Work and family life at Stanford: Celebrating decades of support

Stanford's WorkLife Office is dedicated to supporting employees as they work to achieve and maintain a healthy balance in their personal and professional lives. For decades Stanford has developed an evolving portfolio of family programs designed to meet the changing needs of employees.

L.A. Cicero Jennifer Robinson picks up her daughter at the Stock Farm Road ChildrenÂ’s Center.

Jennifer Robinson picks up her daughter at the Stock Farm Road Children’s Center.

Maintaining work–life balance is a challenge for everyone. In fact, according to a 2014 study published in the American Sociological Review, seven out of 10 American workers report struggling to achieve the right work-family fit. Studies have shown that supporting employees with their home life issues helps them focus on work when they are at work.

For decades, Stanford has helped members of the university community find and maintain a healthy balance. In 1970, the university opened the first campus child care center to help meet the needs of graduate students. Since then, Stanford has developed a full portfolio of family programs for employees, supported by the WorkLife Office.

"My team prides itself on working to bring employees programs that help them best integrate their work and personal life," said Phyllis Stewart Pires, senior director of WorkLife strategy at Stanford.

By taking a broad and inclusive view of how families are defined today, WorkLife Office programs and services focus not just on child care, but on myriad work and life concerns.

A nationwide survey released in August found that 89 percent of the nation's working parents want a family care benefit with their company, yet 81 percent report that child care isn't offered.

The same survey found back-up child care, discounted care and help finding child care and elder care were four of the top five family assistance benefits employees want.

Stanford continues to be ahead of the curve. The WorkLife Office provides all those benefits to employees and to retirees. Plus, just this year alone, the office announced enhancements to child care and back-up care services, as well as discounts for off-site child care.

Child and elder care

In February, the Stock Farm Road Children's Center (SFRCC) became the seventh on-site early education and child care center overseen by the WorkLife Office. The new facility added 120 new child care slots, bringing the number of children cared for on campus to approximately 1,000 a day. (This includes Bing Nursery School, a program within the School of Humanities & Sciences, serving as a laboratory for research and child development for the Department of Psychology.) According to University Human Resources, this makes Stanford one of the largest and most comprehensive child care delivery programs among higher education institutions.

Jennifer Robinson, nutrition studies program manager at the School of Medicine, is very happy with the care her 21-month-old daughter is receiving at the Stock Farm facility, and with its proximity to her office.

"It shaves about 30 minutes a day from my commute, giving me more quality family time to spend with my daughter," Robinson said. "When they say it takes a village, WorkLife has been our village. They have provided me with amazing service and even helped me navigate the day care trials I faced when a nanny suddenly quit on me just as my maternity leave was ending."

For Rebecca Lester, assistant professor of accounting in the Graduate School of Business (GSB), having her 14-month-old daughter, Catherine, on campus in the SFRCC makes her new job even better.

"We were fortunate the center opened. Catherine's teachers are fantastic. We are impressed with the encouragement and education they provide," Lester said.

In addition to providing on-site child care centers, Stanford also offers a number of programs designed to help meet the costs of child care both on- and off-campus. Discounts for off-site child care through Bright Horizons and Knowledge Universe were launched last spring.

The WorkLife Office also manages several financial programs to help offset the costs of child care, including the Child Care Subsidy Grant Program (CCSG).

In May, the emergency and back-up care program provided by Bright Horizons was extended to include benefits-eligible staff members, after a pilot program for faculty proved successful. This program provides not only emergency back-up child care, but also emergency back-up elder care. Employees have the choice of someone coming to the home to care for a loved one or getting care through a pre-approved center.

Michaela Murphy, director of operations at the GSB's Centers and Initiatives for Research, Curriculum & Learning Experiences, has a nanny year-round, but needed back-up care in June.

"We have no family nearby. We have great babysitters, but they all work full-time as nannies, so without this service, we would have had a more challenging time getting care. And it would have been significantly more expensive. This was affordable, so I could pay for the back-up services and also give our nanny a paid vacation," Murphy said.

Roland Hsu, research affiliate for the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and for the School of Humanities and Sciences, repeatedly turned to the WorkLife Office during the six years he cared for his sick mother. Thanks to the good advice and the caregivers he found by participating in WorkLife educational seminars and fairs, he never needed to use the back-up care program, but was happy to have the safety net just in case.

"You worry about your loved one 24 hours a day. To know that the WorkLife Office was there was indispensable. Without their resources and expertise, a lot of people would have to give up on their work or take less responsibility," Hsu said.

Seal of Distinction

It's not just the employees who recognize how these ever-expanding programs help them navigate their work–life challenges. In March, Stanford's WorkLife Office received a 2015 Seal of Distinction from the WorldatWork Alliance for Work-Life Progress.

"Stanford University believes in the role well-being plays in both employees' lives and long-term organizational success," said Anne Ruddy, president and CEO of WorldatWork, which since 2003 has recognized October as National Work and Family Month.

The WorkLife team is constantly adapting to the evolving definition of what "work–life balance" means to Stanford's diverse community and exploring additional ways to make it work, at work. Employees who have questions, concerns or ideas about balancing work and family life or those who want to schedule a one-on-one consultation with someone from the WorkLife Office are encouraged to complete a support request on the office's website.

"This month is the perfect time to revisit your work and life priorities," Stewart Pires said. "And don't forget to activate your support network and ask for help when needed. The WorkLife Office can be an important part of your support group."