Work + life support

Work + life support

Awarded a national seal of distinction for three years running, Emory's WorkLife programs are helping people reach their potential -- both at work and in life.

"Close your eyes and imagine you are driving on a freeway at night in the worst possible conditions -- bad lighting, blinding rain, heavy traffic, wipers not working properly, and worst of all, a nervous back-seat driver who insists on blasting the weather report at full volume. An 18-wheeler passes on the left, sending a wave of water across the windshield, prompting the passenger to scream and grab your sleeve.

"Tell me what that feels like," says nursing professor Ken Hepburn to participants in this session on caregiving. "Imagine living in a universe where the stimuli are so raw and frequent."

Beyond sharing strategies for taking care of loved ones with dementia, Hepburn wants these participants from the Emory community to understand the losses that come with dementia, both in thinking and feeling. Each time he makes this presentation, several people stay behind. "Their questions are not trivial," he says. "They are wrestling with big issues."

Supporting members of the Emory community with these caregiving and other work-life issues is part of the mission of the Emory WorkLife Resource Center. In 2006, President James Wagner commissioned the Work-Life Initiative Task Force to participate in the cross-cutting strategic theme, Creating Community and Engaging Society. This theme arose from Emory's desire to be a destination place to work, recognizing that to meet that goal, the university needed to be provide support to faculty and staff for not only work but also raising families in a supportive community environment.

Creating a plan for creating community

From February 2006 through August of 2007, a university-wide task force considered a broad range of practices, programs, and processes that would be most helpful to sustain faculty, staff, and graduate students in a university environment. Along with goals to strengthen work-life culture and broaden resources to support such efforts, the task force sought to promote a culture of joy.

Led by then-Vice President and Secretary of the University Rosemary Magee (now director of the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library) and Vice President of Human Resources Peter Barnes, the committee considered the needs of those with child or dependent care responsibilities, or both. They explored how to promote flexible, collaborative working environments. And they looked at how to create more flexible models for academic advancement among faculty and graduate students. The detailed report produced at the end of their effort outlined 94 recommendations to allow Emory's people to realize their full potential and retain them in the Emory workforce.

"Just as the university improves the lives of people in the community and world through scholarship, teaching, and research," Magee and Barnes wrote upon release of the report, "the university can enrich the professional and personal lives of its faculty, staff, and students, who, in turn, enrich the life of the community."

Today, with strategic plan support, the work-life effort has grown into a full-service center that includes a comprehensive toolbox of educational tools about childcare, adult care, personal finances, and flexible work arrangements, available online. It has built a network of more than 175 childcare providers that offer discounts and/or priority admissions for all faculty, staff, and students of Emory. And it offers educational workshops to help parents manage the journey of raising a family, care for an aging parent, learn about financial planning, and develop and manage flexible work arrangements. All workshops -- facilitated by subject matter experts -- are offered free of charge to the Emory community.

Emory also has built an employer-sponsored support program for employee caregivers, which was cited for best practices in methodology and planning in a National Alliance for Caregiving study. The program offers six hours of professional care management nationwide annually to faculty and staff, who are caring for aging parents, adults with special needs, or a spouse or partner who is ill. The university was one of the first in higher education to offer a professional care management benefit.

All of these resources have contributed to the elevation of Emory as a national model for work-life programming. For the third consecutive year, Emory has received the seal of distinction from WorldatWork's Alliance for Work-Life Progress -- a mark of organizational success in work-life effectiveness. "The designation is an affirmation at the national level of the quality of our programming, and we are very proud of that," says John Kosky, who served as director of the WorkLife Resource Center from its founding through this past summer.

Do the math

The 75 people in the hall have an assignment. Pair up with a person nearby and make a budget for "Oprah." There are a few parameters. Oprah is an employee at Emory. She's single and has no children. Her student loans amount to $100 a month, and she's carrying approximately $2,000 in credit card debt. Oprah nets $2,400 a month after taxes.

