The Balance Workers Want

By Jessica Marquez

Dec. 20, 2007

Abbott Laboratories has long prided itself for being innovative with work/life programs for its 33,000-plus U.S. employees—from its $10 million state-of-the-art child care center at its headquarters outside of Chicago to its extensive flextime initiative. And the medical technology giant is constantly looking for new ways to attract and retain talent, says Lesli Marasco, director of work/life solutions. Marasco recently spoke to Workforce Management New York bureau chief Jessica Marquez about Abbott’s plans.

Workforce Management: What are some of the newer programs that Abbott has introduced to its employees?

Lesli Marasco: The programs we provide span all generations. We try to think about what employees need and what is distracting them from their work. So it’s not just about offering day care. For example, we offer a program for “tween” kids—between sixth and ninth grade—who are too old for camp but too young for work, where they can do community service like visiting animal shelters and nursing homes.
We also offer coaching support to baby boomers who are taking their kids on college visits and going through that whole process. Many of these workers are also dealing with elder care issues, so we provide free access to experts to help them find care and deal with the stress and guilt that come with supporting older parents. Over the past year we have seen an 85 percent increase in employees accessing elder care services.

WM: How do you come up with the ideas for new programs?

Marasco: We survey employees. A few years ago, we did a survey on child care and found that employees were having a hard time finding quality child care. That led to the building of our child care center as well as providing training to outside day care providers.
We also do a lot of targeted surveys. For example, we did one recently at our Worcester, Massachusetts, office and found that they were also having trouble finding care for parents and kids. So we developed a backup care program by which employees can get $50 a day up to six days if their home care falls through.

WM: How does Abbott measure how these programs affect its bottom line?

Marasco: Our CEO, Miles White, always is saying that it’s employees leaving that costs money, not offering work/life programs. We get returns every day in terms of employee loyalty and productivity. Our turnover is 7 percent, which is almost unheard of.

WM: But is there accountability around the costs of these programs?

Marasco: The reality is that there isn’t too much cost associated with a lot of these programs. Flexibility is probably something that any company can do that has the most impact and gains.

WM: How do you get manager buy-in?

Marasco: It comes from the top, but we also have a lot of resources and tools for both employees and managers to help them understand how these programs are effective. For example, we have a part-time network of employees and we encourage employees and managers to have conversations about how the programs are going and to check in with each other at certain intervals—like three months, six months and a year. That has helped build a lot of success.

Workforce Management, October 22, 2007, p. 8Subscribe Now!

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