Intermedics Inc. had a morale problem. There was too much absenteeism and turnover among the 1,000 employes of the young Texas pacemaker-manufactruing firm.
When management met to brainstorm solutions, someone suggested this: Since 71 percent of the employes were female -- many of whom grappled with unreliable babysitters and lack of child-care faclitites -- why not start a company day-care center?
Eighteen months after that meeting, Intermedics joined the ranks of corporations offering on-site day care.
"In the six months since we opened our doors," said center director Alice Ducan, "we've decreased turnover by 9 percent and gained 3,700 hours that would have been lost by absenteeism.
"The parents are thrilled, and even employes without children are very excited about working for a company that cares enough about its employes to provide day care.
"Personnel says it's increased their ability to attract quality employes, and it's improved the image of the company locally and nationally.We've been contacted by news media in many states asking about "that company in Texas that put in a day-care center for employes,'" Ducan told participants at a workshop on "Getting Business Involved in Day Care," part of last week's 12th annual meeting of the Day Care Council of America at the Capital Hilton.
"Corporations are starting to take responsibility to meet day-care needs as an employe benefit," said workshop leader and Massachusetts child-care consultant Dana Friedman. She pointed to the statistics: 1 out of 5 American families headed by single parents, more than half of all married women in the labor force now, and, by 1990, an estimated three-quarters of all married women will work outside the home.
Intermedics' on-site day-care program is run as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the parent company. Their center has a 260-child capacity with 66 children now on the waiting list. About 75 of the children are under age 2.
"We have an 8-to-1 staff-child ratio," said Duncan. "All our teachers have degrees, and our aids have special training. We charge employes $10 per week per child."
Although Ducan was "not at liberty to share how much it costs the company," she gave the following hypothetical "ballpark" figures: "Say it costs about $220 per month to provide care for one child.If the parents contribute $60 a month, that leaves $160, minus about $74 in tax benefits.
"So it costs the company just $86 per child per month. When you measure that against improved morale and productivity, reduced loss in absenteeism and turnover and improved recruitment and corporate image, it can pay for itself and provide additional profits."
There are other ways, noted consulant Friedman, in which businesses can help meet employes; child-care needs.
"One popular way is to reduce the cost of care for employes by purchasing slots in a local day-care center. Or they can start an off-site center, like the employes of WJLA-TV here in Washington who have a day-care center in a local church.
"Several companies can join together and run a center for their employes. Some industrial complexes attracts companies to locate there by running a day-care center at the complex."
A popular new flexible benefit strategy, called "cafeteria-style benefits," allows, business to offer employes specific benefits they desire.
"American Can Co. in Connecticut offers core coverage in five different areas," said Friedman, "retirement, medical, life insurance, disability and vacation.
"Depending on their salary, each employe gets a certain number of benefit credits, so a younger employe with a child could opt for more vaction time and less life insurance. No one's tried to put day care into this framework, but it's natural, since it'd give something to those who want day care and offer other benefits to employes who don't.
"And when wages hit a ceiling, benefits like day care can be an excellent negotiating tool between labor and management."
Business also are helping meet employe's child-care needs through flex-time, part-time and job-sharing schedules. Some offer "sick child leave," or allow employes to use their own sick leave if their child is ill.
Companies also can plug into existing "child-care switchboards" or assign someone in their personnel department to help employes find good day-care centers. "One Illinois company helped their employes find day care," she said, "and created centers where there weren't any."
Lunchtime "parents education seminars" are offered to 30 corporations in Houston through the Texas Family Institute. "Volunteers come into the corporation to run a brown-bag lunch seminar on topics like "how to find and choose a day-care center."
To meet the needs of divorced "summer parents," said Friedman, one Mid-western factory pruchased 200 acres of land 40 miles from the plant to use as a summer camp. "The parents bring their children to work, and the company provides a bus to take them to the camp site.
Other day-care trends include health-care workers who vist a sick child's home. "A Minnesota agency runs a 24-hour hot line with five health-care workers," said Friedman, "and, during winter months, gets close to 25 calls before 8 a.m. They charge between $3.40 to $5 an hour and are just beginning to try contracting their services with businesses.
"A shopping center in Austin, Tex., runs a 'Check-a-Child,' where parents are issued beepers so they can be paged by the day-care center if their child needs them while they're shopping. Apartment complexes are also getting involved with providing day care."
Despite this variety of corporate solutions to the day-care dilemma, some compaines "run scared" when approached by employes seeking help, said day-care director Ducan. "The important thing is to show them it will help their profits."
She suggested taking a survey of employes to show the need. "Ask employes, anonymously, to estimate how much time they've missed from babysitters who don't show or from school holidays.
"Be realistic enough to provide management with reasons why they should provide a day care. It's hard to argue with improved morale, image and productivity, plus reduced recruiting and training costs and absenteeism."