What makes a great workplace?

The City of Santa Monica Commission on the Status of Women believes that one of the qualities of a great employer is the recognition that each employee has a basic need to balance her job with her personal life.

Women in the workplace, particularly those who are also mothers or who care for elderly or disabled relatives at home, often struggle to maintain equilibrium between their home life, work life, and personal time.

In recognition of this, the commission did a survey in late 2004, contacting nearly 200 employers in Santa Monica to find out what kind of “work/life” benefits employers offer that enhance the quality of life for their employees.

A representative sample of companies, collectively employing almost 11,000 persons, completed the survey.

Participants included a variety of very large employers, including Blue Shield of California, RAND Corporation and UCLA-Santa Monica Medical Center; mid-sized employers such as Gerber Ambulance Service and Pacific Park; and small businesses employing under 70 persons, including Flap Happy, Heal the Bay and YMCA of Santa Monica.

“We hope that this survey will spark a dialogue within the Santa Monica business community about the importance of work/life balance, and inspire some employers to look at creative work/ life solutions,” said commissioner Alesia Cook, who spearheaded the project.

The survey findings show that, based on those who responded, Santa Monica employers are on the cutting edge in offering work/life benefits for their employees.

For example, all of the companies surveyed offer at least three — and most offer four or more —services related to employees’ children, such as on-site childcare centers, childcare subsidies, lactation rooms, sick days to care for children, paid leave for adoptive parents, paid maternity leave — beyond disability insurance — and paternity leave.

All but one of the employers surveyed provided seven or more quality-of-life benefits including flextime, job sharing, working from home, casual dress policies, tuition reimbursement, business equipment to work from home, unpaid sabbaticals, support of community volunteerism, assistance with stress management, legal counseling, referral services for elder and child care, and paid vacation, sick days and personal days.

The commission Work/Life Survey also found that all or a majority of the employers participating in the survey also provide some level of healthcare benefits, career advancement programs and training, and retirement plans.

“RAND competes against some of the most progressive universities and private sector firms in the country for talent, so having employee-friendly policies and programs in place is critical for us,” said Michael Rich, RAND executive vice president and a participant in the survey.

“We participate in third-party-sponsored surveys and meet annually with our peers in reference group organizations to ensure that RAND stays abreast of what they are doing and we remain competitive,” Rich said. “Work/life benefits help us attract and retain talented people, increase productivity, and generally create a supportive work environment.”

The survey found that, while many of the larger employers surveyed tended to be able to devote more resources to work/life benefits, some of the smaller employers made a special attempt to adopt many of the same policies as the larger companies and/or are currently exploring creative solutions to address work/life issues.

For example, the YWCA of Santa Monica has adopted many of the same policies that contribute to worker quality of life as larger employers.

“We are very pleased at the results of the Work/Life Survey and commend employers for sharing their experiences, practices, and policies,” said commission chair Tia Skulski.

“Many women — and men — today are very savvy about work/ life benefits when seeking employment. We shouldn’t have to jeopardize our careers to raise a family and vice versa,” Skulski said.

“Therefore, (the commission) would like to encourage all employers to develop, refine, or expand their work/life arrangements to reflect the changes in our culture’s family responsibilities and demographics.”

Information, Santa Monica Commission on the Status of Women city staff liaison Janet Hand, (310) 458-8701 or

cosw@santa-monica.org

The list of employers participating in the survey and complete survey findings can be found on the Web at

www.santa-monica.org/ccs/cosw