters. Florida Power guaranteed a minimum enrollment the first year, but the cost of the care is not subsidized.

A group of companies in downtown St. Petersburg recently invited day-care providers to submit proposals (due next week) for opening a downtown center to serve their employees' children.

Interest also is growing in the partnership school concept, which the Pinellas County school system is pioneering in cooperation with Honeywell and General Electric Co.'s neutron devices plant in Largo. In each case, the company is providing buildings, maintenance and security and the school system is providing teachers, furniture, curriculum and supplies. Honeywell is spending about $100,000 this year on its program, including the cost of leasing relocatable classrooms.

Both schools are considered satellites of nearby elementary schools. GE's school offers kindergarten through second grade, while Honeywell's has just kindergarten and first grade and plans to add second grade next year. Both programs include before-school and after-school care, allowing children to come to work and go home with their parents.

"We're going to benefit and the companies are going to benefit, but the people who will benefit the most are the children," said Alison Bellack, coordinator of the program for the school system.

She said she is talking with other companies _ including a group of employers in downtown Clearwater _ about setting up additional partnership schools. A group of companies in the West Shore area of Tampa is discussing partnership possibilities with the Hillsborough County school system.

Sick-child care also is a growing area of interest, said Susan Olsen, president of the Employer/Child Care Connection Inc., a Largo consulting firm that helps employers in Pinellas County, Tampa and Sarasota develop child-care programs.

"We used to hear "We don't have a problem with that,"' she said. "Companies' personnel policy didn't allow them to have a problem. Their people were calling in lying _ saying they were sick instead of their children being sick."

Those illusions were dispelled in part as a result of a survey earlier this year of employees at nine large Pinellas County companies. The employees reported they had missed a collective total of 3,081 full days and 2,461 partial days of work caring for sick children just in the previous six months.

Honeywell now offers to pick up 80 percent of the tab for either in-home or in-hospital care for their employees' sick children. The hospital programs charge about $3 an hour while in-home care, provided through Family Service Centers, is $11 an hour for a home health aide or $24 an hour for a licensed practical nurse.

Only one employee has used in-home care since it became available in August, Peters said. However, he said the sick-child program at Sun Coast Hospital in Largo has been much more popular. Sun Coast's program, which also is open to the public at $2.75 an hour, is a big hit with parents of children with chicken pox.

"My daughter Kelly was the first one to use it last spring when she came down with the chicken pox," said Honeywell worker Leonard Simpson. "She was there close to two weeks, then about three weeks later my son Cory came down with it. If we hadn't had the opportunity to use Sun Coast, I don't know what we would have done. Neither my wife nor I have any relatives in the area."

Peters said it is much cheaper for Honeywell to subsidize sick-child care than to lose an employee for the day _ which may mean paying another employee overtime.

Simpson is glad they feel that way.

"My children haven't been sick since then, but it's so nice to know that the program is there," he said. "We really, really appreciate it."

Up next:Casting off

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