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Oregon organizations recognized for flexible work/life integration policies



Ashley Cartmel works for Bora Architects, but hers is an unusual four-day work week. It’s her choice to use the flexible schedule, and she does, because she has two kids.

“I also recently came back from maternity leave where I was able to benefit from Bora’s new paid leave policy,” Cartmel said. “There are others who work Monday through Thursday and do four 10-hour days and thus are full-time, so there are options.”

The options are part of Bora’s flexible family policies, for which it recently won statewide recognition.

RIDE CONNECTION - On Take Your Child to Work Day at Ride Connection, there were activities planned for the day including interviews with staff for the older kids as well as bus-related sing-alongs, sidewalk art in the bus lot and educational presentations.

The Importance of Flexibility

Family Forward Oregon (FFO) and the Center for Parental Leave Leadership announced the 2015-16 Oregon winners of the national “When Work Works” award for flexible employers.

When Work Works is a joint, nation-wide initiative project of the Families and Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. Founded in 2003, it brings research on workplace effectiveness and flexibility into community and business practices.

Among the 2016 winners is Portland-based Bora Architects. Amy Donohue, principal at Bora, said architecture is a fast-paced, deadline-driven industry, but Bora makes time for its families.

“When staff feel supported in their personal lives, they are better prepared to come to the office and do their most creative work,” Donohue said. “This means that we focus more on people getting their job done than clocking in and out at certain times.”

FFO is an organization founded by mothers who lost their jobs after taking maternity leave, couldn’t afford to work because of the costs of child care or were turned down from part-time or flexible work schedules because of their statuses as mothers. Now, FFO advocates, educates and organizes for affordable childcare, pay equity, paid sick days and parental leave, retirement security for women, a caring economy and domestic worker rights.

“Workplace flexibility, paid family leave, schedule predictability — these workplace issues have become hot topics in the past year,” said Sharon Bernstein, co-founder and deputy director of FFO, in a press release. “More and more big, national employers are announcing new paid family and medical leave programs, other employers have been openly criticized for their just-in-time scheduling practices and presidential candidates are talking about the importance of paid family leave and affordable child care — with good reason.”

The FFO’s research shows flexibility creates effective workplaces, yielding greater job engagement, satisfaction, retention, better overall health and lower stress levels. Award winners rank in the top 20 percent of U.S. employers in terms of initiatives and policies creating effectively flexible workplaces, and awards are also based on confidential employee surveys.

BORA - Bora holds family events including the annual Golf Tournament at Edgefield.

Creating flexible business policies

According to Donohue, Bora has a number of policies benefiting employees in their time off under the Oregon Family Leave Act, including parental leave, caretaking, self-care and grieving.

“Most recently, we implemented a paid family leave policy: Our 65 employees now have access to six weeks of paid leave at 60 percent of their salary,” Donohue said. “Taking care of our people is a priority here at Bora. They are the firm’s greatest asset, so supporting them in their personal lives is as important as providing the right tools in their professional lives.”

Donohue said some of her colleagues arrive late in the morning to drop their kids off at school first, and some come in early so they can leave early for afternoon T-ball practice.

“Lunchtime runs and bike rides are a regular feature of life here as well, and sharing a beer with colleagues in our Design Lab after a big deadline is par for the course,” Donohue said. “We encourage our employees to find a balance that keeps them motivated in the office and also respects their commitments outside of it.”

Donohue said it’s encouraging to see discussion about workplace flexibility, work-life integration and paid leave gaining national momentum.

“One of the great outcomes of the publicity around our paid family leave policy is that some other businesses in Portland have reached out to us to learn more about how we ran the numbers to see if it was viable,” Donohue said. “We have shared information on our methods and hope this encourages others in our profession to follow suit.”

Flexibility in transportation jobs

Another organization recognized by the awards is Portland-based nonprofit Ride Connection, a transportation service for seniors and people with varying levels of ability.

“Ride Connection knows that our employees spend a good portion of their day at work and that life happens,” said Lydia Corran, outreach and development manager with Ride Connection.

“We try to fit the two together so that the work gets done in a quality way, yet our employees can handle their life situations,” Corran said. “We look at how it would affect our employees, our customers and the organization ... We look at how fair it is to all the employees.”

Ride Connection implements flexible policies including varying start times, optional compressed work weeks, a children’s corner in the office with toys and books and remote access for working from home.

“It was designed specifically for inclement weather, allowing our employees to assist our customers while not having to worry about safely driving in,” Corran said. “Ride Connection looks at these awards as a means to show our employees that the flexibility that we offer isn’t readily available in most organizations.”

BORA - Bora plans family outings such as the planting day in St. Johns.

Kids in the office, workers outside

Back at Bora, Cartmel is reminded every day when people bring their children in after school — something that would have been shocking just a few decades ago.

“Often, there are kids in the office during spring break or if someone has a meeting they need to attend on a normal day off, and nobody bats an eye,” Cartmel said. “There’s even a box of office toys on hand to help keep them entertained.”

And it’s not just about children and families: These award-winning businesses recognize that personal and recreational time is critical to individuals’ health.

“There are employees who are training for certain things — dragon boat racing or taking a class somewhere — and may need to leave a little early here and there, but you make up for it on other days when a deadline is pressing,” Cartmel said.

Corran said, “Sometimes, you forget what it is like at other organizations and how flexible we are when you have worked here for awhile...This award is such a reminder.”

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19 winners

  • American College of Healthcare Sciences (ACHS)

  • Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO)

  • Boly:Welch

  • Bora Architects

  • FMYI, Inc.

  • gDiapers

  • KPMG LLP

  • Mammoth HR

  • NPC Research

  • Oregon State University — Corvallis

  • Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) — Eugene

  • Research Into Action, Inc.

  • Ride Connection, Inc.

  • Rose City Mortgage

  • Roth Staffing Companies

  • Soft Star Shoes — Corvallis

  • The Climate Trust

  • The Hello Foundation, LLC

  • University Medical Group

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