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Babies Deliver a Loyal Workforce

April 1, 2003
Related Topics: Work/Life Balance, Benefit Design and Communication, Featured Article, HR & Business Administration
Imagine that you run a nonprofit association with a tiny budget and yourworkers are clamoring for raises, big corporations with deep pockets are luringaway employees with salaries 50 percent higher than you can pay, and turnoverhas reached a staggering 30 percent. What to do?

    That was the situation six years ago at the National Association of InsuranceCommissioners, a Kansas City-based nonprofit group that supports the 50 stateinsurance commissioners. "I cannot tell you how hard it is to run anassociation that provides technical assistance to all 50 states in the areas ofinformation systems and insurance when you have a significant turnover problem,"CEO Cathy Weatherford says. "We could not compete on dollars. So we decided tolook at ways to provide a high-quality workplace and have happier employees."

    The organization began rolling out a host of inexpensive benefits that offerits 419 workers more flexibility and a better quality of life. The mostinnovative benefit is the "infants in the workplace" program, which allowsemployees to bring babies up to the age of six months to their offices.

    The association’s insurance carriers and lawyers helped devise a liabilityrelease, which parents are asked to sign. Parents must also have an infant-careplan and designate a coworker to serve as an alternate-care provider for thetimes when a mom or dad is in a meeting. Changing tables were installed in allrestrooms, and a quiet room with soft lights, crib, and rocking chair isavailable for parents who need to retreat with a fussy baby. A grievanceprocedure provides recourse for other employees in case a particular situationgets out of hand. Weatherford says, however, that no one has ever used theprocedure.

    "Over the past five years, 33 infants have gone through the program, somefor the entire six months, others just until the parents can make other day-carearrangements. All but one of the parents are still with our organization,"Weatherford says. "The program creates immense loyalty because parents feelthey can maintain their career and still bond with their infant."

    Although the majority of the program’s participants have been moms, twodads and one married couple--both association employees--also haveparticipated, says association COO Judy Lee.

    And far from being a workplace distraction, babies actually have proved to bea stress reliever. "You spend a little baby time and the stress goes right outof you," Lee says.

    The program garnered national attention, and the association has providedcopies of it to state insurance departments and companies nationwide.

    The association’s "no layoff" policy is also important for developing adevoted workforce, as are an array of quality-of-life offerings, including afour-day compressed workweek, flextime, telecommuting, and job sharing. Otherinnovative benefits include a zero-interest computer-purchase assistance programthat provides employees with funds to buy a home PC; a sick-leave "pool"that enables employees to donate unused sick days to a colleague with a seriousillness, and one day off a year to participate in community-service projectssuch as Habitat for Humanity.

    In the six years since the association began implementing the quality-of-lifeprograms, turnover has plummeted to 7 percent. "A lot of people who left us togo to a private employer, enticed by a hefty increase in salary, have comeknocking on our door, wanting their jobs back," Weatherford says. "Money isnot the only motivator."

Workforce, April 2003, p52. -- Subscribe Now!

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