Parents: In Tough Family Times, NC Companies Helped
When you have a family and a career — or two careers — finding a balance between work and home can be tough. Fortunately, companies in the Triangle do more than just pay lip service to "family-friendly benefits." They step up to the plate and actively help employees find a balance. Four Triangle parents whose employers helped them during challenging family times share what it really means to be part of Carolina Parent's N.C. Family-Friendly 50.
Part-time option for a new mom
After April Sparks' daughter was born in early 2011, the Raleigh mom and business analyst at Caterpillar Building Construction Products Division, had a tough time contemplating going back to work full-time.
"I wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom, but that wasn't feasible," she says. "Plus, I really enjoyed working at Caterpillar, so I still wanted to work."
It's a dilemma many parents face. Caterpillar worked with Sparks to help her find that balance. They offered her a unique situation: She could work from home four hours, four days a week, and work in the office one day a week. The situation was perfect for Sparks.
"Caterpillar has a U.K. office, so I work from home for two hours early in the morning with them before my daughter wakes up," she says. "Then, I work for two more hours in the afternoon during nap time, with people on the U.S. side."
Sparks is grateful to Caterpillar for helping her make it work. "They didn't need someone full time in the position, and I needed the flexibility, so it's perfect," she says. "They're happy, I'm happy, and it makes me work harder for them because I'm so appreciative of the opportunity they gave me."
Support during difficult times
Three years after Garner dad Braxton Whitfield started working at Mulkey Engineers & Consultants, his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Between caring for his wife, paying medical bills and juggling day care for his young son, Whitfield was pressed for time and money.
Mulkey Engineers & Consultants surprised the civil engineer designer with an offering of store gift cards and gas cards to help. The company also used an annual St. Patrick's Day miniature golf tournament to raise funds for Whitfield's family.
When Whitfield's wife's cancer returned in 2009, Mulkey Engineers & Consultants held a silent auction fundraiser to help pay the family's bills. But the company did more than just help ease their financial burden.
"They most definitely had my back," Whitfield says. "The leaders would call me into the office and talk with me on a regular basis, asking what needs we had and how they could help. At Christmas, they even made sure we had gifts for my son."
Mulkey Engineers & Consultants set Whitfield up with a home computer that gave him access to his work files so if he needed to stay home with his wife or take her to her appointments, he didn't have to worry about missing work.
"Even the owner, Barbara Mulkey herself, checked in with me to see how we were doing," Whitfield says.
(Pictured at right Braxton Whitfield)
Fully supporting flexibility
Early in 2013, Chapel Hill mom Rachel Richards had one of those "What else can happen?" parenting times. Within the same four-week period, both of her young children needed surgery. Juggling work and family life became a tough prospect. But Richards' employer, Hill, Chesson & Woody, came through.
"They were completely flexible about me missing some time and letting me do some work from home," Richards says. "They understood completely, and I could call in and say, 'Are there any special projects you want me to work on?' and they were very supportive."
Richards says Hill, Chesson & Woody is a special company. "I've been at other employers who claim to be flexible, but aren't really happy about it in reality," she says. "Here, the flexibility is phenomenal. There's an understanding that we work hard, but there's a balance between what I do at work and what I do with my family. When I'm home with my family, I don't have to worry about anything at work."
Hill, Chesson & Woody's family-friendly policies have earned Richards' devotion. "HCW backs up their words with action," she says. "That's huge. It makes me think that as long as I'm working, this is exactly where I'm going to be."
(At left, Rachel Richards appreciated the flexibility at Hill, Chesson & Woody when her son Austin and daughter Emma both needed surgery within four weeks. Richards' husband, John, is also pictured.)
Back-up child care fills a gap
As a member of a dual-career household and parent of a toddler, life is hectic for John Welch of Raleigh, a human resources specialist at Nationwide Insurance. Throw in the holidays, and you have recipe for chaos. During the Christmas season, Welch's son's day care center was closed for three days, and Welch was out of vacation time. His wife's work schedule was tight, too, which left them wondering how to juggle care for their young son.
Fortunately, Nationwide Insurance offers a back-up child care program through Bright Horizons. "We found a center that was close to us and visited to fill out paperwork and let our son get used to it," Welch says. "It was great. We knew he was in good hands, he had fun, and we could still get our work done."
Now Welch feels even more dedicated to his company. "Nationwide is a company built around helping its workers, and they proved it," he says. "And it makes a more productive workforce. When you're not worrying about things on the outside, you're better at concentrating on things on the inside."
At right, John and Leigh Welch turned to Nationwide Insurance's back-up child care program to fill a gap when their son, Archer's, regular day care center closed during the Christmas holidays.