As the teams consult with each other over what goes on Oprah's list of expenses, differing opinions emerge around the room. One group has the employee leasing a car; another puts her on MARTA. Some impose a rent so low that she will have to commute from far out of the metropolitan area to find something in her price range. The strictest budgeters suggest that Oprah can get by on a measly $550 a month. Others spend her whole paycheck -- and then some.

"If you can do this for Oprah, you can do it for yourself," says Alok Deshpande. Deshpande is leading this workshop that is part of the WorkLife series, Finance Matters, attended by more than 400 employees last year. Its goal is to educate Emory employees on topics related to personal finances, and on the fall schedule are sessions on Get your Money Right, Bling on a Budget, and Picking 401K Investments.

The series is a natural tie-in with other information that the WorkLife Center has vetted to assist employees. On the website, employees can get tips on basic investing and money management, links to tax preparation and consumer credit counseling, and helpful tools such as calculators, tax forms, and financial vendor webcasts. Emory also offers a Hardship Fund to assist faculty and staff who experience a temporary financial hardship due to a catastrophic event. The fund is supported entirely by voluntary donations from Emory faculty and staff, who to date have given more than $142,000 to help colleagues in need.

An alumnus of Emory's Goizueta Business School, Deshpande previously worked for the global management consultant company before starting his own business as a personal finance teacher. He brings corporate experience and an ability to translate his knowledge into hands-on lessons that are helpful to a broad swath of employees. He also brings to the class the example of his parents, who he describes as "immigrants from India who made $80,000 a year, spent like they made $40K, and became millionaires."

Deshpande started this session with a macro-view of GDP, but he quickly gets down to specifics. You start with what he calls "financial fuel," the money a person makes. "If you don't have enough financial fuel on a consistent basis, you have hard choices," he says. So a priority is getting more financial fuel, or maximizing income. Another is setting priorities. That's where budgeting comes in. "What gets measured gets improved," he says. "In the end, how much you spend is all that matters. It's math."

Cradle to college

Sherry Stodghill is a self-described "repeat user" of Emory's WorkLife programs. A data service supervisor in Human Resources, she was delighted to discover that Emory employees can receive a discount for the childcare when they use a participating childcare provider in the network. "It was like I got a raise," Stodghill says. "It's a big help for parents."

As her daughter Tyler grew, Stodghill attended Emory's annual Camp & Learning Expo, coordinated by the WorkLife Center, for help in locating quality summer programming. Held in February to provide advance prep time for summer planning, the popular event draws more than 400 employees each year, introducing them to more than 80 day and overnight camps as well as college test preparation, drivers training, and foreign exchange programs. Stodghill found a Girl Scout Camp for her 12-year-old through the expo and the next summer a program that combined academics and athletics on the Emory campus.

The childcare resources at the WorkLife Center are intended to help parents raise a child from infancy to college, including children with special needs, says Audrey Adelson, recently appointed as manager of WorkLife. In addition to childcare network and the expo, the center sponsors an annual back-to-school campaign each July with information on 529 plans, the college admissions process, including deciphering the complexities of grants, scholarships, and financial aid. Stodghill says when Tyler begins to plan for college, she'll be back for more advice and referrals from WorkLife.

"It is really good for us at Emory have all these outlets. They allow people to explore all their options right here on campus without having to go out and look for them on their own," says Stodghill.

As for Adelson, she says the team will continue to assess the work-life needs at Emory to develop programs that meet those evolving needs. For example, the program area in the highest demand since the inception of the WorkLife Resource Center focuses on workplace flexibility. In the beginning, most requests came from individuals seeking help in drafting a proposal for a flexible work arrangement, but over the past few years, Adelson has noticed more requests from entire departments to create and manage flexible working environments. In response, the center now offers a consulting practice to meet a growing demand for best practices around understanding and managing a flexible workforce.