Significant Attention Paid to Significant Others in Need

By Susan Ladika

Feb. 4, 2011

Whenever the economy tumbles, managers at Bon Secours Virginia Health System know some of their employees will be in for a rough time. While the health care industry typically weathers a downturn quite well, employees’ spouses who work in other fields often wind up unemployed.

At such times, Bon Secours is prepared to provide employees with flexible schedules to help meet their financial needs. A part-time worker might request full-time employment for a while or ask to increase part-time hours to qualify for benefits, says Jim Godwin, vice president of human resources.

Bon Secours has found that permitting employees to modify their schedules reduces their anxiety and stress. “They just work better because they’re not distracted as much” by financial worries and they don’t skip work to deal with personal problems, Godwin says. That’s especially important in a health care setting where patient care is paramount.

Smart employers are realizing that even if their workers still have jobs, the impact of an unemployed or underemployed spouse, partner or other family member can be profound. Possible problems include financial strain, marital strife, extreme stress, absenteeism, reduced productivity, and alcohol or drug abuse.

To help ease the pain, some employers provide special classes to assist the unemployed spouse in a job search, such as the Bon Secours workshop titled Putting the Pieces Together for employees’ family members. Other companies offer monetary grants or encourage use of their employee assistance programs.

“Many companies are very clearly aware that as the employee goes, so goes the company,” says Ian Shaffer, chief medical officer at Managed Health Network Inc., a San Rafael, California, company that offers employee assistance and other corporate wellness programs. “Anything they can do that will enhance the health and wellness of their employees comes back to them many fold over.”

Wanda Henderson, a part-time teacher’s assistant at the Bon Secours’ child care facility in Midlothian, Virginia, can attest to that. Her husband, Ricardo, lost his job of 22 years at a factory when it shut down two years ago. Since then, he has bounced around through a string of temporary jobs that seemed to be leading to full-time employment but never panned out in the end. “It was kind of depressing,” she says.

But rather than letting it drag her down, Henderson threw herself into her work to help keep busy. She also brought in additional pay, as well as benefits, by spending about six months working extra hours in the dietary department of Bon Secours. “We just had to do what we had to do to meet our needs at the end of the month,” she says. “We’re not people who sit around and collect unemployment.”

Her husband now has both a full-time and a part-time job, so Henderson has gone back to working 27 hours a week. “I was very grateful to the Bon Secours family” for those extra work hours, she says. “They’re very understanding if you get into a situation.”

At the Rock Bottom restaurant and brewery chain, the HOPE Fund, which stands for Helping Our People in Emergencies, makes small grants available to “any restaurant employee who has come upon hard times and it impacts their financial situation,” says Angie Leach, community relations manager for the company’s foundation. The funds for the foundation come from employee payroll deductions.

A recent grant went to a cook in one of the company’s Portland, Oregon, restaurants. His wife had been out of work for six months, and the couple couldn’t pay their rent or utilities. The employee had to fill out an application and submit backup documentation to apply for the funds.

His name was then deleted from the application, which was sent to a team of company employees who award the grants. “You could clearly see the poor guy was in a hard situation,” Leach says. He was awarded about $800.

The company has found that offering support in such situations helps boost productivity and foster employee retention. “An integral part of having a successful business is taking care of our own in times of crisis,” Leach says.

Workforce Management, January 2011, p. 6Subscribe Now!

Susan Ladika is a writer based in Tampa, Florida.

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