The Work/Life Balance Sheet So Far



Studies show work/life balance programs go a long way to help CPA firms of all sizes attract and retain high-quality professionals and are a key factor in employee satisfaction.

Successful programs address elder-care as well as child-care needs. The growing demand for attending to parents is one of today’s most significant trends.

More than a decade has passed since businesses started to implement work/life-balance-friendly policies, but only a few firms are claiming success. If top managers of an organization don’t support work/life programs, they are likely to fail.

Ernst & Young rates its managers on how available they make work/life options and factors those ratings into reviews and bonuses.

Deloitte & Touche’s program helps employees tailor a partnership path through different phases of their lives.

The business case for work/life balance programs grows stronger every day. Research shows that employers that don’t consider how family and work responsibilities affect their employees are hindering their ability to operate more efficiently.

John Lewison is certified as a senior professional in human resources by the Society for Human Resource Management and is director of human resources for a nonprofit policy research organization based in New York City. He also is assistant professor of management at the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut. His e-mail address is .

alancing work and family has overtaken benefits and compensation as a key factor in employee satisfaction—and a key concern for CPA firms and companies trying to attract and retain high-quality professional staff. That’s the conclusion of a major study conducted by the AICPA’s Work/Life and Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee in 2004. In a follow-up last year, Linda Bergen, CPA, a Citigroup corporate accounting vice-president in New York, reported time spent on the job and work/life balance issues are the top two reasons CPAs change jobs.

In fact, dual-wage-earning families in general are working longer hours. Catalyst, a nonprofit research and advisory organization in New York, found the combined weekly work hours of wage-earning couples rose to 91 hours in 2002—up more than 8% in just 10 years.

A Balancing Act

More than 25% of workers said a work/family balance was more important to them than competitive wages or job security.

More than 25% of employee absences were caused by family issues—up from just 11.5% six years ago.

Sources: “Work-Life Benefits” consultants’ survey, .

Writing for the New York Times, Judith Shulevitz cited a Families and Work Institute study ( ) that found younger college-educated workers were less willing “to sacrifice everything to advance their careers” than baby boomers were. People entering the workforce today are more likely to turn down promotions if the new job means longer days and having to bring more work home.

Adapting to contemporary needs calls for more than a one-size-fits-all approach to work/life benefits programs, however. Witness the growing demand for time to attend to one’s parents, which is one of the most significant trends in the area of work/life balance. Smart firms and companies are implementing programs that address employees’ elder-care demands as well as single-parent staff members’ emergency-day-care needs.

The challenge of effectively meeting workplace and personal needs continues to fall more heavily on women than men. More than 65% of families with preschool children had mothers working outside the home, according to HR Review, and if a child is sick, most often it’s the mother who’s called.

Roles are starting to change, though, when it comes to taking time off to deal with elder-care issues. Here responsibility is often parent-specific: The man cares for his aging parents and the woman does the same for hers.

Employees who face the demands of both parenting and elder care are sometimes called the “sandwich generation.” A survey conducted by the Labor Project for Working Families in 2002 ( ) found that 40% of those caring for parents and grandparents had child-care responsibilities, too. This demographic sector is likely to increase with the aging population.

CPA firms have been among the most responsive work environments in establishing comprehensive family-friendly policies and programs, yet resounding successes are few. The reasons vary, but there’s some evidence that corporate culture and societal stigma may be prime culprits. Culture is set at the top and filters down through an organization. If a firm’s managing partner or other supervisors don’t support the spirit and practice of work/life programs, they may fail.

A landmark study by Xerox and the Ford Foundation, “Rethinking Life and Work,” found employers that don’t consider how employees’ family and work responsibilities affect each other hinder an organization’s ability to be fully productive. Solutions to both work and life issues evolve if employers analyze the way work is done and the interrelationship between the demands of the job and the demands of employees’ home lives.

