'It Makes Devastating Moments in Life Easier.'

An employee shares her experience of using Marriott's employee assistance program.

March 1, 1999
When she thinks back on her childhood, Priscilla Johnson can’t remember her dad ever being sick—not even with a cold. He was the strong, independent kind, living on his own after his wife died. So the vice president of diversity never dreamed she’d one day be her father’s caretaker. He was diagnosed with cancer in 1996, and Johnson found herself in unfamiliar territory. Single and childless, Johnson had never taken care of anyone. "I had no idea what to do," she says. Fortunately for Johnson, her employer, Washington, D.C.-based Marriott International Inc., had resources to help her through these times.

Elder-care resources aid in work/life balance.
Marriott’s dedication to addressing family concerns in the workplace began in 1989 with the creation of its Department of Work and Family Life and the launching of a nationwide survey to document workers’ needs. Key results indicated that work and family issues had a strong impact on Marriott’s workforce. Among the survey’s conclusions: Elder-care issues are growing in importance.

Based on the results of the survey, Marriott implemented numerous programs, one of which was the Marriott Associate Resource Line, which provides confidential counseling through a one-stop resource that can address a wide range of personal issues. Marriott piloted the line in three cities in 1995, and the greater than anticipated outcomes resulted in a national rollout. Today, the toll-free resource is available in more than 150 languages to all Marriott associates. Says Donna Klein, vice president, workforce effectiveness: "Our objective was to help employees manage their personal lives. To provide those services in a centralized way makes most sense."

Information precedes action.
It’s the resource line that got Johnson through her ordeal. After explaining her situation to the social workers who staff the line, she received brochures that provided advice on how to deal with the hospital, including what types of questions to ask about her father’s treatments. She also received information on how to maximize her father’s medical benefits. He had been a teacher and had personal health insurance, but the information Johnson received explained that he also was eligible for Medicaid, and helped her ensure he got what he was entitled to. "It was a godsend," says Johnson. "It makes devastating moments in life easier."

Not that it was easy. Johnson’s father went through some critical periods when he was being treated with chemotherapy. Despite the fact that Johnson’s job requires her to travel 80 percent of the time, she managed to check on her father as much as possible, drive him to the hospital for treatments and provide him his meals. "If I had to run over to the house during the day or leave early, it was never a problem," she says. "The company was very accommodating."

After her father passed away, Johnson again called the resource line. "He had been in denial," she says of his neglecting his personal affairs. Johnson received information regarding probate, attorneys and other issues, as well as brochures on dealing with the grieving process. And all along, the social workers she talked with called her periodically to answer her questions and give her guidance.

Today, Johnson continually reminds others of the program. When Johnson’s secretary’s mom took a fall, Johnson called the resource line for her. The social workers sent resources to her secretary’s home via overnight mail. And when one of her friends in a similar high-level position had to move her critically ill mother in with her and hire a nurse, Johnson encouraged her to call the resource line.

Says Johnson: "So many managers think it’s just for those who don’t have the financial means to go to other resources. But when you have these situations, you need help, regardless of your financial situation. It’s a real blessing to be able to assess a variety of information with one phone call."

Workforce, March 1999, Vol. 78, No. 3, p. 112.