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Appendix A: Overcoming Common Objections to Work and Family Programs

There is no need for an eldercare program

Demographic trends show that Americans are living longer and that more people have surviving older relatives for whom to provide care. In addition, 80 to 90 percent of the care that elderly persons receive comes from their families; studies estimate that 55 percent of those caregivers are also employed. One study projects that as many as 40 percent of the American work force will assume some eldercare responsibilities within the next 5 years.

Conduct a survey of the work force to determine the extent to which eldercare is a problem for your members (seeAppendix B). If you have not already done so, you may want to include child care needs. Contact the Women's Rights Department for a child care survey.

We can't set up work and family programs because only a small group of employees will benefit from them

The equity issue is often raised by employers and sometimes by union members as well. Employers may claim that it is unfair to provide benefits that can only be used by some employees. Occasionally, employees who do not have any family responsibilities at the time may resent special programs for employees who do have these responsibilities. Good communication is the key to eliminating this issue.

For example, eldercare is not just a benefit for a few people. As shown above, almost half the work force will have eldercare responsibilities. Also, many existing benefits are not used by everyone equally, e.g., health insurance and disability plans.

More importantly, union strength has always been based on the idea that by working together members can best help each other. So while some members may not need eldercare services now, they may need them later or they may need some other benefit which will call for the support of the entire membership.

The goal is to design a comprehensive work/family package, including a combination of options, so that it helps as many members as possible. A comprehensive program also would cover employers with a decentralized workplace.

Work/family programs cost too much

In fact, the cost of work/family programs varies a great deal, depending on the types you choose. Alternative work schedules, for example, may not cost the employer anything. Rather, these changes would benefit both the employer and the employee. The employer can be assured of having a work force that is at work, on time. For the employee, having more flexibility to handle both work and family responsibilities, results in increased morale and productivity.

In addition, some programs, such as Dependent Care Assistance Programs (DCAPs), may have some initial set-up costs, but once established administratively, cost little to maintain. Moreover, DCAPs actually save the employer money.

Document the benefits to the employer. Even for programs that cost, the benefits to the employer for implementing such programs may far outweigh the costs. Studies conducted by employers with work and family programs reveal that these programs result in reduced turnover, increased retention, decreased absenteeism, lower training expenses, higher morale and increased productivity and loyalty from employees.

Caregiving responsibilities aren't affecting productivity

A recent study by the National Alliance for Caregivers estimated that each employee who is involved in hands-on caregiving costs an employer more than $3,000 a year in absences, work interruptions, added supervisory workload, medical and replacement costs. In the study, researchers used the actual work force demographics of an unnamed industrial manufacturer with nearly 87,000 employees.

Applying a very conservative estimate that only 2 percent of the work force would be involved in intensive hands-on caregiving, they concluded that such activities would cost the company about $5.5 million a year.

We've set up work and family programs, but almost no one seems to use them

Work/family programs cannot be measured by how often employees use them because employees' needs will ebb and flow. Also, the employer may not be aware of how valuable these services are to employees who do use them.

In fact, these programs may have a hidden benefit to the employer (e.g., employees, even those who haven't used the benefits yet, decide to stay with the employer because these programs exist). It is also good for the employer's image in the community to sponsor work/family programs.

If the employer or the union continues to be concerned about low usage rates, be sure new employees receive information about the programs and periodically remind current employees so that when they do need help, they will know what's available. Also, conduct ongoing evaluations of the programs to ensure that employee's needs are still being met. There may be a need to modify or expand your programs. 

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