In today’s consumer marketplace, people can customize and personalize just about anything they want, from clothing to ring tones. So why not careers?
That’s the premise behind the bestselling book “Mass Career Customization: Aligning the Workplace with Today’s Nontraditional Workforce,” written by Cathleen Benko, the vice chairman and chief talent officer at Deloitte and her colleague Anne Weisberg.
“The end of ‘traditional’ career paths patterns is upon us,” says Benko. “Today a career is no longer a straight climb up the corporate ladder but rather an undulating journey of climbs, lateral moves and planned descents. The proverbial corporate ladder is evolving, right before our eyes, into a corporate lattice.”
It was this belief that inspired her to create Deloitte’s Mass Career Customization program, a workplace version of the classic motto: Have it your way. The book provides a detailed analysis of what originally began as a pilot program at Deloitte five years ago to create a culture of flexibility and has since been rolled out to all employees, partners and principals of Deloitte’s U.S. and India-based personnel. In a time of high unemployment and widespread cost cutting, a large number of companies, both globally and domestically, are raising the bar in developing effective and flexible work/life benefits to attract, retain and promote talented employees.
Despite the recession, nearly 81 percent of U.S. employers are maintaining and 13 percent are increasing the flexibility they offer their employees, according to a Families and Work Institute study. And the most progressive companies, The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity, offer more benefits with more sustainable results.
In the past, flexible schedules most often were granted to new mothers and those with serious family concerns, such as a terminally ill relative. Today, however, progressive companies have broadened the scope of what constitutes grounds for flexibility. And companies that allow employees flexibility in balancing their personal and professional lives are often rewarded by more loyal and motivated workers.
Another study conducted by the Families and Work Institute found that 54 percent of employers with more than 1,000 employees allow parents extra time to return after birth or adoption. Forty-seven percent allow time off for important family needs, 44 percent for extended care-giving, and 20 percent allow paid time off for volunteering and community service. Those numbers are even higher for The 2010 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity, where 98 percent offer flexible hours, 96 percent offer telecommuting, 60 percent offer paternity leave, 62 percent offer alternative career tracks for employees with long-term family-care issues, and 82 percent offer paid time for volunteering and community service.
“It’s a fast-paced world,” says Theresa Torres, director of diversity and employee experience for Verizon Communications. “To help our employees maintain peak performance, we offer programs that help them balance the many demands of work and personal life.”
Companies that are flexible have a far greater ability to retain and promote employees, especially those from traditionally underrepresented groups who might be more vulnerable to leaving the workplace or turning down opportunities for advancement.
Ninety-two percent of the DiversityInc Top 50 offer job sharing, 90 percent offer lactation rooms and 52 percent offer onsite childcare. The Families and Work Institute study showed 31 percent of companies offer job sharing and 21 percent offer onsite childcare.
Filling Most Urgent Needs
Verizon’s Torres says employees are definitely taking advantage of these programs.
In 2009, employees contacted VZ-LIFE, the company’s employee-assistance program—which provides resources on parenting and childcare, adult care, health and wellness, moving and relocation and more—more than 1,100 times a month by telephone and logged on to the website 35,000 times a month, the company said.
And Verizon Wireless, a business group within Verizon Communications, provided employees with more than 40,000 hours in emergency backup care for its employees’ children—time that employees would have otherwise had to use as vacation, personal or sick days.
Verizon Wireless also offers a world-class initiative to promote healthy babies, affectionately known as the “$15 baby program.” Under this program, employees have a one-time co-pay of $15 at their first OBGYN visit, and the rest of the tab—everything—is on the company, Torres says. Expectant mothers get the $15 co-pay refunded if they enroll in their first trimester.
“From transitioning employees back to work gradually after childbirth to providing valuable resources to keep them healthy or find care for a child or loved one, Verizon knows the importance of striking the right balance,” Torres says. “In today’s competitive environment, we need our employees focused on delivering the best customer experience possible.”
Flexibility Is Key
A number of studies have highlighted the value of work/life benefits and flexible workplaces. Although these benefits have often focused on women, they increasingly are inclusive of men and consider other factors, especially age, race and ethnicity.
