Giant_ChartSmart companies are coming up with bold ideas to keep employees engaged, while offering them ways to facilitate career and lifestyle changes

“The 2009 Guide to Bold New Ideas for Making Work Work”, published by the Families and Work Institute (FWI),  reveals that even in the midst of a turbulent economy, best employers are creating imaginative workplace approaches for improving the work environment and for helping employees navigate the shifting demands of their work and personal lives. They are offering assistance, for example, on how to manage job stress and overwork, welcome a new baby, or cope when a spouse loses a job. What is key (and perhaps surprising) is that these strategies help these companies achieve business results and respond to fluctuations in the economy. They help companies create effective and flexible workplaces, where work "works" for both the employer and employees.



Challenges stimulate creativity. Many of the best employers profiled in the above mentioned 2009 guide view their initiatives to create effective and flexible workplaces as tools to manage through the recession. Here is a brief summary of the best practices that wining companies are developing


1.Flexibility. Best employers are using schedule flexibility to deal with the recession in constructive ways: avoiding layoffs through voluntary reduced hours; allowing employees to work at home one or two days a week to save on commuting costs; allowing employees greater scheduling flexibility if their spouses have lost a job or seen their hours reduced and the family needs to make changes; and reassigning responsibilities when no hiring is possible.


2.Financial assistance. Employers are providing direct financial assistance to their own employees. For example, some companies created an one-time financial assistance to employees in a financial crisis, other companies  developed a comprehensive economic relief package that includes financial education, seminars for employees' unemployed family members, an employee crisis fund providing monetary assistance to employees in financial trouble, the ability to trade time off for cash, a housing assistance program, discounts at many area businesses, and various college tuition assistance plans for employees and their families.


3.Continuing Education. Some best employers are offering educational programs that range from financial literacy initiatives to calculators for helping employees manage their money. Topics covered in seminars include assistance with budgeting, saving for children's college education; saving for retirement, financing housing loans, and reviewing choices that affect tax rates. Even others are working with community groups to screen employees for publicly funded benefits and supports helping to put more money in the pockets of their low- to mid-wage employees.


3. Social Networking. New initiatives in flexibility also draw on social networking techniques and help employees help each other. For example a company has created a shared leave program. Employees with serious illnesses or other emergencies can receive up to 12 weeks of additional paid personal leave from other employees who donate their unused time off. The company reports that fully 100% of needs for donated time are met by the employees, usually within minutes of an employee making an anonymous request.


4.Focus on health and wellness. Given the increasing stress of the recession and spiraling health-care costs, leading employers want to promote prevention and wellness. What's interesting is how they are using the notion of "employees helping employees," often assisted by screenings, healthy lifestyle programs, and "coaches." For example, Rice University in Houston has an on-campus subsidized Weight Watchers program open to its 2,700 employees. Collectively, employees have lost more than 2,000 pounds. They also have access to lifestyle screenings and yoga classes, and they can shop for healthy foods at a weekly farmers' market on the campus.


These efforts have paid off by increasing people’s commitment and organizational productivity. By promoting considerable career flexibility and encouraging employees to develop and grow in the company, whatever the changes in their personal and family lives, these companies are developing innovative approaches for improving workplace environment. It would serves both as an inspiration for what is possible and as a practical resource for how to get there.