Ernst & Young (E&Y) changed its culture and shed any stigma about work/life options, notes Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Work/Life Policy in New York ( ). The firm adopted a policy of having its employees rate their managers on how available they made work/life options, and using those ratings in yearend performance reviews and bonuses. Today about 27% of E&Y’s workforce uses some form of flexible work arrangement.

To support its work/life balance policies, Deloitte & Touche (D&T) instituted a mass career customization (MCC) program. It is based on the idea that every employee’s life goes through a range of changes over a 40-year career, says Paul Silverglate, CPA, strategic client services partner. Some of those predictable life events such as childbearing require more personal time. The MCC program institutionalizes accommodation for those different phases so staff can pursue an extended long-term partnership path.

  Types of Work/Life Balance Programs

The six basic categories of work/life programs are

Flextime. Employees choose starting and ending hours, but typically must be present in the office during “core” periods, such as 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Flexible week. Sometimes called a “compressed workweek,” this approach allows employees to work longer hours over a smaller number of days. That could be 10 hours a day for four days a week or, alternatively, fewer hours in a given day over a six-day workweek.

Work-at-home, flexplace or telecommuting. Some or all of the work is done off-site at the employee’s home or at local satellite offices set up near where clusters of employees live. Typically the employee is connected to the office by computer and virtual private network (VPN). Be mindful of the need for insurance protection in establishing a telecommuting arrangement.

Part-time. Most familiar to employers, this option offers employees a reduced work schedule (such as post-family leave for child-care reasons).

Job sharing. Two employees share or divide the workload of a single job

Part-time telecommuting. A combination of part-time or reduced hours coupled with an off-site working location.

Source: Catalyst, .

A good way to start measuring ROI is by looking at what you’re trying to achieve with your firm’s work/life balance programs. If staff retention is your key concern, consider the example of on-site child care, which many firms now offer.

Six-person Deborah Bailey Browne and Associates in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., gets better staff productivity because it chooses to accommodate emergency child care. Boston firm Vitale Caturano, which now employs about 280 people and 29 partners, was a 55-person, 10-partner enterprise when it began its well-known multifaceted program of work/life incentives in 1996. The firm says its generous programs are highly cost-effective; if it costs $200,000 a year to hire a caregiver to provide child care for 20 employees on busy-season Saturdays, the firm calculates you will save money if you retain just four $75,000-a-year employees who otherwise would have left.

Deloitte & Touche began measuring the savings from its formal flexible work arrangements about 10 years ago, says Kathryn Davie Wood, former senior manager of national human resources. It arrived at a figure of $41.5 million in savings by applying the standard 150% replacement multiplier to the average annual salary of workers who would have left had flexible work schedules not been an available option. The firm then multiplied those figures by the number of respondents to an internal survey who said they would have quit the firm for that reason (see “ Advantages of Work/Life Balance Programs ”).

  Advantages of Work/Life
Balance Programs

Work/life balance programs can affect the bottom line positively, says Michelle Martinez in HR Magazine. The goals of a good work/life balance program include

Reduced absenteeism. Surveys by CCH Inc. showed that unscheduled absence is on the rise, and the causes usually are family responsibilities and personal stress. Counter this trend with flexible scheduling or find ways to make it easier for employees to come to work when a child is ill. The Washington, D.C., law firm of Arnold & Porter created a backup child-care program that partner Fern O’Brien calculates saves more than $800,000 a year.

Reduced turnover. Providing alternative work arrangements or scheduling has proven effective in keeping employees on board. Aetna slashed its turnover rate in half by allowing employees to return part-time after family leave for childbirth or adoption. The result was a 90% retention rate for leave-takers after five years, and an annual savings of more than $1 million in recruiting and hiring costs.

Increased productivity. Stress relief often results in productivity increases. A few years back, when the financial services center of Hewlett-Packard compressed its workweek to four 10-hour days, it nearly doubled its completed call transactions per day.

Reduced overtime costs. Flexible scheduling often reduces both overtime and stress. Schedule changes work particularly well in organizations that need coverage across multiple time zones.

