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Family & Money: Mom's Juggling Act

The task of juggling work and parenthood could get easier for more women.

An increasing number of employers are offering flexible work arrangements as a way of attracting and retaining top talent. The trend is being aided by technology and driven by shifting demographics and a more global economy.

“As companies face a shrinking pool of qualified labor, retaining top talent has become a key business objective and companies are reshaping their policies,” said Mary Delaney, chief sales officer at online recruiter CareerBuilder.com.

CareerBuilder.com recently conducted a survey of 1,124 women, who were employed full-time and had children under the age of 18 living at home. The survey, which sampled women at a variety of income levels, found that 25% of women said they are dissatisfied with their work-life balance.

“Women still feel like they are working two full-time jobs and that they are being pulled in two directions, while they are doing both of them,” Delaney said.

Missing Out

One of the chief complaints among the mothers in the survey was that they feel they are missing out on quality time with their children. Thirty-two percent of working moms say they spend less than three hours a day with their kids.

Forty-four percent say they would take a pay cut if it meant that they could spend more time with their kids, and nearly 9% say they would take a pay cut of 10% or more if that led to more time with their children. Notably, nearly half, about 49%, say they would leave their job if their spouse or significant other made enough money for the family to live comfortably.

One way that an increasing number of parents are balancing their responsibilities is by taking advantage of flexible work policies. These policies include rules governing flexible start-stop times, telecommuting, part-time work, compressed workweeks and job-sharing.

About 75% of American workers have access to flexible work arrangements, up from 67% in 1995, according to the Hewitt Associates consulting firm.

A lot of employers had policies on their books, but employees were not taking advantage of them, but that is changing, according to Kathie Lingle, director of the Alliance for Work-Life Progress, a professional association for work-life practitioners.

“Companies seem to be refreshing their approach and getting more serious about it,” Lingle said.

“Using flexible work arrangements has a big impact on retention and recruitment,” Lingle said. She emphasizes it is not just working moms who are looking for this kind of benefit.

Other Groups Want Flexibility

According to Lingle, many Baby Boomers who are approaching retirement age are looking for ways to juggle their responsibilities with their aging parents or to transition into retirement rather than leave the work force abruptly.

Younger people, who are entering the work force, often would like to balance work with additional education to develop their skills, she said. Also, there are a growing number of men looking for these benefits. The pace of this trend could quicken as the number of single-fathers continues to rise, she said.

Notably, flexible work arrangements are starting to be seen as a business strategy rather than an accommodation employers are making to their employees to be nice, said Laura Sabattini, a research director at Catalyst, a research and advisory organization that seeks to expand opportunities for women at work.

Still, adopting more flexible work arrangements requires a shift in management's thinking if it is to be successful.

"It is a management style," Lingle said. "You could be a flexible workplace next Tuesday if you wanted to be, but it requires some retraining of mangers."

For example, managers need to shift to assessing an employee's performance based on what they accomplish rather than on "face time."

Employees also need to feel some assurance that there won't be any stigma associated with their decision to adopt a more flexible schedule.

In the CareerBuilder.com survey, the women who used flexible work arrangements were largely satisfied with them, and about 65% reported that these arrangements were not hurting their career progress.

According to Delaney, it often takes someone within the company to sell the idea of flexible work arrangements to an employer. But some job candidates have been successful in negotiating flexible schedules right from the start.

Careerbuilder.com, which is owned by Gannett,Tribune and McClatchy, hired two women to share one sales job in its Kansas City office.

The women, who had worked together in the past, came to the job interview together and made a presentation about how and why they thought they could do the job effectively as a team.

“They gave us evidence that together they could do the work of as much as or more than one individual,” she said. The arrangement has been going “quite well,” she said.

“It absolutely can be done,” she said. “Companies just have to be open to it.”

Christina Cheddar Berk is a News Editor at CNBC.com. She can be reached at christina.cheddar-berk@nbcuni.com.

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