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4/24/2003

Family friendly

By Pam Mellskog,
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Blowing bubbles may not solve the separation anxiety that working parents feel when they drop their children off at day care. But it’s one more thing StorageTek does to calm children and send parents to the office with peace of mind.

According to Erin Brownfield, spokeswoman for the Family and Work Institute in New York City, this corporate amenity can work wonders in creating a family-friendly culture that inspires both productivity and loyalty.

“Pay and fringe benefits are important,” she said. “But one of the most important factors is the employee’s feeling that their company supports their family and personal needs.”

Before the early 1980s — when the number of women returning to work within a year of giving birth topped 50 percent — child care was a largely invisible issue, Brownfield said. Today, however, some credit child-care benefits as a significant factor in minimizing absenteeism, boosting morale and, ultimately, enhancing productivity.

To this end, StorageTek offers Cadillac child-care benefits relative to other area employers. Besides opening a competitively priced on-site day-care center in 1992, the company has developed family-friendly policies that include subsidizing adoptions.

Last June, StorageTek field marketing staffer Kathy Wegner, 50, spent nearly three weeks in China adopting her baby, Ellie.

Besides shouldering some of the financial burden of the costly process, she said, StorageTek gave her the flexibility to borrow paid vacation days from the upcoming year.

“The more my manager says to me, ‘Your child is No. 1,’ the harder I work here,” she said.

Brian Gaerity, StorageTek’s director of advertising and marketing communications, said enrolling his two preschool-age sons in the StorageTek Kids day care was not a de facto decision.

But the 7,000-square-foot area within the company’s 42,000-square-foot wellness center struck him as one with creative programming in a safe area.

“We did a lot of due diligence in looking around at other day cares,” he said. “It wasn’t just about convenience.”

However, all things being equal, it was convenience that closed the door on other commercially run day-care centers for StorageTek public relations manager Robin Raulf-Sager, 33.

It’s all about face time, she said. With her 16-month-old son Colin’s classroom less than five minutes from her desk, stopping by during breaks is no big deal.

The proximity also takes some stress out of the often teary stopping point between home and work, according to StorageTek Kids day-care provider Phyllis Suttle, 50.

“They didn’t talk to you much,” Suttle said of parents she met while working at another local commercial day-care center. “It was just, ‘Here is my kid. See you later.’”

But many StorageTek parents share how their child’s day has gone thus far in the morning, and they ask about how it went during the day, she said.

While no other major employer has committed so much toward its child-

care benefit, most — including the city of Longmont — have the minimum pre-tax flexible child-care spending plan in place.

Others such as IBM and Maxtor have added the next level of low- or no-cost child-care by providing online resource and referral services.

Longmont United Hospital spends more than $30,000 annually for this type of service, called Work-Life Options, with a few extra perks.

They include discounted child care and highly subsidized emergency child care, according to Michael Weerts, director of human resources.

Seagate subscribes to an Internet resource referral service called LifeBalance, in addition to providing free confidential counseling on becoming a parent, returning to work, selecting day care and schools, arranging for a child’s special needs or untraditional testing needs, and even planning for that child’s college education.

“Until you’re in a position where you’re working and you have a child, you have no idea of the stress,” Raulf-Sager said.

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 224.