How To Reach C&ENACS Membership Number


October 28, 2002
Volume 80, Number 43
CENEAR 80 43 pp. 75-83
ISSN 0009-2347

Flexibility and communication are among the keys to good workplaces


Employees often walk a tightrope as they try to juggle the demands of their work and family lives. The best companies help their employees successfully balance their competing priorities.

Each year, magazines such as Fortune and Working Mother publish lists of the companies that provide the best examples of good workplaces. For the third time, C&EN has identified the companies relevant to its readers and spoken to a number of them to find out what makes them tick.

The Fortune list--100 Best Companies To Work For--is compiled by the San Francisco-based Great Place To Work Institute. Companies nominate themselves and fill out the institute's survey. However, two-thirds of a company's score is based on a survey of a randomly selected sample of at least 250 employees.

"They mail their answers directly back to us, not through the company," says Milton Moskowitz, a freelance writer and coauthor of the Fortune list. "How you fare on this survey pretty much determines--not completely, but in large part--how you get on this list. In effect, employees are voting their company onto this list. I wouldn't say it's an exact science, but we try to reflect what the employees of these companies feel."

Just because a company is not on the list doesn't mean it's a bad place to work. Many companies aren't even eligible to nominate themselves. For example, companies on Fortune's 100 Best list employ a minimum of 500 employees, and that number jumps to 1,000 next year. Therefore, many small companies, which may be exciting and excellent places to work, will never appear on these lists.

Explaining the reason for the change in size criteria, Moskowitz says: "If you look at this list over the years, you'll notice that small and medium-sized companies have come increasingly to dominate the list. That's fine; they're great companies. But this is Fortune magazine," which is aimed at readers from large companies.

An important quality of desirable workplaces is trust. The Great Place To Work Institute describes a great place to work as "one in which you trust the people you work for, have pride in what you do, and enjoy the people you work with."

Academic research backs up that assessment. "People want to work in a high-trust environment," says Eileen Appelbaum, director of the Center for Women & Work at Rutgers University and copresident of the Center for Designing Work Wisely, a Washington, D.C., think tank. "They want to work in an environment where they feel they are treated with respect and their ideas are treated with respect. They can believe what their managers tell them." Employers can create such a high-trust environment, Appelbaum says, by allowing employees to make decisions, providing them with appropriate training to make those decisions, and then trusting them to do their best.

Appelbaum and Joan Williams, executive director of the Program on Gender, Work & Family at the Washington College of Law at American University, both believe that flexibility is the most important characteristic of a company's work/life program.

"We are just at the beginning of employers really understanding that this kind of flexibility--giving employees some control over their work time--is really important, both in terms of employees being able to manage their work and personal lives and in terms of making organizations more effective," Appelbaum says. "When you begin to introduce various kinds of work scheduling practices, managers have to rethink what is really important. Is it really important that you get to see those employees in the office all day long, that if you need them you can just wander down the hallway and there they are? There are many jobs where that is just a substitute for really understanding what an employee is doing and being able to judge whether they have done an excellent job in producing what they need to produce for the company."


Chemistry-Related Companies
Make The Grade


(as ranked in Fortune, Feb. 4, 2002)

31. Agilent Technologies, Palo Alto, Calif.

47. Alcon Laboratories, Fort Worth, Texas

57. Pfizer, New York City

59. Genentech, South San Francisco

82. Merck, Whitehouse Station, N.J.

93. Eli Lilly, Indianapolis

97. Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati

98. Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, N.J.



(as ranked in Fortune, July 8, 2002)

12. Lucent Technologies, Murray Hill, N.J.

16. Colgate-Palmolive, New York City

20. Procter & Gamble

35. Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, Ill.

37. S. C. Johnson & Son, Racine, Wis.

43. Eastman Kodak, Rochester, N.Y.



(as ranked in Working Mother, October 2002)a

 Abbott Laboratories (in top 10)

Agilent Technologies

AstraZeneca, Wilmington, Del.

Aventis Pharmaceuticals, Bridgewater, N.J.

Bayer, Pittsburgh

BP America, Chicago

Bristol-Myers Squibb, New York City (in top 10)

Colgate-Palmolive (in top 10)

Corning, Corning, N.Y.

