The following companies offer exceptional flextime benefits (companies are from Fortune magazine’s annual list of the Top 100 Companies to Work For):

* At Great Plains, a business software company in Fargo, N.D., where women compose half of the workforce, employees are offered laptops so they can telecommute and keys to company buildings so they can set their own hours.

At WRQ, a software maker in Seattle, 95 percent of employees take advantage of flextime hours.

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* AFLAC, an insurer based in Georgia, opened an on-site childcare center that houses 280 children and grandchildren of employees. That’s not all. AFLAC’s employees can take up to 12 weeks at full pay to care for an ill spouse, child, or parent. Not surprisingly, women make up 70 percent of the workforce there. Johnson & Johnson and MBNA both offer six on-site day care centers for working mothers.

Other perks created to ease the employees’ burden: Hewitt reports that 42 percent of employers offer some type of on-site personal service, for example, ATMs (62 percent), banking (39 percent), travel services (36 percent), and dry cleaning (29 percent). With the lowest unemployment rate in decades, companies are realizing they must take these extra measures to attract the best employees.

Why this need for more time off? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of the workforce made up by females will increase from 46 percent in 1998 to 48 percent in 2008; 21 million women are expected to enter the labor force by 2008. All age groups of women are expected to increase. By 2008, however, 27 percent of women in the workforce will be ages 25 to 54–prime years for childbearing and childrearing. Employers who want to attract top talent in both sexes will have to take a look at family-friendly policies.

Other factors influencing the number of women in the workplace include state and federal welfare reform initiatives that emphasize moving women from welfare to work; these reforms will increasingly affect women with young children.

The increase in the number of companies offering flexible scheduling may be due in part to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (see sidebar). The percentage of full-time employees in midsize to large companies who received leave (paid or unpaid) rose from 39 percent in 1991 to 63 percent in 1993, to 86 percent in 1995, to 95 percent in 1997. Paternity leave coverage jumped from 27 percent in 1991 to 95 percent in 1997. The timing of coverage changes indicates that at least some of the shift may be due to FMLA, which was enacted in 1993.

As more women enter the labor force and the demand for childcare increases, employer-assisted care may become an increasingly powerful incentive for job seekers.

Potential employees will also demand eldercare–using paid or unpaid time off to care for elderly dependents such as parents, grandparents, or an elderly spouse. An article in Visions, an online publication of the Society for Human Resource Management, reports that in 1994, 25 percent of the elderly required assistance with daily living activities; that translates into 5.7 million who rely on family caregivers. And yes, almost two-thirds of the caregivers also hold full-time jobs. According to a U. S. Labor Department Women’s Bureau fact sheet, 50 percent of workers with eldercare responsibilities reported taking time off, going to work late, or working fewer hours. As the population ages and employees are required to care for aging relatives, more and more will require flexible work schedules and eldercare programs. The National Alliance for Caregiving reports that flextime, telecommuting, and job sharing were three policies caregivers said would best ease their burden.

Companies should be aware of cultural issues when it comes to the future of eldercare: in Asian and Hispanic cultures, tradition dictates that elders be cared for in the home. The Labor Department estimates that the Hispanic labor force will grow four times faster than the rest of the labor pool, eventually accounting for 13 percent of the total in 2008.

How will we keep track of it all? Enough of the fact that we need more time; the question is how will employers keep track of employees’ time? And how will they do it without sacrificing their own time?

Gone are the days of the 9-to-5, 40-hour workweek. Companies are finding out if they want to record employees’ time accurately, they need to explore a range of time-keeping devices. Methods other than the traditional time clock are used; advances in software have lead to the creation of time and attendance systems.

Think the old time recorders of yesteryear are passe? At Acroprint Time Recorder Inc., a manufacturer in Raleigh, N.C., these manual recorders still constitute 45 percent of the company’s business. Why? The main reason is money. A bottom-of-the-line time recorder is listed at $395 (MSRP), whereas a sophisticated time and attendance system can run upwards of $4,000.

Another reason is simply the need. Says Glenn Robbins, president of Acroprint, “People need to keep accurate records of their employees; they’ll always need that. The way you do it is changing. As long as there are small businesses that are pinching their pennies, there will always be a market for these less expensive, manual machines.”

Acroprint machines usually sell to companies with fewer than 100 employees, to “just about everybody in the service industry and places that use a lot of temps,” Robbins explains.

Acroprint also sells more elaborate time and attendance systems involving badge swiping, bar-code reading, and fingerprint identification–these are known as input devices. Acroprint’s configurable data collection terminals are the most versatile and can be configured to accept one or more of these devices. These types of systems are mostly used in companies such as “jewelry stores; places that keep a fairly expensive inventory or documents,” says Robbins.

Small businesses without these needs are better suited for a basic model. They’re more durable than the new terminals. “These things will last 25 years, whereas the electronic and computerized ones are going to wear out much faster–in five or six years,” says Robbins.

Other companies offering both hardware and software for time and attendance are Latham Time Corp. based in Atlanta, and Amano Cincinnati Inc. (ACI).

These are all well and good for temps or hourly workers, but what about salaried employees who don’t ordinarily punch a time clock? Robbins believes these types of workers may be asked to keep track of their attendance one day; employers will always need to track employee attendance. “There have been a number of lawsuits out there. [One] is a case in which some tellers sued their bank for working more than 40 hours a week and won. The employer said, ‘You’re salaried.’ So the tellers received just salary. But the tellers were made to work two or three extra hours a week, and they would have their pay docked by the hour. The issue of whether you’re entitled to overtime is a real fuzzy picture.”

In the future, time recorders will be more elaborate, using voice recognition, retinal scans, and proximity readers, which use radio frequencies. Acroprint can create these customized systems today, but they’re expensive.

“People still need to keep accurate records of their employees–they’ll always need that. The way you do it is changing. It’s going from the least accurate way to do it–you have a human totaling hours on the cards–to the age of personal computers. With computers, payroll preparation was cut in half. They totaled hours automatically, saved time and money, and were more accurate,” Robbins says.

“Anybody with a payroll would be prudent to have a time and attendance system,” he adds

This ensures that time is on the side of employers. Yes, it is.

Stats

The percentage of full-time employees in midsize to large companies who received leave (paid or unpaid) rose from 39 percent in 1991 to 63 percent in 1993, to 86 percent in 1995, to 95 percent in 1997. Paternity leave coverage jumped from 27 percent in 1991 to 95 percent in 1997.

Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), enacted in 1993, is a federal law that entitles employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave during any 12 months. Such leave may be for the birth and care of the employee’s child or placement for adoption or foster care of a child with the employee, for care of an immediate family member, or for the employee’s own serious health condition.

The FMLA applies to private-sector employers engaged in commerce who have 50 or more employees each working at least 20 calendar weeks or more in the current or proceeding calendar year. Employees of state and local governments, including schools, and most federal government employees, are also covered.