Client retention. When employees provide greater service, it helps retain clients. First Tennessee Bank introduced flexible work arrangements and found that employees provided more value to customers, which in turn resulted in better customer satisfaction.

To undertake a successful work/life balance program, review your firm’s current work policies and practices. Next, talk to employees to see what they think, and—more important—what they need in terms of work/life balance support (see “ Types of Work/Life Programs ”). Then develop programs to meet as many of those needs as practical.

Good communication is essential, too. If employees don’t know about the policies and programs you’ve created, or the culture doesn’t support using them, little will be accomplished.

Lisa Gardner, a diversity and organizational effectiveness consultant based in Silver Spring, Md., suggests training managers in methods for handling the challenges resulting from work/life balance policies. Employees on flexible work schedules or working outside the office can require special supervision, for instance.

Next examine your firm’s benefits and retirement programs. Consider phased retirement plans to attract and retain older workers. Encouraging job sharing and part-time opportunities can increase the available pool of employees by bringing in students and older workers who want to work a reduced schedule.

Finally, Gardner says, model the behaviors and practices that you advocate. If the boss doesn’t participate, few employees are likely to.

Ellen Galinsky, president of Families and Work Institute in New York, says in many workplaces flexibility “is the missing ingredient.” Employees who need to work outside of the main office so they can pick up their kids after work on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, or those who really need to work a reduced schedule for two years to be able to take care of a parent, will get new jobs.

“Firms have to figure out how to be flexible enough to address those fringe issues or lose the benefit of working with that colleague altogether,” says Deloitte & Touche’s Silverglate.

Jennifer Kalla, CPA, works in the Minneapolis office of RSM McGladrey, whose program of flexible work options is used by more than 50 of its 500 employees. She has been able to balance her work and life through a flexible workload that left her evenings free during busy season. “From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. is [two-year-old son] Ethan time,” Kalla says, “from the time I pick him up at day care until I read him to sleep at night.” That doesn’t mean she doesn’t work at home—she does pull out her laptop after her son goes to bed. She is not really worried about her ability to advance in the firm. “I can get there in the long run,” she says.

Whether your accounting firm or company is large or small, work/life balance programs offer a strong opportunity to improve the bottom line while increasing employee satisfaction.

CPA Career Center. AICPA members can search job postings, locate candidates for open positions, assess personal strengths and development needs and access other career-related resources. To learn more go to .

AICPA Work/Life and Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee. For information on work/life effectiveness and staff retention and development, e-mail .

Research. The latest research report containing trends and analysis on workplace flexibility and women’s advancement is available at .

Women to Watch. The AICPA, in conjunction with state CPA societies, honors women as role models for new professionals in the Women to Watch program.

Women’s Financial Literacy Campaign. The AICPA is helping women become more aware of financial literacy issues. Visit for more information.

Journal of Accountancy: Build a Better Career Path, JofA , May06, page 37; “ Staffing Update: Issues, Trends, Initiatives ,” JofA , Sep.05, page 88; “ Outrageous Employee Benefits ,” JofA, May05, page 32.

Promoting Your Talent: A Guidebook for Women and Their Firms, by Nancy R. Baldiga, provides practice tips and real-life examples from leaders in the profession for tackling the obstacles firms and organizations encounter in leadership development and promoting talent as well as career guidance for CPAs. To order this publication visit or call the Institute at 888-777-7077.

The Facts on Workplace Flexibility. Free brochure on a variety of topics pertaining to work/life, such as return on investment, culture change and benchmarking. E-mail .

Mentoring Program Guidelines. Free brochure to help mentors, protgs and employers implement a mentor program, tips for successful partnerships and agreement and evaluation forms. E-mail .

“Work/Life: Striking a Balance.” Free DVD that explores the human interest story, the business case and best practices for work/life effectiveness. Available by request. E-mail .

Catalyst (in New York, 212-514-7600), .

Families and Work Institute, .

Future Work Institute, .

Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), .

Workforce Magazine, ., Atlanta (770-997-7881), .

Work-Life Benefits (Raleigh, N.C.), .

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