family-friendly employers

Finding a (truly) family-friendly employer

May 13, 2011: 1:28 PM ET

Lots of companies claim to encourage work-life balance, but how can you tell which ones actually mean what they say?

By Anne Fisher, contributor

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: I was half-heartedly looking for a new job, but now I'm stepping up my search. The last straw was spending Mother's Day at the office, because of looming trial deadlines at the law firm where I work.

When I took this job right out of law school four years ago, the partner who hired me assured me that I'd have flexible hours and would be able to get home to see my son -- who was two years old at the time -- in the evenings and on weekends. It hasn't worked out that way. I believe the firm's intentions are good regarding work-life balance, but when push comes to shove, everyone here works around the clock, and ducking out "early" (say, 9 p.m.) means letting the team down.

I know there is lots of information online about family-friendly companies, but how do I know it's accurate? I'm expecting a second child, and I'd like to avoid making the same mistake again in choosing my next employer. — Once Burned

Dear OB: As you may know, you've got plenty of company. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of women with kids under 18 are in the workforce now, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and many of them have small children: 64% of moms with children under six years old are working outside the home, as are 57% of women with infants under a year old.

It's no wonder, then, that many companies see promoting their efforts to accommodate parents as a boon to recruiting and retaining talent and, as you note, the ones with stellar reputations in this regard are pretty easy to find.

For instance, Fortune's own annual Best Companies list features a ranking of the 10 best employers for work-life balance. Working Mother magazine has been publishing a yearly list of the most family-friendly employers for 25 years, taking into account such perks as telecommuting, flextime, and job sharing. Two companies, IBM (IBM) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), have made that list every year for the full quarter century. More

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