Happier employees Featured

11:43am EDT November 20, 2003
Abbott Laboratories was looking for a way to attract and retain top employees.

So three years ago, the company, which includes the Columbus-based division Ross Products, launched a companywide work-life survey to find out what issues its employees were concerned about and how it could help them. At the top of the list were family-related concerns.

"We found that a large number of our employees have older children in elementary, middle school and high school," says Kathy Smith, director of diversity, inclusion and work life, at Ross Products.

As a result, Abbott began developing initiatives to improve the work-life balance in its divisions.

"We got a very clear commitment from the top to implement these policies as soon as possible," says Smith.

The company formed committees comprised of employees at various levels to develop policies to help employees deal with issues such as dependent and adult care, and flexible scheduling. The top issues were addressed in six months to a year.

"Now we have a whole range of options when it comes to flexibility," Smith says. "Employees can work flexible hours on site, compress the work week, work part-time with benefits or telecommute."

Employees can arrive early and leave early or adjust their schedules in other ways to accommodate outside activities such as involvement in their children's school activities and in the community. Currently, more than 24 percent of U.S. employees of Abbott participate in some type of flexible work options, which include flexible start/stop times, part-time work, job sharing, compressed and extended work weeks, telecommuting and shift trading.

"People aren't afraid to talk about the flexibility," says Monica Hysell, regional sales manager.

Hysell, a mother of two middle school students, used to use vacation days to volunteer at her children's school. Now adjust her schedule instead. But she doesn't let outside activities interfere with her job.

"The business need has to be met first," she says. "I won't take off the day before a big meeting."

Hysell says working a flexible schedule has had a positive effect on her work.

"My supervisor wants a balanced employee," says Hysell. "We can interact with customers better when we have that balance."

Smith says neither the company nor the employees have suffered any negative impact as a result of flex time.

"It's great that people can take advantage of the flexibility and still advance; it hasn't sidetracked their careers," Smith says.

The company has a high rate of retention, and in the past five years, the number of women advancing up the career ladder has increased 68 percent, in part due to the availability of flex time, Smith says.

To improve morale and keep its employees happy, Abbott also implemented programs including an on-site massage therapist, exercise and yoga programs, and book fairs. Those efforts have paid off -- Abbott was ranked by Working Mother magazine as one of the Top 10 Best Places to Work in 2002 and 2003. The list is based on options and benefits that companies provide for child care support, work flexibility, work/life balance, adoption assistance, leave for new parents, percentage of women in the work force and advancement of women.

"We've also been recognized for our diversity," Smith says. "It's not just about making our current employees happy; we're also attracting quality employees."

Smith says the company has a high rate of retention and in the past five years, the number of women advancing up the career ladder has increased, in part due to the availability of flex time.

"Women in management have increased 68 percent," she says. "And the number of minorities in management has increased 78 percent."

How to reach: Ross Products Division, Abbott Laboratories, (614) 624-7485 or www.ross.com.