- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2006

Third of four parts

The daily grind is losing a bit of its bite.

Instead of 9-to-5 schedules, a growing number of Americans work personalized schedules that allow them to fulfill the responsibilities of their home lives while balancing the demands of their jobs.

Creating a positive work environment for married people has become a priority for both the employee and employer, according to pro-marriage organizations such as the Alliance for Marriage and the Families and Work Institute. An unbalanced work and family life can significantly increase the odds of marital instability and divorce, which can hurt employees’ production, researchers said.

“There is a widespread recognition that it is very expensive to hire and train a new employee,” said Judi Casey, director of the Sloan Work and Family Research Network at the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work. “Companies need to keep their talented people, and they’re doing more than ever to make sure they do.”

In this series, The Washington Times examines the changing views of marriage and what various institutions — religious groups, government and businesses — are doing to preserve it.

To hold on to their employees, companies are implementing flexible schedules and compressed workweeks that allow employees to work the same number of hours per week but break away from the traditional Monday-through-Friday routine.

Some companies are even investing in marital counseling for employees. Chick-Fil-A, the fast-food chicken chain, provides its executive employees with “marriage coaches” for couples at company retreats.

“We believe strongly that you can be successful in the marketplace and successful in marriage,” said Donald “Bubba” Cathy, president of the Atlanta-based company. “We make it a point to incorporate spouses in company meetings, and they’re expected to attend annual meetings.”

Compressed workweeks allow employees to work more hours over fewer days. But the most popular option among employers and employees is a practice known as flextime.

Being flexible

Flextime was born out of the Clean Air Act of 1970, when local governments attempted to ease traffic congestion and air pollution during prime commuting times by allowing employees to choose their starting and quitting times.

The number of employees who have access to flextime has increased significantly, jumping from 29 percent in 1992 to 43 percent in 2002, according to the Families and Work Institute. In 2005, 73 percent of employees who had access to flextime took advantage of it.

Among employees who have high flexibility with their work schedules, about 65 percent say they are satisfied with their marital relationships, said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute.

Best Buy, the Minneapolis-based consumer electronics store, recently began a flextime program called ROWE, for “results-only work environment.” The program is designed to judge employee performance on productivity output rather than hours worked.

Best Buy started the program in response to high turnover and a high corporate stress level, caused in part by retail giants Wal-Mart’s and Target’s biting into some of Best Buy’s electronics sales. The hope is that ROWE, by freeing employees to make their own work-life decisions, can boost morale and productivity and keep the service initiative on track.

Since the program’s implementation, average voluntary turnover has fallen and productivity is up an average of 35 percent in departments that have switched to the program, spokeswoman Dawn Bryant said.

Easing the burden

In addition, telework programs are being used to retain employees who move to the suburbs and are faced with long commutes — and more time away from home. These programs allow employees to work from anywhere, including their homes, using technology that keeps them in touch with their employer throughout the day.

“Recruitment and retention of employees has become a driving force behind the implementation of telework programs,” said Chuck Wilsker, co-founder of the Telework Coalition. “Companies need to keep their talented employees.”

Fairfax County has implemented a telework program, along with corporate giants Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard and Intel.

Local companies Arnold and Porter, a D.C. law firm; consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton in McLean; and mortgage giant Fannie Mae, also based in the District, made the “100 Best Companies of 2006” list in Working Mother magazine.

Nearly 80 percent of Booz Allen Hamilton’s employees change their hours to adjust to their home lives, and at Fannie Mae, an on-site day-care center provides a variety of services for children ages 6 months to 12 years.

But Americans are working more than ever, and some researchers contend that businesses can do even more to make employees’ schedules more in tune with their home lives.

In a 2002 study conducted by the Families and Work Institute, 63 percent of the married employees say they don’t have enough time with their husbands or wives — up from 50 percent from 1992.

For the most part, smaller employers more often than larger companies offer their employees flextime options, according to a 2005 national study of employers by the Families and Work Institute.

“My sense is companies are doing more than ever to help people maintain their home lives, but there is a culture in this country that drives people to work harder and that culture places a strain on marriage,” said Barbara Schneider, a professor of sociology and human development at Michigan State University and co-director of the Alfred P. Sloan Center on Parents, Children and Work.

“It is the mentality that has to be changed, and the burden is on businesses,” she said.

Government solution

Meanwhile, the federal government is making an unprecedented push to encourage Americans to get married.

