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How companies MAKE ROOM for FAMILIES

Three-month-old Nicholas snuggles against nanny Lori Olynyk's shoulder and then falls asleep. Chase, who is 6 months old, sucks on a pacifier as he snoozes in his chair on the floor.

The scene could be any day-care center. But these two infants spend their days in a dentist's office, just beyond the waiting room. Down the hall, their mothers clean teeth and assist Dian M. Olah.

The in-office nursery was Olah's idea. She suggested it a year ago after she found out that both her hygienist, Debbie Mallory, and her assistant, Lorita Levy, were pregnant. She didn't want to lose two valuable employees.

"The usual scenario is that they quit" after having a baby, said the Clearwater dentist. "And the patients are unhappy."

While it's rare to find employers who are willing to go as far as Olah did to help employees meet family responsibilities, more and more business owners are coming up with ways to help their workers balance their work and personal lives.

In a recent American Management Association study, 70 percent of the companies surveyed use flexible working hours for employees, 51 percent allow paternity leave, 35 percent use shorter work weeks and 35 percent allow employees to work from home.

To be sure, not every company is flexible. Some resist change because they see no value in work-family programs. Others contend that special programs are unfair to employees who don't need time to care for children or elderly parents. Some employees grumble that they have to work harder because co-workers are out of the office attending their children's gymnastics recitals or Little League games.

Employers who are willing to help their employees balance on- and off-the-job duties say flexibility does produce results. "We think we are seeing returns of $2 and sometimes even $3 on every $1 spent," said Charlie Peters, manager of compensation benefits and community affairs for Honeywell Inc.

Honeywell in Largo offers a range of employee benefits, from on-site day care and an elementary school to flexible hours for most employees.

The company can measure the payoff. Such benefits cut down on the loss of employee hours that can mean the company, which makes guidance systems for missiles, has to pay overtime to other workers to keep government contracts on schedule. Allowing workers job flexibility also serves as a good tool to recruit and keep highly skilled workers, Peters said.

Such benefits "make an interesting set of golden handcuffs," he said. "We are nice guys, but we tend to be pretty practical about it."

Employee morale has become a bigger issues in the age of corporate downsizing, when thousands of workers have lost their jobs. Those remaining need reassurance and support to remain productive.

"We need that competitive advantage," said Beverly Bove, explaining why the Wilmington, Del.-based E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Co. instituted liberal work-family programs. "We have got to give them something that is a little more, so that they want to work for DuPont. To keep a high-quality work force, you have to offer more work-life support."

DuPont has monitored the success of its programs through employee surveys for 10 years.

"We have found that there is a statistical correlation between people who were aware of and used the programs and increased commitment and lowered burn-out and stress level," Bove said.

So how well do flexible programs work for companies in the Tampa Bay area? Here's a look at a few examples of the changing rules in the workplace:

The home office

Melinda Kelley was ready to turn in her resignation when her third son was born a few weeks ago.

The office manager for the Tampa-based ABI Companies Inc. wanted to spend more time with her new baby. But her boss, ABI CEO Hank Booth, didn't like the idea of losing his office manager and assistant.

"I was willing to work out just about anything to keep her," Booth said. He got a chance to prove that when Kelley's doctor ordered her to stay home. For nearly four months, Kelley did her job at home.

Her office computer and a filing cabinet were installed in the family breakfast nook. She forwarded her office phone to home. Messages and documents were sent back and forth on the Internet or by fax. And she relied on assistants to help do other tasks.

The home office worked well, so she might continue to work there a few days a week after returning from maternity leave. And her husband, David, a computer programer for Advantis, is also planning to start working a few days at home when she goes into the office.

Booth thinks that will work out fine. "We actually found that with her being at home she actually got more done because she didn't have the disruptions," he said. "But without her presence here, (the office) didn't run as smoothly."

He wants to be flexible because she is a conscientious employee. "How can you fault somebody who wants to stay home with her child and needs to make whatever sacrifices she can to do that?" he asked. "As a person, I respect that. As an employer, I am going to do whatever I can do to make that work."

Boss wouldn't bend

Sherry Huskey didn't think she was asking for much -- just the opportunity to come into work a bit later so she could spend time with her teenage daughter.

The housing counselor thought she could get her job done in slightly less than 40 hours and was willing to take a pay cut for the lost time.

Her supervisor's answer was quick and uncompromising: " "If you haven't dealt with this teenager now, it's too late. There is no room for anything less than 40-plus (hours) at this company,' " she recalls being told.

Huskey turned in her resignation. "I was so hurt. . . . It's not that I was irreplaceable, but I thought that it could be worked through," she said.

It wasn't long before she was offered another job as a property manager. The new job offered flexible hours and allows her to work from home sometimes.

"Im a renewed person," Huskey said. "I'm spending the time with this last child I was so desperately seeking, and in reality the flexibility ended up being only an hour in the morning and the ability to work on projects from home."

1 liner here

When Keswick Christian School made it to the final four of the state girls' basketball tournament again this year, there was no doubt Tammy Eitel's dad would be cheering at the Lakeland Civic Center.

"Work is important, but so is family," said Tim Eitel, senior vice president in charge of information services at Raymond James & Associates Inc. in St. Petersburg.

"I've probably attended 90 percent of her games," he said. In fact, Eitel coached both her basketball and volleyball teams when Tammy was a junior varsity player. The schedule usually meant leaving work in midafternoon and coming back to put in a few more hours after practice was over.

