Ben & Jerry’s … Meeting the work-family challenges of today

Child care counts honor roll for Vermont Employers: Ben & Jerry’s … Meeting the work-family challenges of today

Imagine a community where all schools run inexpensive, enriching after-school programs until 6 PM every day. They also run all-day special programs during school vacations and a recreational program that keeps school age kids constructively occupied all summer. Imagine an abundance of reasonably priced child care facilities that provide nurturing and educational homes away from home for infants, toddlers and preschoolers from 7 to 6 every day. Imagine a safe public transportation service that ferries children after school to their special activities such as girl/boy scouts, ballet, swimming or music lessons, soccer practice and acting classes. Imagine all parents spending their work days confident that their children are safe, happy and engaged.

Is this a dream? Of course. But someday it may be a reality if we all work together to make it happen. Today, however, the sad fact is that society is not structured to meet the needs of working parents. In fact, it is not ideally set up to facilitate a balanced, healthy life style for anyone who works.

Pressure points for employees may involve child care, after school care, elder care, bereavement, emotional crises, substance abuse, a rebellious teenager or finding the right mortgage to buy a new house. Preoccupation with any of these issues can drastically affect employees’ well-being, dampen their enjoyment of life and decrease effectiveness on the job. Consequently, a number of businesses have stepped up to the work-family challenge and created systems of support and family-friendly practices that help employees deal with an imperfect world. Ben & Jerry’s is one such company.

Carol Hickman, Senior Manager for Benefits and HRIS, has been instrumental in developing and introducing a number of leading edge, family-friendly policies at Ben & Jerry’s. The mother of seven and grandmother of 20, she understands the pressures of balancing the demands of work and family life. She reports that in addition to the standard benefits offered by most large companies, such as health insurance, life insurance, paid vacations and a 401K, Ben & Jerry’s strives to provide innovative solutions for the stresses of balancing work with a rewarding lifestyle that are faced by many employees. These benefits, she says, are designed not only for parents but for all employees regardless of their personal circumstances.

One, LifeWorks*, is a family resource program available to employees and their partners free of charge. Program counselors provide practical advice, information and referrals to local and national resources as often as needed. Examples of issues addressed by LifeWorks* counselors are finding a nursing home for an elder parent, sourcing loans for a child’s college education, finding summer programs for school age children or dealing with the emotional and practical aspects of a relocation.

Ben & Jerry’s recently learned the hard way that running a company child care center is not always the best answer to all employees’ dependent care needs. When we subsequently closed our Waterbury Children’s Center, LifeWorks* helped ease the transition from company-run to private day care for a number of parents and provided support and resources to another group of parents who opened their own Center.

In some instances, a LifeWorks* counselor may refer an employee to the company’s Employee Assistance Program, a confidential assessment, consultation and referral service. It is administered by Howard Mental Health and is available to employees and their dependents through referral or direct contact.

Ben & Jerry’s also addresses the needs of employees with dependent care obligations in a number of other ways. Our Flexible Spending Account allows a salary deferral of up to $5,000 pre-tax for dependent care. An employee’s sick days may be used for his/her own illness or to care for a dependent. Three weeks of paid parental leave allows parents time away from work to establish bonds with their new children without the added worry of lost income. Assistance with adoption expenses is available to parents opting for this avenue to parenthood. Five days a year of bereavement leave is allowed to arrange or attend the funeral of a close friend or family member.

Wellness is also promoted through health club memberships. Employees are offered full memberships at 1 health clubs throughout Vermont. Family members including spouses and domestic partners are offered substantial discounts at the same clubs.

To provide employees with the knowledge and skills to manage their assets and avoid the heartache of poor financial decisions, Ben & Jerry’s offers Personal Financial Planning and Home Buying Seminars at regular intervals throughout the year.

In addition to providing family friendly benefits to our own employees, Ben & Jerry’s recognizes that the broad issues of adequate and affordable child care in particular require more focus than we or any one employer can provide. We had learned painfully through our own experience that the economics of providing high quality, on-site care were simply too prohibitive for most organizations. We therefore decided to form a partnership through Julie Cadwallader-Staub, with the Child Care Fund of Vermont, to improve the quality of child care, build awareness of the importance of quality care and identify new sources of long-term funding for child care throughout the state of Vermont.

Commencing in 1999, a percentage of the revenues from our successful Tour operation at the Waterbury Manufacturing site will be donated to the Child Care Fund to aid in this work

Harking back to our own programs, we measure their effectiveness by collecting statistics, conducting utilization reviews and administering company-wide, work-life surveys. At the end of the day, however, it is the personal stories from people like you and me that make the difference. Mine goes like this:

One sunny morning last April, I awoke with the realization that school summer vacation was a mere two months away. What would I do with my 10-year-old while I worked? My immediate thought was that she could sit at the table in my office and draw as she often did on snow days when school was unexpectedly cancelled — but for 2 months? That’s a lot of pictures.

Instead, I called LifeWorks* and was connected with a counselor in Burlington. I told her that I was looking for local programs that ran eight hours a day, five days a week that would be safe and fun for a 10-year-old. Horror stories from friends at other companies who had tried to find similar programs colored my optimism. Nevertheless, within days, the LifeWorks* counselor had provided me with a quality and quantity of information that it would have taken me days of research and phone time to locate. The upshot is that we were able to quickly arrange a great summer for my daughter and I was able to concentrate on my work knowing that she was safe and having fun. Who wins in this kind of scenario? We all do — my daughter, myself and Ben & Jerry’s.

As a company, we are proud of the progress we have made in the area of work friendliness, but we are not complacent. Ben & Jerry’s continues to search for ways to improve the quality of our employees’ lives and searches for the means to influence and affect change in our greater society with the help of other companies and organizations such as the Child Care Fund.

Copyright Boutin-McQuiston, Inc. Feb 01, 1999

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved