Keith Miller, a 31-year-old supervisor of fill operations in the clinical production unit of Berlex, the US affiliate of Schering AG Germany, never imagined his nearly 2-year-old twins would end up in body casts. The girls were born with mirror-image cases of hip dysplasia, a dislocation of the hip bone.

Madeline, who was diagnosed in December 2004, was the first of his daughters to have surgery. By the time the ordeal is over, she'll have spent three months in a cast. His other daughter Natalie will have surgery this spring and wear a cast for six weeks, after which Miller expects to resume his usual schedule.


Keith Miller

Miller requested time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act to help his wife Carolyn with the toddlers. Although it meant reducing his usual four-day workweek to just two, the Concord, Calif., resident never worried that his job might...


Big Pharma has a strong reputation for serving the needs of employees with families. In 2004, Working Mother magazine named Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly & Co., and Johnson & Johnson among the top 10 best companies for working mothers. Johnson & Johnson, regarded as the standard bearer for work/life benefits in the pharmaceutical industry, has made Working Mother's top 100 companies every year since the annual list's inception in 1985.

Such accolades – a crucial component of many employers' marketing and recruitment efforts – spotlight the multitude of ways drug companies are catering to their workers' diverse needs:

• AstraZeneca's tuition-subsidized child care center, located across the road from the main campus in Wilmington, Del., serves kids from birth to kindergarten.

• Wyeth offers a dependent-care spending account in which employees can set aside pretax earnings to help defray child care or elder care expenses. The Madison, NJ, company matches worker contributions, dollar for dollar, up to $1,200 a year.

• Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, Ill., provides onsite lactation rooms and other support services to help new moms continue breastfeeding after they return to work. That benefit extends to employees of its Ross Products Division, which makes infant formulas.

Flextime, part- or full-time telecommuting, and compressed workweek options are also popular within the industry, and no wonder. Drugmakers say there's a good business case for offering attractive work/life benefits. It helps reduce turnover, for one, which in turn cuts worker replacement costs. It also helps keep women scientists, already in short supply, in the workforce.

European-based employees of these global pharmaceutical giants often enjoy liberal amounts of government-mandated vacation time and paid maternity leave compared with their US-based counterparts. In Europe, for example, workers get a minimum of four weeks of vacation, but many countries extend that to five or six weeks. Women in France get 16 to 26 weeks of paid maternity leave. However, human resource managers say family-friendly benefits are more prevalent in the United States. "Here, we just work harder and longer, so we need flextime," Cornille quips.

But none of the niceties a company promises on paper make a bit of difference if employees can't take advantage of those offerings. "The most important piece here is whether you have a work environment that supports using it and having management that is flexible," says Andrea Moselle, senior manager of work/life effectiveness at AstraZeneca, where she says 9 out of 10 people at its headquarters use some kind of flexibility.



Alice McCaslin with daughters Joy and Jenna

Alice McCaslin, a single mom and senior finance analyst at Abbott, can vouch for the importance of corporate commitment. Twice when she flew to China to adopt her daughters Joy and Jenna, now 9 and 6, her manager allowed her to take time off and to work from home. Each time the company reimbursed $2,500 of her adoption-related expenses. In fact, on McCaslin's urging, Abbott has since raised its adoption assistance benefit to $10,000.

The money, the flexibility, and a boss who understands when one of her children gets sick has made a huge difference in McCaslin's life. "Definitely, it's keeping me at Abbott," she says.

Clearly, job descriptions make a difference in the amount of flexibility a company can provide, human resource managers concede. A lab scientist, for example, might be tied down to a fixed schedule while a particular project is underway. But a clinical studies leader can write reports from home just as easily as from the office. "When the work lends itself to it, we have some very good success stories," says Nancy Kontra, executive director of human resources, policies, and programs at Wyeth.

To be sure a prospective employer is a good fit for your particular needs, you've got to do your homework. "Candidates are interviewing the company; they're not just being interviewed. Ask the questions," advises Brad Smith, director of staffing and diversity at Nutley, NJ-based Roche.

And just because the flexible arrangement you seek isn't listed in the benefits manual doesn't mean it isn't feasible. It comes down to what the company culture is willing to support, says Jennifer Hawtof, human resources director at Berlex's research center in Richmond, Calif. "I find that our managers are generally open to trying to work with employees," she observes.

Certainly it's made a world of difference for Miller, the father of two. And although he hears from recruiters every two to three weeks, he's committed to staying put: "Berlex makes it too attractive at this point to leave."

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