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RISMEDIA, Feb. 19, 2008-(MCT)-An increasing number of South Florida employers recognize that even in tough economic times, work-life benefits are an important part of today’s recruiting equation. For a candidate, these perks can be the pendulum upon which a job decision swings.

Companies here have increased benefits — ranging from child-care programs to massages to take-home dinners straight from the company cafeteria — in order to cut stress, keep employees healthy and help them manage their busy lives.

“When an employee’s personal life runs smoothly, their productivity continues uninterrupted,” says Kathie Lingle, director of Alliance for Work-Life Progress, a national organization that advances work-life balance as a business strategy. “These benefits create goodwill and make business sense.”

While most South Florida employers in The Miami Herald/Watson Wyatt survey say they offer flexibility, a few are leading a trend toward formalizing their programs. Baptist Health South Florida, for example, is piloting an initiative in 2008 in three of its departments that would use software to encourage staffers to make requests for telecommuting, compressed work weeks, flexible work schedules or job sharing arrangements.

“We allow it now but it is not consistent,” explains Kathryn Fisk, chief human resources officer at Baptist. “It’s kind of underground deals that workers make with their department heads.”

By filing a computer request, she says, it puts the employee in touch with a retention manager to talk about how he or she would make a flexible arrangement work. “We have to make sure the quality of patient care isn’t compromised, but we want to be a results-driven workplace.”

Johnson & Wales University in North Miami introduced a flexibility program to its 1,400 employees that allows its workers to leave early on Fridays during the summer. It also gives workers a few additional early-leave days during the year.

“Employees during the summer were looking to extend their weekends and would wind up taking vacation days on Friday,” said Barry Vogel, director of administration. “We realized we could increase productivity and employee satisfaction by allowing them to get an early start on weekend and not be stressed about it.”

Lingle sees interest in formal flexibility programs growing in 2008: “In a recession there’s less money to go around. Companies can give flexibility, which costs them zero, and get such an uptick in terms of morale, they would have to be crazy not to offer it.”

Child Care

At some South Florida workplaces, organizations are fulfilling a need for working parents by offering on-site child-care centers for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. And, some even have found that grade schools are a natural place to help working parents reduce stress, generate family time and get more involved in their children’s education.

Miami Children’s Hospital opened its on-site day care 25 years ago. It now has about 62 children and a lengthy waiting list. Besides the preschool program, the center provides after-school care for children through age 11. It’s open until 9 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays.

“It really helps parents have peace of mind because their children are well cared for and we have a good curriculum,” said Aleyda Sosa, director of the center.

On the campus of Assurant Solutions, a Miami insurer, not only are there two day-care centers, there also is an elementary school with kindergarten through fifth grade operated by the Miami-Dade public school system. The school has 250 students — all children of employees. “That’s a huge benefit for parents,” says Karen Viera, Assurant’s vice president of human resources.

A new trend in this area is backup child care and elder care provided by outside vendors. At least a half dozen participants in the survey either offer this program or plan to offer it this year.

Convenience Benefits

Employers also are adding convenience benefits offerings such as on-site ATMs and dry cleaning; tuition reimbursement and financial planning seminars; yoga classes and chair massages; and discounts on products such as cell phone service, amusement park tickets and sports events.

Additional survey findings:

Adoption benefits are most common in the corporate sector, with 61% of corporations offering assistance, according to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. Of the organizations that participated in the Miami Herald/Watson Wyatt survey, 35% offer some type of adoption assistance.
Of the 31 participants in our survey, 42% offer on-site child care, with employers such as Eastern Financial Florida Credit Union and American Express offering backup child care for workers in a pinch.
Many of the employers offer workers opportunities to purchase long-term care insurance and offer elder-care assistance, most often through an Employee Assistance Program.
The majority of employers in the survey offer benefits to part-timers.

Copyright © 2008, The Miami Herald
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.