sealPurdue News

August 1999

Work-life programs good for business

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Record low unemployment is fueling a business trend to help employees balance home and work responsibilities, says a Purdue University work-life expert.

Download Photo Here
Photo caption below
U.S. companies are offering creative services from on-site dry cleaning to cafeteria take-home meals to help boost employee job satisfaction and overall wellness, says David Thompson, WorkLife program coordinator at Purdue.

Thompson says business has learned that a people-friendly and family-friendly workplace can reduce turnover costs, reduce employee stress and be a strategic weapon in recruiting and retention.

"Programs that address employee wellness and employee needs outside of work can help curb absenteeism and create employee loyalty," he says. "And that's a competitive edge when employers are trying to recruit and retain today's changing work force."

Shelley MacDermid, associate professor of child development and family studies, director of the Center for Families at Purdue, and director of the Midwestern Work-Family Association, says that today's workers value the opportunity to better balance work and home life.

"It's so important, in fact, that the 1992 National Study of a Changing Work Force found that as much as a third of those surveyed were willing to give up pay or benefits in return for help with dependent care," MacDermid says.

One company that offers work-life programs is worldwide pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly and Co., listed among the top 10 family-friendly companies by Working Mother magazine in 1996 and 1998.

Candice Lange, director of Lilly's work force partnering initiative, says helping employees balance work and home is as important to their job performance as providing desks and lighted workspaces.

"A survey of our employees indicated that only 18 percent are in a traditional family situation with one person working and one person taking care of business at home," she says. "So for Lilly, helping to meet those personal needs is crucial to a successful, productive workplace where the employee can stay focused and has a sense of satisfaction."

In addition to standard benefits, Lilly has created a family-friendly workplace at its Indianapolis headquarters by providing services such as on-site child care, dry-cleaning and shoe repair, a credit union, and a cafeteria that will prepare take-home meals for the time-crunched employee.

Thompson points out that comprehensive programs such as Lilly's are growing in corporate popularity as a competitive edge.

"Twenty-five years ago, everyone wanted to work for universities because of the outstanding benefits," he says. "Then, it was almost unheard of in the corporate world to offer programs like continuing education or child-care assistance. Now, driven by competition and the bottom line, the private sector has caught on and is even trying some new ideas of its own."

Thompson says a good work-life program in any type of organization can help cut employee turnover costs and trim health-care claims. Reduced turnover has a big impact on the bottom line, he says.

"For instance, at Purdue, interviewing, hiring and training a new nonfaculty professional person can cost the university up to one-and-a-half times the salary slotted for that position," Thompson says. "And it can cost up to seventy-five percent to replace clerical staff members. So keeping a lid on turnover saves money."

In addition, due, in part, to campuswide wellness programs over the past few years, Purdue has had fewer health-care claims, resulting in stable health-care premiums and even credits and rebates into some employees' health-care and flexible spending accounts.

The work-life programs at Purdue include wellness screenings and health promotion, enhanced child-care and elder-care referrals, a series of free employee workshops on topics such as stress management, career development and creativity, and flexible work options such as job-sharing and flex-time.

Sources: David Thompson, (765) 496-2861;

Shelley MacDermid, (765) 494-6026;

Candice Lange, (317) 276-1030

Writer: Kate Walker, (765) 494-2073;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,


Marcy Garriott, a wellness specialist at Purdue, uses a ball to teach employees (seated front to back) Patti Cauble, Kay Solomon, Marta Lah and Cathy Sleeth how to "throw away" their stress. The exercise is part of a stress management workshop offered by the Purdue WorkLife Program. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)

Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Thompson/worklife

Download Photo Here

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page