Metro Detroit employers offer family-friendly policies to attract millennial workers

It’s not rocket science. When employees can successfully balance the competing responsibilities of work and family, all parties benefit. In other words, happy people make happy employees.

So why are family friendly work environments still relatively rare?

Family-friendly policies are workplace benefits that make it easier for employees to fulfill family and work obligations. They can include things like on-site daycare, flextime, job sharing, a temporary or permanent switch to part-time hours, the option to work from home, family-oriented events, elder care, on-site health and fitness facilities, or paid leave to care for a new baby, adopted child or elderly or disabled relative, according to the Workgroup for Community Health and Development

at the University of Kansas.

As women have increased their participation in the workforce, family dynamics have shifted. Often, childcare responsibilities are shared by both parents, yet American employers have been slow to adopt policies to address work/life balance, according to to the U.S. Government’s 2015 Economic Report of the President.

“Things don’t look that great for parents,” says Jenna Filipkowski, Ph.D., director of research at the Human Capital Institute, a Cincinnati-based strategic talent management organization. Her update to 2013 research on The Family Friendly Workplace surveyed nearly 300 U.S. organizations to discover how they support working parents, before, during and after leave.

“The majority of workplaces, 56 percent, do not offer any paid maternity leave for birth, and 60 percent do not offer paid paternity leave,” Filipkowski says, noting that employees are taking fewer weeks than are available, averaging 10.5 weeks off, with only 2.5 of those weeks paid at full salary. “That leaves a gap of eight weeks with no income coming in. To compensate, employees use a patchwork of savings, supplemental disability or they just don’t take time off.”

What’s worse, fewer than 10 percent of respondents said they planned to offer paid leave within the next two to three years. “So it’s not going to be the reality any time soon,” Filipkowski says.

Nine of ten millennials, now the largest generational workforce group, want flexible work arrangements, wellness programs and childcare support built into their benefits packages, according to 2016 research by Troy-based Kelly Services. They are even willing to exchange increased flexibility for pay, In this age group, 70 percent of women and 67 percent of men valued work/life balance, and both say they would sacrifice some career advancement to get it.

So employers that shun family forward policies may be missing out as millennials advance in the workforce.

“Organizations that offer lots of benefits and policies and foster a culture that is supportive of using these benefits have markedly better talent outcomes,” says Filipkowski. “They experience more employees returning to work after leave; they have higher revenue growth and more employee engagement.”

In Metro Detroit, there are several private and public sector employers implementing innovative policies to attract and retain quality staff and help employees achieve a satisfying work/life balance. We talked with a few, and here’s what we learned.

City of Ferndale

In January, the City of Ferndale began offering 12 weeks paid leave for eligible full-time employees welcoming new babies or adopting children. The city pays full salary for the first six weeks, and then matches an employee’s banked vacation and sick days up to an additional six weeks, according to City Manager April Lynch.

She believes Ferndale is the first public sector employer in Michigan to offer this level of paid leave. Over the next few years, the city expects two to four babies to be born or adopted each year among its 140 full-time employees.

Councilwoman and Mayor Pro Tem Melanie Piana worked with Lynch and human resources director Jenny Campos to research and implement the policy, which focuses on recruitment and retention.

“The best way to steer taxpayer dollars is to provide the best talent. We took a holistic view of this policy to make sure our citizens and residents knew this wasn’t going to be burdensome on taxpayers,” says Piana. “The feedback from residents has been supportive. They are proud we have led in this way.”

The policy feeds into Ferndale’s focus on employee growth and development, says Lynch. By cross-training staff, the city can cover the work of those on leave and provide better customer service, too.

“Now people won’t have to wait until that one person comes back from a break to answer their question. We can all answer the question,” says Lynch.

In addition to paid parental leave, Ferndale offers flexible work hours where it makes sense. City Hall is closed on Fridays to the public, and employees can work longer weekdays, giving city hall employees a three-day weekend on alternate weeks.

Ferndale has also partnered with Royal Oak and Madison Heights to offer the MiLife Health & Wellness Center to employees with city health benefits. Located in the Madison Heights City Hall, the facility has a physician and nurse on staff and provides free physicals and medical care. Employees make a smartphone appointment and can see a doctor within 30 minutes, says Campos.

“We go so far as allowing employees up to one hour during work to attend the clinic, so there is no excuse to come to work sick or to need the whole day off for an appointment. We have seen a decrease in those scenarios,” Campos says. “We try to find little ways to make work/life balance more attractive for potential and current employees in different stages of life.”

Oakland County, Pontiac/Waterford

In mid-June, Oakland County approved a similar parental leave policy for its 3,200 eligible full-time employees. The initiative was announced by County Executive L. Brooks Patterson during his State of the County Address,

The benefit provides full pay for six consecutive weeks. Employees who give birth will take short term disability at 60 percent pay, with the option to supplement with available vacation pay, then roll directly into parental leave at full pay for the next six weeks. Partners can also take parental leave.

“We know this policy will help employees come back better rested and more engaged,” says Lori Taylor, deputy director of human resources for the County. “By 2025, 80 percent of our workforce will be in the millennial group. Like every generation, the culture is different, the needs and wants are different. They want work/life balance, dads are more involved with family life, and they are ready to stay at home just as much as moms. This benefit is one step toward attracting these employees. Studies have shown that with parental leave and good benefits, employees want to stay and feel committed.”

The new paid parental leave policy is not the first effort made by Oakland County to support parents in their workforce.

In 1999, Oakland County opened an 110-capacity accredited childcare center available to employee children and grandchildren. The rates are competitive, and the center is another reason Oakland County is a great place to work, says human resources director Jordie Kramer.

“We want to be seen as an employer of choice, not a last resort. We have a lot of great things here,” she says.

Financial Services of America, Warren

Consistently recognized as a top workplace by The Detroit Free Press, Financial Services of America has family built into its culture, says Richard James, president of the Warren-based firm.

“Family is a number one priority at all times. If you want to attend your daughter’s ballet recital or her softball game, you don’t have to ask for it off, just schedule it in your calendar and enjoy it,” he says, adding that birthdays are a mandatory day off, and each month, there is an off-site picnic, party or event.

Employees are encouraged to individually determine time off for medical issues, and they are supported to work out the best plan financially to meet their needs. Forty-nine percent of company stock is dedicated to profit sharing, and employees are encouraged to bring children to work if daycare shuts down for a day.

“Family is an extension here, and if there is an emergency and you have a responsibility, we can help you out,” says James.

Every December, James gives each of his 95 employees a special credit card for a Metro Detroit shopping mall. Everyone shops at the same time and gathers at a mall restaurant to show off their swag.

“I came from a poor family, so we overdo Christmas here,” says James. “They have to use this credit card from my family to their family, or they give it back to me.”

With investment in the personal well-being of employees, longevity and growth come naturally, James says.

“Walk into our environment at 8:30 in the morning and you will see smiles and hellos. Everyone truly enjoys being part of something bigger than themselves. If your people grow, you grow. It’s that simple.”