At KPMG, employees can design own work schedules

Flexible schedules attract female employees

Offering flexible work schedules is one thing, but letting employees design a custom-tailored work regimen that fits their personal needs? That’s exactly what KPMG Peat Marwick LLP in Montvale, NJ, personal services firm, offers to female employees with pressing family needs.

"A huge percentage of our people, especially those coming off the college campus, are women," says Bernie Milano, CPA, partner in charge of personnel administration. "Having invested a lot of money in recruiting them and a lot of relationship building between our people and our clients, it is critical that we be able to retain them." Milano estimates that of the 1,400 to 1,500 employees recruited out of college this year, 55% were women and that roughly 30% to 32% of the entire workforce is female.

Programs have multiple drivers

KPMG’s program offerings were derived from three key sources, notes Milano. "We conduct surveys of employee attitudes, desires, or needs," he notes. "Also, we perform extensive benchmarking with world-class organizations. Then, we have drivers coming from our clients."

For example, says Milano, one of KPMG’s clients may have a woman handling his account. He becomes aware she’s about to have a child and that she’s trying to see if she can keep her career going while meeting her family’s needs. "The client may say, ‘Gee, KPMG, I hope there’s some way you can keep Jane.’ We’ll talk to Jane and come up with a mutually agreeable plan," says Milano.

That’s why, he notes, the word "flexible" truly applies to KPMG’s program. "We don’t have a one-size-fits-all plan," he says. "Some women work full time during school but not at all during summer. Others work all 12 months but half-time, three-quarters, or two-thirds time." (For a summary of the company’s flexible benefits, see story, p. 125.)

The message KPMG communicates to its employees, says Milano, is quite simple and straightforward: "You let us know what you want to do, we’ll take a look at your job responsibilities, and we’ll figure things out on a case-by-case basis."

When an employee decides she requires a more flexible schedule, she simply contacts the individual to whom she reports. "That person will handle the arrangements," says Milano. "There’s no reason to have to go through huge approval loops; that takes the whole essence out of flexibility."

Milano himself has two administrative assistants who job-share. One works Monday through Wednesday, the other Wednesday through Friday. "If one of them has to be out on a given day, she calls her partner, and she will fill in," says Milano. "Vacations are coordinated ahead of time; when one takes a vacation, the other works full time. The bottom line is, I have 100% coverage and two minds to look at everything."

Keeping the best and the brightest

The ability to offer such flexibility not only helps KPMG in recruiting but with retention," says Milano. "The alternative is to lose people." That’s something KPMG does precious little of when it comes to its female employees. The firm reports that nine out of every 10 women return to the firm after childbirth.

Sharon Katz Pearlman, JD, LLM, can personally attest to just how far KPMG will go to attract and retain female employees. Formerly a special litigation attorney for the U.S. Treasury Department, she is now a senior manager at KPMG.

After giving birth to her first child, she applied to Treasury for a flexible schedule. They granted it, although "They weren’t too happy," recalls Pearlman. After having a second child, she was approached by KPMG to start a tax controversy practice (dealing with the IRS on behalf of clients).

"I really wasn’t interested in leaving government, and I was concerned [KPMG] would never let me have the flexibility I wanted," she recalls. "I told them I had two kids, it was very important for me to continue being class mother, and that I needed to be able to work from home a good deal of the time."

Pearlman admits that the requirements she presented to KPMG were "completely unreasonable." She even told KPMG she intended to have a third child. "We met, and they said, ‘We’ll work with you,’" says Pearlman. She joined the firm, became pregnant, and then had twins. "They’ve been extraordinary — so receptive and so helpful," she says. "I had a very difficult pregnancy, and they’ve just been amazing."

Typically, she will go into the office three days each week but not necessarily for the entire day. She has two phone lines in her home, and, of course, a laptop, modem, and e-mail.

"I’m still class mother — doing more [with my children] than I ever imagined possible," says Pearlman. "Had I not had the option of working flex time, I probably would not be working at all."

For her mental health, she admits, "That would probably not have been so good. I spent a lot of time on my law career and in school, and it would have been very difficult emotionally. This position has enabled me to feel not only fulfilled in my career but to [be able to] progress."

"I think if a woman works full time and would prefer to spend more time with her family, obviously they will be stressed out all the time, and feel terribly guilty — that would [negatively] affect their work in the office and how they take care of their family," says Milano. "At the same time, if she wants to be working and can’t find the kind of position worthy of her skills and talents, she’ll sit home and feel inadequate and unfulfilled."

[Editor’s Note: For more information, contact: Bernie Milano, KPMG Peat Marwick LLP, 3 Chestnut Bridge Road, Montvale, NJ 07645. Telephone: (201) 307-7662.]