DuPont , Wilmington, Del.

Eastman Kodak

Eli Lilly


GlaxoSmithKline, Philadelphia

Hoffmann-La Roche, Nutley, N.J.

IBM, Armonk, N.Y. (in top 10)

Johnson & Johnson

Lucent Technologies


Novartis Pharmaceuticals, East Hanover, N.J.


Procter & Gamble

S. C. Johnson & Son

Schering-Plough, Kenilworth, N.J.

Wyeth, Madison, N.J.


FAMILY TIME Corning's nearby child care centers encourage parents like Valeria Dasilva, a research manager, to spend lunchtime with her 10-month-old son, Gabriel.

THE CENTER FOR Designing Work Wisely released a study in September about American workers' access to flexible work arrangements. Between 1991 and 1997, the number of workers with access to flexible work arrangements such as flextime (the most widespread option), compressed workweeks, telecommuting, job sharing, and part-time schedules increased from 14% to 28%. Between 1997 and 2001, however, the percentage remained practically flat, rising only to 29%. There was "virtually no further improvement in terms of the proportion of workers in the U.S. who have access to the most widespread kind of flexibility, which is some kind of control over starting and finishing times," Appelbaum says.

Although most large companies have work/life initiatives, Williams points out that recent studies show usage rates are quite low. "Unfortunately, in many companies use of the work/life policies leads to stigma and career stall," she says. "I think many people are writing great paper, but the great words on paper are not translating into a policy that's usable for individual people." However, C&EN's informal research indicates that the companies that make the "best company" lists are the ones that are effectively implementing policies.

Williams says that to measure whether their work/life policies are really usable, companies should keep track of a number of objective factors. Her program has developed a simple, objective test that can help companies assess whether their work/life policies are effective. It is called the "Par Usability Test," and it was originally designed for law firms as part of the Project for Attorney Retention. However, the criteria are applicable to other types of employers as well.

"If you are really focused on whether you're going to have a work/life policy that works," Williams says, "you are going to be keeping track of usage rates. You're going to be keeping track of whether people have the same assignments before and after they have flexible work arrangements. You're going to be keeping track of comparative promotion rates, comparative attrition rates. If you aren't keeping track of those objective factors, then you're not implementing an effective policy."

One way that companies encourage the use of their work/life policies is by making it part of a manager's performance evaluation. "It's part of a manager's performance review that they encourage employees to take advantage of offerings that we have available to them," says Janet H. Williams, an employee services consultant at Corning in Corning, N.Y.

In addition to flexibility, Joan Williams advocates what she calls the "principle of proportionality," in which employees can take reduced schedules during times in their lives when they need to, but will still receive proportional compensation, benefits, training, and advancement. "This dream world would eliminate what we have in too many workplaces, which is basically a 24/7 ideal worker schedule where you work full-time and overtime for 40 years straight--or else a career wipeout, with no alternatives in between. When the only alternative is to join a 'mommy track,' with depressed wages and no advancement, many women will simply quit."

Such a principle of proportionality would be important for working mothers, Williams notes. Research indicates that 85% of women become mothers, and their work patterns differ from those of non-mothers (men or women). Two-thirds of mothers between the ages of 25 and 44 work fewer than 40 hours a week yearround, and 92% work fewer than 50 hours a week year-round, Williams says.

GOOD WORKPLACES know no industry boundaries, but they are most likely to be found in industries "where employers have recently faced difficulty hiring skilled workers," Appelbaum says. In such a situation--which has occurred, for example, in the pharmaceutical industry--companies want to distinguish themselves and become the employer of choice.

"We're in a very competitive industry," says Bradley T. Smith, director of human resources staffing and diversity at Hoffmann-La Roche in Nutley, N.J. "We compete for talent with the other major pharmaceutical companies, many of whom are in New Jersey. To attract talent, we need to maintain our employer-of-choice stance. We want to make sure that the people working here want to stay here."

Elizabeth S. Bolgiano, vice president for human resources at Bristol-Myers Squibb in Princeton, N.J., agrees. "We are tuned in to the fact that people have many choices about where they work, and we clearly want to be the employer of choice."

