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Employers, employees look for strategies to achieve work-life balance

Human Resources
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Sharon Sellers, president of SLS Consulting LLC, wanted to honor an employee’s request to work more than 40 hours one week to give her time to be out with a sick child.

But she couldn’t do it. Federal laws require private employers to pay hourly employees cash for overtime instead of offering compensatory time off. Government employees can legally take comp time instead of pay.

Sellers said a bill called the Working Families Flexibility Act that passed the U.S. House of Representatives this month could change that. If it becomes law, companies could have avenues through which to respond to employees seeking a work-life balance, without overshooting their budget.

“It’s been recognized since the late 1990s that employees value their time and, in some cases, as much as their money,” Sellers said. “We were seeing it more as the Generation Xers came on board. They started asking for things like getting home on time to get their children home from daycare.”

Sellers, whose Santee-based company offers human resources consulting, said the comp time law has been looked at several times over the past 20 years, but opposition, mostly along party lines, has stopped it.

Opponents fear that a change could put undue pressure on employees to take time off rather than extra pay. Sellers said the law would give the employee the option to choose overtime pay or comp time, but the concern persists — partly because some companies now do not pay overtime even when they are required to do so.

Sellers said a fear of losing good people and not being able to retain workers in a robust economy might be the best guard against employers maintaining a less-desirable work situation.

“The whole mindset of certain people that the company is out to screw the employee is something that I think is just a bit archaic,” Sellers said. “Where you’re dealing with an economy where unemployment is below 4%, companies have to realize that if they don’t have a good working environment, employees have choices.”

Melanie Stith, vice president of human resources at Roper St. Francis, said the health care organization is able to attract and retain highly skilled talent, often by word of mouth, because it has a desirable culture and a focus on mission that takes work-life balance into consideration.

She said Roper St. Francis’ approach to programs and policies incorporates family, flexibility, fitness and well-being, and mission, setting a cultural tone that helps workers and their families cope with what is often a stressful career.

“We just have to do more and more to provide flexible schedules to make sure we have a good work-life balance,” Stith said.

Specifically, Roper St. Francis provides several family-oriented services and activities, such as a child care center and backup care for children, adults and pets.

Stith said Roper St. Francis also emphasizes flexibility with careers such as nursing. Despite a nationwide nursing shortage, the career can appeal to individuals who need more control over their hours and when they’re scheduled.

“There’s a lot of flexibility with nursing and careers,” Stith said.

She added that the health care organization’s focus continues to be on providing quality care for patients — and for employees. She said the company offers discounts and incentives for making better choices about personal health, and the organization’s Health Alliance program that serves Boeing Co. in North Charleston also is used by Roper’s employees.

The program, which has a 75% participation rate at Roper, helps the organization decrease costs and risk and results in healthier employees, said Dr. Todd Shuman, chief physician officer of Roper St. Francis.

“The whole idea behind this is you achieve the cost savings by coordinating care better,” Shuman said. “We know patient outcomes are better if we’re able to transition care or just provide care in a better fashion.”

For example, Shuman said, the organization works to reduce admissions, manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and help patients understand the underlying risks of not managing diseases by using one-on-one coaching.

Stith said Roper St. Francis is in the top 10% in the nation in employee engagement, which is reflective of its emphasis on culture and care, including volunteerism and taking care of its workers across the organization.

“When you think about culture and think about differentiators, how are you taking care of your people and how are they connecting to a deeper meaning?” Stith said. “It’s really just, ‘How do we, as an organization, think about things related to our culture?’ ”

Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.

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