Tammy is headed off to Furman University in the fall, but her brother, Matt, a ninth-grader, is still playing basketball and baseball, and Eitell is still coaching and cheering. He has managed Matt's Little League teams for years.

Eitel says he offers the 210 employees who work for him the same flexibility. "If you're happy with your family, you'll do better at work," he said. "If a person leaves early one day, they'll come in early the next or maybe come back and stay late or come in on the weekend."

"Balanced people are happier and more productive," said Christine Wittman, senior vice president for human resources at Raymond James. "Single people don't resent it, because we're flexible about some of their endeavors, too. We don't nickel and dime people. That just doesn't work."

Flexibility for whom?

Jennifer Seney thinks workplace flexibility is a wonderful thing, if employers apply it equitably and co-workers still pull their share of the workload.

But many employers tend to make great allowances for people with children but few for those who don't, she said.

At a former job in another state, Seney remembers a co-worker who constantly came in late and left early, citing family obligations. The supervisor tolerated the situation.

" "Those of us who have chosen to have children need to be granted special considerations, so we can make sure that the quality of our life for our children is the best possible,' " she remembered him telling her.

The same supervisor told her she had to come to work even though her dog was extremely ill. The dog later died. When her supervisor realized how devastated she was, he apologized.

"This type of attitude is hard to swallow," she said.

The last straw

For Judy Cole, the last straw was the night she couldn't visit her daughter in the hospital because she had to work late.

"I didn't leave (work), and then I felt so guilty and angry that I just cleaned out my desk and I didn't go back," said Cole, a paralegal. "And I had never done anything like that before."

That was several years ago. Since then, the Tampa single mother of three has given up trying to find a flexible job as a full-time paralegal and works at Walgreen's restocking the greeting card section. She also works a few hours a week at home as a paralegal for an attorney with a small practice.

"I don't get paid anything near what I used to get paid when I didn't have the flexibility. It was a major trade-off, but I should have done it earlier," Cole said.

The job of a paralegal was so demanding that it left her little time to take care of her three daughters.

Many nights she brought them to work, where they fell asleep under the office conference table before she was through with her daily duties.

"It's common knowledge that paralegals are expected to work 70 to 80 hours a week," she said.

Sick leave and visits to the doctor are often frowned upon, she said.

She delayed going to the doctor when her daughter had bronchitis. The daughter ended up with chronic fatique syndrome, and Cole got a strangulated hernia because she coughed so much from her own bout with brochitis.

When she finally went to the doctor, her employer insisted she take a cellular telephone with her so she could be reached. The doctor wanted to admit her to the hospital for immediate surgery, but she waited so she could return the cellular phone.

"Now, when I have to take some time off to go to the doctor, I don't have to go in and grovel," she said.

Sympathy and support

Cole's story doesn't surprise Janet E. Hill. The St. Petersburg woman knows how difficult it is for paralegals to find flexible employers.

That's why she plans to keep her job at Piper & Ludin P.A. "I intend on working for them until I am a little, gray-haired old lady," she said.

For months, Hill tried to keep her personal problems from encroaching on her job. She worried about how her boss would react if she spoke out about her abusive husband and crumbling marriage. "I wasn't sure how they would react and the impact it would have on my job or anything else," she said.

But soon she was no longer able to hide her problems. Her boss found her crying at her desk and asked her what was wrong.

She told him her story, and he offered to pay for her to see a psychologist so she could decide what to do. When she decided to call the police about her husband's stalking and a variety of other crimes, the firm helped push her paperwork through and gave her all the time off she needed to attend court hearings and depositions. Eventually the couple divorced.

When her ex-husband was released from jail about a year ago, the firm installed a panic button at her desk and built a wall to separate her and other workers from the front door.

Now her father is suffering from cancer, and the firm allows her the time to take him to his many doctor appointments and chemotherapy treatments.

Still, Hill manages to keep up with her heavy workload, she said, coming in early, working through her lunch hours and leaving late.

She recently was given a good review by her boss and thanked him for his help and consideration.

"Then I warned him. I said, "Guess what? My mother and grandmother are moving to Florida.' "

Workplace as nursery

Debbie Mallory and Lorita Levy thought Dr. Olah was kidding when she suggested they bring their new babies to work with them.

"We said, "What? Are you serious?' " Levy remembered.

When it was clear that she was, the two women elicited the help of their husbands, who both work in construction, to convert the employee kitchen into a nursery for the babies.

Despite having to find a new place for the microwave, the office workers said the babies have caused few problems.

When they sleep, Olynyk, the nanny, who gets one-third of her pay from the dentist, does odd jobs around the office. When they cry, Olynyk takes them out for a walk in the double stroller. And when they are happy, she brings them out to the waiting room to meet patients.

"We haven't had any complaints from the patients," Olah said. "They even seem to like it."

"Some of our kind of cranky patients, they just melt" when they see the babies, office manager Sue Love said.

"I get a lot of pleasure out of it, too," Olah said. "No question, I would do it all over again. Without a doubt."

And the mothers marvel at their employer's flexibility.

The arrangement has left them virtually worry-free, something that helps new parents adjust to returning to work.

"It's just a relief to know that he is right there, down the hall," Mallory said.

"This is the best job I have ever had," Levy said.