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From Foosball to Flextime: Dotcommers Are Growing Up

Who needs stock options if there’s on-site daycare? Old-economy companies and benefits are starting to look mighty appealing to battered dotcommers.

Let’s say that startup you joined manages to survive the latest round of carnage. The VCs smile and award another round of funding, partners embrace your company’s concept, users click merrily on the site. The foosball table is safe from the repo man. Is that enough to get you and your first-grader through school-vacation week later this month?

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Not likely, says Diane Lipton Denis, founder, president, and CEO of Lipton Corporate Child Care Centers Inc., based in Washington DC. Established, “grown-up” companies are miles ahead of startups and Web shops when it comes to benefits like on-site daycare and flextime for working parents, Denis says.

“I think companies have personalities and mature just as people do,” Denis says. “Tech companies today are where the blue-chip companies were six years ago. They don’t think they need child care and family friendly policies. When the startup frenzy began, tech companies installed ping-pong tables and game rooms to feed the creativity of their young employees. But those same companies haven’t managed to meet the needs of workers whose needs changed as they grew older.”

“Older, established companies were the first to recognize that employees wouldn’t remain 25 and childless forever. They realized that as workers begin to accumulate more responsibilities, flexibility and work-life considerations become more valuable than money and stock options. In fact, these considerations are priceless.”

For years, companies such as IBM and the Prudential Insurance Co. have been known as great places to work — especially for working parents. But given an especially tight labor market, those companies are now working even harder to make their environment more attractive, hoping to stop the rampant brain drain that has plagued them since the late 1990s.

“Work-family issues are no longer in the closet, and they’re no longer just about women,” Denis says, “If it were five years ago, I would be talking about problems facing women. Today, our backup child-care centers have just as many daddies coming in at lunch as mommies.”

Denis cites a recent survey from Simmons College: Ninety-three percent of professionals surveyed said that work-site child care was critical in considering a job change. These issues are no longer about being nice. They are real business decisions that drive real competition. In addition to putting companies in a competitive position in the current labor market, companies’ dedication to these issues will keep them ahead of the curve in the years to come.

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Blue Chips Winning Blue Ribbons

Sharman Stein is a senior editor at Working Mother and leads the magazine’s annual “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers” survey. Companies are rated on a scale of one to five in the following categories: child care, flexibility, leave for new parents, work-life benefits, and advancement of women. According to editor in chief Lisa Benenson, the level of competition in this year’s survey marks a very real transformation in the American workplace. “It’s not enough to have the policies in books,” says Stein. “The scales are weighted positively when these policies are useful and accessible, and when managers are rewarded for using them.

IBM ranks in the top five on this year’s list and has been on the list for the past 15 years. Stein attributes IBM’s longevity to constant innovation regarding policies and to a serious dedication to these issues. This year, the company established a $50 million fund solely to develop child-care facilities and work-life practices in its offices abroad. Big Blue has empowered top executives like Ted Childs, vice president of global workforce diversity at IBM, to ensure that resources and attention are given to work-life balance, gender equity, and diversity.

Another remarkably innovative behemoth is Fannie Mae, which also made this year’s top 10 and ranked among the “Best in Class” in the Working Mother study of child care and flexibility. “Fannie Mae offers employees who have been on board 90 days or more a $10,000 down payment on a home,” reports Stein, “If an employee stays five years, the company excuses the entire amount. It knows the value in home ownership and wants to extend that opportunity to its employees.” Add to that the flexibility to be good parent and the ability to construct your own job-sharing program, and Fannie Mae becomes far more attractive than any higher-paying tech company out there.

What It Takes to Win

Overall, Diane Lipton Denis and Sharman Stein agree that flexibility is the most valuable policy a company can adopt. Parents who can set their own hours and work at home when they need to are much happier and more productive at work.

“Flexibility benefits everyone — not just working parents,” says Stein. “Trusting your employees to do their work and giving them the encouragement, resources, and support to do it in a way that acknowledges their nonwork life produces better bottom-line results for your company — and far happier and more loyal employees. No question.”

“The tide is turning,” she says. “No one used to care about the ‘whole’ employee. Today, employers care out of fear. They are afraid for the future of their companies. They are afraid of losing good people, and they’re afraid of what will happen to our country as we begin to neglect the well-being of our children.”

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Contact Diane Lipton Denis via email (ceh@lccc.com).