There's hope for balancing work, home


Published: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 12:33 a.m.
The national mood on work-life issues is among the grimmest I've seen in 15 years writing this column. In poll after poll, most executives and employees report discontent with their work-life balance.
But three trends now gaining momentum hold the potential for positive change. While these developments aren't universal and will benefit mainly highly skilled workers, they hold the promise of a little more control over when and where you work - and some new tools to watch over loved ones while you do.
  • This might be the year to ask for more job flexibility.
    Employers are worried about attracting skilled young workers, for whom control over their time is a powerful draw. After 13 years of helping workers set up alternative work arrangements, Pat Katepoo, owner of www.workoptions.com, says managers are ''recognizing they need to embrace'' flexibility.
    What's hot is informal flexibility that allows employees to alter their hours or to work at home on a more casual basis. What's not: Rigid policies for specific flexible setups such as job-sharing or part-time work that are seldom used and damage the careers of those who do.
    Some work teams at Dell Inc. are eliminating firm office hours and handing employees control over when and how they achieve goals. Bank of America recently started a telecommuting program at two sites and plans to expand it. PNC Financial, Pittsburgh, is expanding a new-manager training program ''debunking the myths around flexibility,'' such as the notion that employees who want alternative setups are slackers, says Kathy D'Appolonia, a senior vice president.
    It took Tammy Armistead, a Mequon, Wis., business analyst, just two weeks to get her bosses' approval to work a compressed four-day workweek; she uses the time to travel with her husband, a crew chief for a race-car team.
  • Overseeing Mom or Dad from afar will get easier.
    Two vendors are about to begin marketing in-home electronic monitoring systems to consumers. The systems track a resident's movements through wireless sensors mounted on walls, switches, doors, medicine cabinets or appliances, and alert 24-hour emergency-response workers of irregular activity patterns. Caregivers can monitor the systems via the Internet or request notification of irregularities via email, phone calls or text messages.
    Living Independently Group, New York, plans this month to start targeting working caregivers with cable-TV ads for its QuietCare system, says George Boyajian, executive vice president. The system will be priced at $199 to install and $79.95 a month thereafter. Lusora, Austin, Texas, also expects in the first quarter to start marketing its ''Lisa'' personal-security system, for $249 to install plus $50 a month, says COO Scott Gurley.
    Marguerite McCullough, 67, who lives alone in a Florida retirement community, had QuietCare installed. The system, which is set to alert her four children or a neighbor of any problems, ''does give you peace of mind,'' she says.
  • More employers are bowing to workers' desire to live and work where they want.
    Hard-pressed to recruit underwriters to its Hartford, Conn., headquarters city, Phoenix Cos. offered to let candidates work at home, says Senior Vice President Bonnie Malley. It has since hired five underwriters who telecommute and plans to expand its work-at-home outreach.
    Safeway used to require managers and trainees to transfer often to any location. Now, a new policy allows transfers within smaller regional groups of stores. The policy broadens its pool of recruits, a spokesman says.
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