The Healthy Marriage Initiative will give $500 million over the next five years to organizations ranging from pro-life centers to social-service groups that conduct marriage education initiatives. It is the first time that the government has dedicated a specific amount of money to support marriage education services.

“We are not promoting marriage. What we are trying to do is help couples attain a healthy marriage,” said Wade Horn, head of the federal Administration for Children and Families and architect of the government’s plan. “A healthy marriage can make a difference with kids and the community; that’s why we are involved.”

The California Healthy Marriages Coalition received $2.3 million over five years, the largest amount granted by Mr. Horn’s agency.

“This is a very appropriate way for the federal government to spend money. What is not widely known about divorce is that it is a drain on state and federal funds,” said Patty Howell, the grant director for the coalition.

For example, divorces top the list of causes for bankruptcy in the United States, leading many people to require public assistance, said Diane Sollee, founder and director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education.

“A single divorce costs state and federal governments about $30,000, based on such things as the higher use of food stamps and public housing as well as increased bankruptcies and juvenile delinquency. The nation’s 10.4 million divorces in 2002 are estimated to have cost the taxpayers over $30 billion,” said Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Building Stronger Families, a program within the Healthy Marriage Initiative, is aimed at couples who recently have had children out of wedlock and are contemplating marriage. Reversing the rise in out-of-wedlock births is a significant goal of the Bush administration’s marriage initiative.

The National Center for Health Statistics recently announced that 1.5 million babies a year are born out of wedlock, a record. Out-of-wedlock births lead to child poverty and welfare dependency, said researchers and the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.

“All the research shows that parents are good for kids. We want to get them at the ‘magic moment’ when they are thinking about marriage,” Mr. Horn said. “The good news is we can teach them the skills they need for a healthy marriage.”

He said more than 50 percent of the couples who have children out of wedlock are considering marriage.

Other programs within the federal initiative, such as Supporting Healthy Marriage and the Community Healthy Marriage Initiative, target low-income married couples and improve marriages through pre-marital counseling and outreach to troubled marriages.

The funds being used for marriage education could lead to changes in traditional expenditures for social-service programs, Mr. Horn said.

“If we are successful in forming healthy marriages, there will be less of a need for other social services,” he said. “There will be less need for children’s social-service programs such as for neglect and runaway programs. If this is successful, it will have implications throughout the social-service delivery system.”

Divorce made easy

But while the federal government is pressing for more marriages, America’s divorce rate is only slightly lower than in the 1970s, when a surge of divorces occurred.

Patrick Fagan, a social science researcher at the Heritage Foundation, said America’s divorce laws, in particular “no-fault-divorces,” are devaluing the institution of marriage.

“The government has failed massively and has essentially become the enemy of marriage and in the process, the child,” Mr. Fagan said. “If the government did with economic contracts what it does with marriage contracts, the whole economic system would gradually collapse into Third World status.”

No-fault-divorces are granted when either spouse can show that the marriage is irreparably broken. These types of divorces emerged in the 1970s as a recognition that two people who were determined to end their marriage would get what they wanted by any means necessary, including faking adultery or cruelty.

John Crouch, a longtime divorce lawyer in Arlington and executive director of Americans for Divorce Reform, says the no-fault-divorce law has been inadequately implemented by the states and subsequently by judges.

No-fault-divorce proceedings were intended to provide counseling to couples prior to granting a divorce. However, states have not been willing to fund the counseling services, making it easy for couples to get divorced, Mr. Crouch said.

“No-fault-divorce has not been carried out, and it gives people the message that when you’re married, you can still be in the market for somebody else instead,” Mr. Crouch said.

Divorce law is decided on a state-by-state basis. New York does not have a specific no-fault statute, and other states have varying waiting periods or separation requirements. Only two states, New York and South Dakota, do not have a no-fault-divorce clause. Maryland has a two-year waiting period before a divorce is granted, the longest of any waiting period. Virginia has a six-month waiting period, and the District one year.

The divorce rate in the United States has been steadily declining since the early 1980s, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics. Today, about one in three marriages ends in divorce in the United States.

The no-fault divorce laws have resulted in a substantial number of divorces that would not have occurred otherwise, according to the Journal of Marriage and the Family.

Said Katherine Spaht, a law professor at Louisiana State University: “Easy divorce that makes for an easy exit communicates society’s view that it has little interest in the lasting commitment of two people to love and care for each other and to bear and rear the next generation.”

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