May 21, 2008

Work-Life Study: Policies Have Held Steady for Ten Years -- But Employees Have to Pay More

Today, the Familes and Work Institute released its "National Study of Employers," a survey of the programs, policies, and benefits U.S. employers provide to address work-life issues such as job flexibility, time off, and health and retirement benefits. One purpose of the study was to identify trends over the last ten years. (The Institute released a similar study in 1998, and another in 2005.) Its findings? Things haven't changed much, overall. For most of the more than 80 policy options the study surveyed, roughly the same percentage of employers offer them today as did ten years ago. The biggest change is who pays -- the study shows that costs are shifting to employees for these benefits:
  • Maternity disability leave. 16% of employers provide leave with full pay for the period of time when a female employee is unable to work due to pregnancy and childbirth, compared to 27% of employers ten years ago.
  • Family health insurance benefits. Only 4% of employers pay the full cost of covering family members, compared to 13% ten years ago.
  • Retirement benefits. Although most employers contribute to employee retirement plans, the number has declined from 91% to 81%. And far fewer employers offer defined benefit pension plans (which pay out a set monthly benefit upon retirement).
Some programs have become more popular in the last ten years. Employers are now much more likely to provide health insurance coverage for their employees' unmarried partners, for example. They are also more likely to offer employee assistance programs (EAPs), information about elder care resources and services, and flexible hours, allowing at least some employees to change their starting and quitting times. One of the more interesting findings of the survey is that racial and ethnic diversity at the top predicts a more work-life friendly workplace. The survey looked at four categories of work-life benefits: flexibility, caregiving leaves, child and elder care assistance, and health and economic security (primarily medical, disability, and retirement benefits). In every category, companies with more racial and ethnic minorities in senior positions were more likely to offer benefits. Lisa Guerin