Item from the Smart Marriages Archive, reproduced in the Divorce Statistics Collection

From The Journal Record Oklahoma

Oct. 18, 1999

Forming a family-friendly foundation

By Gregory Potts

"A family or a career does not happen in a vacuum. It's all interwoven.
It's interrelated," says Dr. Joy Reed Belt, owner of an Oklahoma City
human resources consulting firm.

With the Oklahoma divorce rate ranking second in a nation plagued with
divorce rates twice those in Europe and three times those in Japan, many,
including Gov. Frank Keating and first lady Cathy Keating, are calling
for some introspection. The Keatings' Marriage Initiative was developed
to get Oklahomans to talk and learn about the personal, sociological and
moral causes and consequences of this phenomenon. Perhaps a less obvious
consequence of divorce is its economic impact.

"The divorce rate has an impact on the bottom line of every business in
Oklahoma," notes Belt, "because divorce is not an easy thing and whenever
a person is undergoing divorce, that affects their ability to focus and
concentrate in their business."

Belt does not believe that the employers can solve everyone's personal
problems, but she believes they have a greater potential impact - either
positive or negative - than commonly acknowledged or understood.

"I can't tell you for sure if having family-friendly policies at work is
going to lower our divorce rate," she allows, calling that a largely
untested idea and acknowledging that many other variables are involved.

Nonetheless, she is confident that "family-friendly" policies have
definitely proven effective in worker recruitment and retention. If
employers can help keep families together, too, that's all the better.

"Retention is going to be the biggest problem that employers are going to
have to face going into the new millennium," she predicts.

Belt, whose firm also offers job placement services, has found certain
desires increasingly common among job seekers.

"It's a tight job market," she says. "I am noticing more and more among
the people that come through my office, when people want to change jobs,
often the reason is because their job is not compatible with having a
personal life."

People are trying to get away from too many hours in their workweeks and
too much time on the road. The United States today has the longest
workweeks of any developed nation.

"I hear the same message every minute of every day," she says.

Personal problems inevitably distract workers and sap them of energy,
says Belt.

"How can we expect people to be productive when they're distracted? When
you hire somebody, you're hiring the whole person, if you think about it."

Many families today have started scheduling their family's busy lives
like a business, viewing soccer games and church services primarily as
appointments on a schedule, which makes it hard to ever relax. That's why
when Belt talks about family-friendly work policies, she is talking about
anything that reduces stress and anything that allows workers to spend
more time with their families.

An example is in-house day care centers, such as those offered at
Integris Baptist Medical Center. Keep in mind that parents are often
charged for every minute they are late in picking up their kids.

Some states have even taken the concept a step further by putting public
school classrooms, or "satellite learning centers," in large employment
sites. This emerging concept has been successfully implemented at the
Radisson Twin Towers Hotel in Orlando, the American Bankers Insurance
Group in Miami, and the corporate campus of Hewlett-Packard in Santa
Rosa, Calif., to name a few spots.

Other family-friendly policies include allowing workers time off to meet
family obligations, providing marriage counseling as a benefit, or
offering part-time or flex-time benefits.

Belt uses the example of her personal assistant who works from 8:15 a.m.
to 2:45 p.m. so she can be with her daughter the rest of the day. Another
part-timer fills in for the remainder of the day. This employee has
worked in some very attractive positions, but came to work for Belt so
that she could spend more time with her family.

"I have her because I'm willing to have her leave at 2:45 and be a mom,"
she says. "If employers can do more of that, that will reduce a lot of

Another family-friendly policy can be providing workers with educational
opportunities about how to solve serious personal problems.

For instance, the San Francisco-based Family Violence Prevention Fund is
trying to get employers nationwide to provide workers with education on
domestic violence awareness this month. For its part, Bell Atlantic
Mobile is sponsoring a workshop on how to help victims. Aetna has
developed an intranet site on the topic, while Levi Strauss is
distributing educational materials through its employee-assistance

Another key to balancing personal and professional lives comes not from
employers, but from individuals who are willing to admit their
limitations, says Belt.

It may not be possible for both parents to work full-time in demanding
careers. This means many capable women today drop out of the work force
for a while and re-enter as their kids grow older. But the woman does not
have to be the one who drops out.

For instance, in a recent Forbes magazine feature of the top 10 most
successful women in America, most had husbands in caregiver roles - or
weren't married at all.

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