The companies that C&EN spoke with do indeed offer a variety of flexible work options. At Roche, for example, flextime is used widely across the company, Smith says.

Companies also offer options such as compressed workweeks and telecommuting. "As long as the business need is being met, people can make the case for a flexible work option that will perhaps make it easier for them to balance work and family," says Susan Ketterman, North American vice president of human resources at Aventis Pharmaceuticals in Bridgewater, N.J.

Born from the merger of Hoechst and Rhône-Poulenc, Aventis consolidated and situated its headquarters in New Jersey. "We started out with a core group of people who decided to make the move from the two predecessor locations, and we did a massive amount of hiring in the last 18 months," Ketterman says. "We have thousands of people who have tenures of less than two years working, with the others who have been here 10 or 15 years. The dynamic of being a new company, building a new culture, has resulted in a fast-paced, entrepreneurial environment that values empowerment and teamwork. I think that probably best describes life at Aventis."

When Aventis first rolled out its flexible work options, a pilot program was implemented within one R&D department. Employees tried such options as compressed workweeks and even job sharing, Ketterman says. "At the end of the pilot, they went back and measured customer service and business output. Everything was as good or better," she says. "To the scientific mind, we were able to prove that you actually can do your work in a flexible way."

At Aventis, when employees want to try a flexible work arrangement, they submit a written application making the case for how they can accomplish their job without negatively affecting the business. "We keep track of these within the HR group, so we can monitor what options are popular and what's worked, and we can get some best practices and success stories," Ketterman says.

AVENTIS HAS what Ketterman describes as a "flat organization," rather than a more hierarchical structure. While this most obviously affects the managers who participate in decision-making, it also trickles down to nonmanagerial employees.

"We expect everyone to own their job and their career here," she says. "Empowerment applies to everyone. We want good ideas and hard work coming from all levels, all corners of the business."

One of the things Aventis is known for, Ketterman says, is providing four weeks of vacation to all employees right from the start. "Our feeling is that you deserve it from the minute you come. We are very strict and do not allow people to roll over unused vacation into the next year. What we are saying to our population is: 'We take rest and relaxation outside the work area very seriously. We are going to do everything we can to make this time available to you. We expect you to manage it and take it.'"

Pharmaceutical companies believe that the very business they are in makes them attractive to employees. "The fact that we are a medicines company and our mission in this world is to extend and enhance human life is critical to who we are, the kind of people we attract, and the kind of work that they do," Bristol-Myers Squibb's Bolgiano says.

"The people who work here tend to be folks who are very bright, very capable individuals" who are valued for their brain power and knowledge, Bolgiano says. "When they come to work every day, they bring that with them, and when they go home each day, they take it with them, too. You can imagine that making sure that the people in the organization are getting what they need and that they are able to balance their lives both at work and in their family situations is critically important to us."

In addition to relying on its mission to extend and enhance human life as a motivation for employees, Bristol-Myers Squibb also attempts to ensure that researchers have a good relationship with their managers and that those managers are "people they can respect as scientific leaders," Bolgiano says.

Several of the companies on the lists--including some of interest to chemists, such as Agilent and Corning--have experienced tough times with the downturn in the overall economy and especially the telecommunications industry. Agilent took a variety of aggressive cost-cutting measures, including pay reductions and layoffs of 8,000 employees. At first, in April 2001, the pay reductions were restricted to senior management, but they were a month later extended to Agilent's entire North American workforce. Salaries were restored to their previous levels this year, on Aug. 1. The company estimates that the salary reduction program, which included a break at the holidays, saved approximately $23 million per quarter and 15,000 jobs.

One of the reasons Agilent managed to stay on Fortune's list even while taking such actions was that employees appreciated and understood the way the company implemented the measures, Moskowitz says.

Karen Scussel, vice president of HR operations at Agilent, explains: "Demonstrating a deeply felt respect for all Agilent employees, our president and CEO, Ned Barnholt, communicated the difficult news about layoffs to employees in a worldwide announcement over the Agilent public address system a few minutes before he met with investors and the business press. The hallmarks of the address were a direct and concise explanation of the adverse forces affecting Agilent, a straightforward acknowledgment of the choices he and the management team had to make, and a promise of continued communication."

