Balancing Act: School closings test workplace flexibility

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As Floridians were frantically buying storm supplies ahead of Tropical Storm Isaac's arrival, one announcement created almost as much panic as the threat of high winds: Public schools would close.

For working parents, the news triggered a mad scramble for child-care solutions, particularly when most businesses chose to stay open.

Trapped, some parents were forced to take a vacation or sick day. Others showed up at work with kids in tow, while the desperate begged relatives or babysitters to step in at the last minute.

Across the country, hundreds of companies boast of being family-friendly workplaces.

But to me, days like that speak volumes about the reality of that label. For parents, it's not only how our employers react to our need for accommodation during weather related events; it's also how well they've planned for it.

Only 32 percent of organizations allow employees to bring their children to work in a child-care emergency, while 17 percent offer a child-care referral service and 3 percent provide access to backup child care, according to a Society for Human Resource Management survey of 550 employers.

Working mother Aida Segui-Luciano says she accepts that planning for last-minute school closings is her responsibility. Ms. Segui-Luciano works in retail services at Tropical Financial Credit Union in Hollywood, Fla.

Knowing she can't do her job from home or bring kids to the bank, she saves a few days in her paid-time off bank as a precaution for storm season.

Of course, some parents don't plan and don't have accommodations at work. Backed against a wall, they drop their kids off unsupervised at libraries, malls and movie theaters that are open for the day. Others leave their kids home alone.

If the home alone option is your back-up plan, prepare your children for how to handle emergencies and potential danger, parenting experts say.

But working from home and keeping young kids entertained takes planning, too. Janice Lusky Greenspan, a Miami public relationships account executive, pulled out a special bin with activities to keep her boys busy and prevent the need to lock herself in the bathroom to make a work-related phone call. The bin held items such as crossword puzzles, model airplane kits, comic books and dollar-store toys for her two sons, 6 and 9.

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Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at balancegal@gmail.com.


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