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Better workplace means a healthier bottom line

Potomac Electric Power Co. offers a free child care placement service to its employees.

Lockheed Martin Corp. has 24-hour, toll-free hot lines that workers can use to locate an elder care service, find a babysitter or talk to counselors about stress.

The Discovery Channel permits a broad range of flextime options, including working from home or cramming a five-day workload into four days. The cable television company also offers three weeks of paternity leave.

Why do these companies volunteer these services?

"You have to offer these things because if you don't, somebody else will," said Pandit Wright, senior vice president of hiring and administration for the Discovery Channel. "The employees really, really appreciate it."

It's impossible to quantify, but Wright is convinced worker-friendly policies help bolster the bottom line.

The National Study of the Changing Workforce, released by the Families and Work Institute in April, reached the same conclusion. The study was compiled from interviews with 2,877 employees older than 18 and provides one of the most comprehensive looks at today's workplace culture, experts say.

The findings confirm some spreading notions about the nature of workers in the 1990s, while also debunking a few prevalent myths. Additionally, the study offers a historical perspective by comparing its findings with similar studies conducted in 1992 and 1977.

"The most incredible thing that the study demonstrates is that having (worker-friendly) programs is really important for profitability," said Bernie Milano, partner in charge of work-life programs at KPMG Peat Marwick LLP, which was one of the corporate sponsors of the study. "It takes it out of the realm of human resources programs and moves it to the bottom line."

Respondents said workplace support _ which encompasses flexibility, family-friendly policies, supervisor support, lack of discrimination and other factors _ accounted for the highest percentage (37) of job satisfaction. Job quality was second at 32 percent.

Furthermore, the study concluded that "employees whose workplaces are supportive and responsive to their needs are the most loyal, and are more willing than other workers to work harder than they have to in order to help their employers succeed."

Said Ellen Galinsky, one of the authors of the study: "We've learned that the aspects of people's jobs most related to production are those that affect their families. The fear we hear from employers is that if you help people with family and life issues, they won't be as committed or loyal. What we found out was the opposite; people who have more flexibility will go the extra mile."

The study also found that one of the biggest shifts in the workplace during the past 20 years is the changing role of married men. In 1977, fathers spent 1.8 hours each workday with their children; today that number has increased to 2.3 hours. Conversely, the time married women spend with their children has dipped from 3.3 hours to 3.0 hours each workday.

In addition, men have added nearly an hour to their chore time, logging in 2.1 hours on workdays, while women have decreased their task work by a half-hour to 2.8 hours a workday.

These numbers show the evolving roles of men and women, both in and out of the office, Galinsky said.

"Men are doing so much more" outside the workplace, she said. "People are living differently, and men are picking up the slack." The numbers also reflect the diminished time women can afford to spend at home as they pursue careers, Galinsky said.

But this increased time spent tossing a ball with the kids or taking out the trash hasn't come from an easing of the workload. The study found that employees who work more than 20 hours a week spend an average of 47.1 hours working, compared with 43.6 in 1977. Men have increased their workweeks by 2.8 hours to 49.9 hours, while women are spending 44 hours a week at work, five hours more than they did 20 years ago.

The study also put a couple of common myths to bed. It found that "contrary to the portrayal of Generation X .


. young workers today are not a group of "slackers.' They work substantially longer hours on average and find their jobs more demanding than young workers 20 years ago did."

Perhaps more surprising, the study also found that today's workers are not a bunch of job hoppers. Twenty-two percent of young workers said they were very likely to leave their employer within the next year, the same figure as in 1977. Sixty-two percent of all employees plan to stay put for the next year, while 15 percent say it is very likely they will move on.