A survey on the Bookends Generations by Dr. Sylvia Ann Hewlett of the Center for Work-Life Policy found 87 percent of baby boomers and 89 percent of Gen Y said flex time was important to them and is a key motivating factor.
Deloitte’s MCC, as it is called for short, enables employees at Deloitte to “dial up or dial down” their careers to fit various stages of their lives and, essentially, redefine what it means to build a successful career, Benko says.
Just like mass-product customization increases brand loyalty by creating a strong connection between the consumer and the producer, mass career customization results in greater employee loyalty, Benko says.
It also reduces the costs of turnover and enables a company’s most valuable assets—its people—to accomplish the company’s important work and purpose as well as their own.
“The corporate lattice replaces the one-size-fits-all corporate-ladder model of career progression with a customized approach, allowing people to move in different directions to find interesting and satisfying roles, while integrating their work and life priorities over time,” she says.
Ultimately, MCC’s greatest benefit is the option value it creates, she says, “the psychic comfort of customizing one’s career as priorities change over time.”
Business Advantage for ALL Employees
Traditionally, work/life benefits were aimed at women. And since white women were the first beneficiaries of corporate affirmative-action policies, they also were the prime beneficiaries of corporate work/life policies.
But in recent years, companies have broadened their work/life benefits so they have cultural nuances that recognize familial and other challenges of Black, Latino, Asian and American Indian employees—and also the specific work/life needs of employees with disabilities and LGBT employees.
Indeed, the original reason Deloitte decided to tackle the issue of flexibility was to accelerate the retention and advancement of women in the firm, Benko says— lack of flexibility was the No. 1 reason women were leaving the workforce. But once the company began exploring the issue in depth, Deloitte discovered it was not just a women’s issue at all.
“There is a fundamental shift in the workforce and its composition,” she says. “There was a misalignment between expected norms of the workplace relative to the needs of the workforce.”
In fact, more men have reached a point where preserving or increasing their time is more appealing than bigger jobs and more money. According to a study by the Association of Executive Search Consultants, more than half of senior executives surveyed would strongly consider refusing a promotion if it meant fewer hours available for their personal lives.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 59 percent of Fortune 500 companies now offer domestic-partner healthcare benefits in the United States. Since offering same-sex domestic-partner benefits is a requirement to be considered for the DiversityInc Top 50, all of the companies on the list offer these benefits.
When it comes to other benefits that help LGBT people and their families, the DiversityInc Top 50 remains strong. All of the DiversityInc Top 50 have employee-resource groups for LGBT employees; 94 percent include gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies, and 84 percent offer adoption assistance, defined as both financial and supportive (educational/counseling) help for families adopting children.
The Families and Work Institute has compiled hundreds of examples of innovative work/life–balance benefits being offered by companies across the country in its Guide to Bold New Ideas for Making Work Work.
One of the featured companies is IBM, which was cited for its flexibility. Describing itself as “the world’s most forward-looking company,” IBM offers a number of work/life benefits, including part-time and compressed work weeks, job sharing, leaves of absence and the ability to work from home.
“On any given day, more than one-third of IBM’s employees worldwide are either telecommuting or working in a customer’s offices,” the report states.
“Providing employees with leading work/life programs and services—such as flexibility, time off and access to a broad array of resources—demonstrates our commitment to a diverse, multi-generational workforce, and an inclusive and supportive workplace,” says Wendy Breiterman, the director of Global Work/Life Strategies in Johnson & Johnson‘s Office of Global Diversity & Inclusion.
Johnson & Johnson also offers an exhaustive list of work/life benefits for its employees including onsite childcare, the ability to work at home and/or telecommute, adoption assistance, flexible hours and job sharing, and paternity leave. The company offers alternative career tracks for parents or other employees with long-term family-care issues as well as access to eldercare services, childcare discount programs and resources for parents raising special-needs children, access to teen driving resources and college counseling and educational services.
Employees may also request paid work, personal and family time off for planned and unplanned events including marriage, personal emergencies, eldercare, adoption, custody matters, childcare and even pet care.
“There’s compelling evidence that work/life programs and services drive recruitment, retention and engagement of diverse talent,” Breiterman says. “To me, it’s not only the right thing to do but it reflects a commitment to the pursuit of being an employer of choice.”