Janet Williams and Christine G. Sharkey, director of dependent care services at Corning, emphasize that Corning has not cut any of its benefits in response to the rough times. "We recognize that they're more important than ever in helping our employees be able to balance all the work responsibilities in addition to their home responsibilities," Williams says. "When times were good, these programs were a recruiting tool. Now you could say that we're looking at them as a retention tool."


SMALL WORLD Employees at Aventis in Bridgewater, N.J., hold a videoconference with their colleagues in Frankfurt, Germany.

COMPANIES SEEM not even to consider reducing benefits in the face of tough times. For example, 18 months ago, Roche went through a restructuring. "It was a cost-cutting measure, designed to right-size our organization," Smith says. "The next annual benefits renewal cycle, we did not eliminate anything." Any increase in employee costs was marginal and consistent with those in previous years, he says.

"You have to pay attention if you want to retain staff and be attractive to new people coming in," Smith says. "In the pharmaceutical industry, the competitive environment for talent requires continued review of our benefits and employee programs to compete effectively for talent."

One benefit that Roche is proud of is its Choosing Health program. The company provides on-site women's health care and gynecological services, acupuncture, and massage services. Roche also subsidizes an on-site fitness center with capacity for more than 700 employees. "We're at full capacity, but it took three to five years to get there. That was an executive decision: Are we going to put up the money to fund it?" Smith says. "It was about more than just providing for employees' convenience. It fit in with what we were promoting with Choosing Health."

One area that companies are particularly proud of is their child care benefits. At Corning, Sharkey says, "We have three centers that are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, called NAEYC. NAEYC accreditation is given to less than 10% of child care centers." Corning's centers are available to community members as well as Corning employees. In addition, the company supported the development of training for early child care providers at the local community college. Roche's Smith also emphasizes that his firm's child care center is nationally accredited.

Companies take the decision to add or eliminate benefits seriously, considering the needs of their employees and the needs of the business. For example, at Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, "employees continued to give feedback on their difficulties in finding child care openings that met their needs, particularly close to downtown," spokeswoman Vicky Mayer says. "To answer those child care needs, P&G partnered with Children's Hospital to develop a state-of-the-art child care facility approximately three or four miles from downtown headquarters."

IN DECIDING whether to offer, adapt, or eliminate programs, companies rely on surveys of employees and of the competitive marketplace. "We have ways of measuring participation in some programs," Aventis' Ketterman says. "Periodically, the benefits group will survey employees to make sure that, if we're offering these programs, they're something that still has meaning."

Bolgiano comments that at Bristol-Myers Squibb such decisions are made at the highest levels of the company. "It's all around a common frame of 'Here's our mission, here's our respect for the individual, this is what's important to us, this is what we believe in,' " she says. "Whatever the particular item is, does it fit with that? Can we afford it within our business context? Does it make sense based on the principles with which we operate? That's not done lightly, and it's not something that's done on a day-to-day basis, but rather is managed over the long haul."

Companies work hard to get on and stay on the "best companies" lists. "We review our programs annually and consider what we have to do," Roche's Smith says. "We will have this discussion in a couple of months, and as a result of that we'll try to add things that are very innovative and unique; that really push the envelope around work/life, working mothers, working families; and are beneficial to our entire employee population."


WORKOUT Roche encourages its employees to get and stay healthy by subsidizing an on-site fitness center.

dvertiser Inde


Do you work for a great company?

If so, C&EN would like to hear from you. Each year, we highlight companies that make the lists in Fortune and Working Mother magazines. The companies on these lists tend to be large, so we'd especially like to hear from current employees at small and midsized companies about why you think your company is a great place to work. Contact Special Features Editor Celia M. Henry at Confidentiality will be respected in all cases. Readers who do not have access to e-mail may send information by fax to (202) 872-8727 or by mail to the attention of Celia Henry at Chemical & Engineering News, 1155--16th St., N.W., Washington, DC 20036.


The following companies have placed recruitment advertisements in this employment special feature.


Argonne National Laboratory


Johnson & Johnson



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Copyright © 2002 American Chemical Society

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