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1991 Quality of Life Optimas Award ProfileBRMarriott Corp

October 1, 1991
Little two-year-old Rachel Kane toddles down the hallway of Marriott Corp.'s main building, her blonde curly hair twirling as she picks up speed. A strange and wonderful entourage accompanies her: other toddlers in colorful cotton overalls and day care teachers pushing small children in strollers. Laughing, babbling and chattering away, these little people regularly tour the halls of the company offices on their way from the 5,600-square-foot on-site child development center to the playground.

Later, Rachel's mom, Jane, a Marriott administrator, will visit her for lunch. They'll dine at pint-size tables and chairs amid preschool artwork, brightly colored toys and wooden cubbyholes that overflow with sweaters and stuffed animals (helpmates for children's naptime). Her mom will peek in through the window or grab a quick hug if work permits. At other times during the day, the children may visit offices upon request, often from departments that don't even have children in the center.

The child development center is only one small component of Bethesda, Maryland-based Marriott's extensive array of programs that are a part of its Department of Work and Family Life. Started in 1989, the department is illustrative of the company's determination to address family concerns in the workplace and to increase the quality of life of employees and their children, such as Jane and Rachel.

"It's made me feel much better about my job," says Jane Kane. "My job is extremely stressful, and if I hadn't had the chance to have Rachel here, I would have felt more split. I want to be with her, but I also have a responsibility here at my work."

For its efforts, Marriott has been recognized as one of PERSONNEL JOURNAL's 1991 Optimas Award winners. The award is given annually to companies that display excellence in human resources management in one of 10 categories, which range from managing change to global outlook. Marriott is the winner in the Quality of Life category.

Marriott is one of the country's largest employers. It's also representative of many of the elements of Workforce 2000. Of its 206,000 employees, more than half are women, a large percentage work part time and one-third have children younger than 12 years old. Most of Marriott's labor market comes from major metropolitan areas in which the company is experiencing the kind of competition inherent in that type of labor market.

In addition, Marriott had some anecdotal information that its employees were having difficulty satisfying both aspects of their lives: meeting both work and home requirements.

"We were experiencing some turnover and lowered productivity in response to some of those issues," explains Donna M. Klein, Marriott's director of work and family life. "For example, we experienced summertime resignations, presumably because parents didn't have summer care for their kids. It seemed prudent to examine the issue in a formal way."

As a result, the company undertook a massive nationwide survey to document the need and exactly what people were experiencing. It targeted 1,600 employees—two-thirds wage, one-third management—in five major metropolitan areas: Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles.

Key results indicated that work and family issues were strongly impacting Marriott's workforce. The company also discovered data that hadn't been captured before: the average number of children, the percentage who have dependents under age 12 (35%); and the percentage who have children under age five (15%). The survey also found how much work time the employees had missed because of child care issues, how much they paid for child care, and what kind of care they preferred.

Marriott executives found that the average associate with children younger than 12 is absent four days per year and tardy five days because of child-related issues. Within a one-year period, nearly 33% of employees who have young children take at least two days off because they couldn't find a replacement when their current child care plans broke down. Twenty percent of corporate and field workers left a previous employer because of work and family concerns. Fourteen percent had dual-dependency concerns: elder and child care.

Some of the survey's conclusions included:

  • Personal life demands directly affect job performance
  • Time is the critical issue to balancing work and family
  • Male and female employees reported in equal numbers the difficulties of managing work and family roles
  • Problems with child care arrangements increase the employees' level of stress and limit ability to work certain schedules or overtime
  • Elder care issues are growing in importance
  • A manager supportive of personal concerns is central to a good work situation.

To address these issues, the company developed a three-year work and family life strategic plan. It consists of several core programs with the idea that the department would design and implement division-specific programs after the core programs were in place.

For example, to the question about searching and finding child care—58% responded that they would like the corporation to assist them in locating it. Marriott designed a companywide child care resource and referral program.

The company developed a corporate discount program because the survey results indicated to what extent child care costs were a financial burden to employees. A family care spending account, The Balance, a quarterly newsletter, and a parenting seminar series also were created.

In response to the request to flexible schedules, the strategic plan includes a commitment to analyze alternative work schedules. (The company already allows some flex time and some telecommuting at corporate headquarters.) The goal was to have the core corporatewide programs in place completely after two years.

Resource and Referral:
Marriott's core program, Child Care Choices, provides parents with professional help in locating affordable child care. Available nationwide, the resource has had tremendous success, especially for its hard-to-help employees. In addition, 40% of the employees using the service needed evening and weekend care. A whopping 80% of those needs have been satisfied. (Services are available in English and Spanish.)

Child Care Discount Program:
The company has agreements with 42 national, regional and local child care centers that offer a 10% discount or waive registration fees for Marriott employees. Some of the centers provide 24-hour care.

Family Care Spending Account:
This component authorizes weekly payroll deductions to pay for child care or elder day care, or for care of disabled dependents. It uses tax-free dollars, thus lowering the employee's taxable income.

Elder Care:
This program offers seminars and newsletter articles about the aging of America and the concerns of caregivers.

Work and Family Seminars:
Employees at corporate headquarters can participate in lunchtime seminars. These are available on videocassette to all Marriott locations.

The Balance:
This work and family life newsletter presents information on dependent care issues, provides new program information and is a place where creative problem-solving takes shape. In addition to information, Marriott employees share some of the steps they have taken to balance responsibilities at home and at work. The newsletter is available quarterly to all Marriott employees.

Child Development Center:
Currently available only at company headquarters (on a lottery basis), it's a dream come true for the parents of 46 infants, toddlers and preschoolers enrolled there. (It has room for 60.) Parents can visit their children periodically, have lunch with them and even watch them take their first steps.

The center opened in October 1990, and operates from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, with the goal of partially addressing the severe lack of available infant and toddler care. The center has one teacher for every three infants (there are six infants in each suite) and one teacher for every four school-age children.

The center is a showcase for what's possible. Children are separated by age—the four infants' rooms are adjoined by child-sized lavatories and sinks; likewise, preschoolers have their own areas. Rooms are off a hallway with glass windows for observation so parents and others can watch unobtrusively.

The activities and curricula are developmentally appropriate, and the center offers occasional-care capability, which allows parents to use the center on a first-come, first-serve basis if their own child care situation temporarily breaks down.

Klein says she's pursuing center accreditation from the National Association for the Education of the Young Child—simply because it adds credibility and attests to the highest standards of child care. "We want to do the best job we can. We're after the best center we can possibly have," she says.

With these core programs well on their way, Klein and her staff are pursuing additional programs. Currently, they're developing line supervisory training in work and family. They've created a three- hour pilot training module on work and family issues that is incorporated into the entry-level management training, which generally is a week-long course.

The module examines the Marriott workforce, the national workforce and how they compare. It discusses the kinds of issues the corporation has to face in terms of maximizing the workforce. Through a case-study approach, it presents the impact work and family issues have, and what kind of resources exist in community and the organization to help the employee.

Says Klein, "We're sending a lot of messages. One key message is that this is indeed a legitimate business issue. Traditionally, we've trained managers to believe that family issues really aren't legitimate for discussion in the workplace. We've trained them not to ask questions about personal or family matters.

"We have to go back now and change the frame of mind with which managers approach employees in terms of dealing with these issues. That's the purpose of the education pieces—the newsletters, brochures and training. This is a major cultural change."

Personnel Journal, October 1991, Vol. 70, No. 10, pp.40-42.