In the heyday of the Internet revolution, companies would go out of their way to implement unusual and outrageous benefits to lure and retain top industry talent. Employee benefits such as pet-sitting, ice cream socials, and concierge services were not uncommon in the high-tech industry. But we may be seeing the last of the days where office décor expenses outpace other items on the company balance sheet–like revenues.
According to a recent workplace benefits survey conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), there has been an overall decrease in the number of employers offering general and fringe benefits in some areas. SHRM attributes these decreases to employers “focusing their resources more effectively.” Does this mean your dog Skip won’t be going to company-sponsored ice cream socials anymore? Maybe, but a tougher economic environment doesn’t mean the end of more important family benefits–dependent healthcare, family leave, paid vacations, and so on. You have to understand what employers offer, what the industry norms are, and find your way to a family-friendly company.
Knowing more about these benefits is the first step. Most of them, in general, are designed to maximize your workplace productivity and enrich your family life.
Family and Medical Leave
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 affects most private and public employers in the United States. The FMLA entitles eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons. Workers may request leaves for the birth of a child or for serious medical circumstances that impact the employee or an immediate family member. Some companies will offer additional maternity and/or paternity leaves beyond the 12-week minimum.
Increased diversity in the workplace has prompted many employers to be more flexible. Benefits such as flextime, compressed workweeks, job sharing, telecommuting, and custom health options are all designed to meet each employee’s specific preferences. For example, nearly 30 percent of Merrill Lynch’s 51,000 employees now use flexible work arrangements.
Dependent care can take on many forms, including benefits for a child, elderly parent, or domestic partner. Some common dependent benefits include direct services–onsite/offsite daycare centers or financial services (dependent expense accounts and reimbursements). An employee’s parent may be classified as a dependent and offered similar benefits. Most recently, companies have begun to offer domestic partner benefits. This entitles a same-sex or opposite-sex unmarried partner to full “spouse-equivalent” benefits.
Other Family Benefits
A number of other benefits are not as prevalent, but they do exist: scholarships, tuition refunds, relocation assistance, home leave, cost-of-living allowances, transit subsidies, and so on. A company would rather retain its own workforce than go through expensive and time-consuming turnovers. For example, relocation reimbursements are common when a company asks an employee to move to another domestic or foreign office. In certain cases, as in management-level relocations, employers will include living allowances, reimbursement of a spouse’s lost income, and transit costs for home visits.
Finding Family-Friendly Companies
As with compensation, employee benefits vary dramatically by company size, job function, and industry standard. First, you should decide what’s most important to you. Companies may allow you to select the benefits that are most applicable to you. If you are a single mother, flextime and daycare may be critical to you, but paternal leave may not be at the top of your priorities. Also, pay attention to laws that apply to private, smaller businesses. For example, private employers with 50 employees or less are not covered under the FMLA and therefore not obligated to provide those benefits. So, do your research, talk to a company HR representative, and even arrange a meeting with a current employee before accepting any position.
In addition, publications such as Fortune and Working Woman publish annual rankings and surveys of the best companies to work for. Often, family benefits at top companies are profiled and compared in detail. Companies with the best family benefits are typically larger and more established; they’ve been around for years and can endure short-term economic downturns. Companies like IBM, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Southwest Airlines, and Charles Schwab are perennial fron-runners.
Finally, public agencies (the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and privatefirms (Watson Wyatt Worldwide) both publish specific compensation and benefits surveys across different regions, industries, and job functions. Once you are armed with all this information, finding a company that caters to your family should be a breeze.