Staff Q&A/Marilyn Kraut

Marilyn Kraut, human resources director, Quality of Worklife Services  

Just a few decades ago, employers couldn’t be counted on to provide workers with childcare, wellness classes or flex time. The deal was employers provided a stable work environment, and employees kept their jobs as long as they were reliable and responsible.

But when the workforce contracted in the early 1980s, employers found they couldn’t necessarily keep up their end of the bargain. More women in the workforce and an increase in dual-income households created new tensions between work and family life.

As a result, says Marilyn Kraut, human resources director of Penn’s Quality of Worklife Programs, “[Employers] decided if they gave more support for work life ... that was a smart thing to do to offset the loss of stability and security.”

Today, many businesses offer a number of programs to help employees balance work and family commitments. At Penn, Kraut is responsible for overseeing the comprehensive roster of Quality of Worklife Programs, including (but not limited to) Snow Day Child Care and adoption reimbursement; the Employee Assistance Program; Penn Family Day and the Models of Excellence Awards. “I get to do all the fun things, the things that help people through difficult times and make them happy,” says Kraut.
The latest helping hand for the 13,500 benefits-eligible faculty and staff is the Backup Care program, which is temporary in-home emergency adult or child care.

Kraut says the goal behind this and other work life programs is to ensure faculty and staff can maintain a high level of productivity. “All of the [Worklife programs] have to address the bottom line of successful work,” says Kraut. “When you have ways to celebrate achievement, it reinforces the desire to stay here, [and] to celebrate together the University’s success. It’s retention, it’s recruitment, it’s productivity.”

Kraut is a living testament to Penn’s high retention rate. She’s worked at the University for 15 years, shepherding three kids through college and earning a Master of Science in Organizational Dynamics from the School of Arts and Sciences along the way.

The Current recently sat down with Kraut to discuss the new Backup Care program, other work life benefits and how these programs help employees stay connected to Penn.

Q. How does the Backup Care program work?
The Backup Care program is designed to place a caregiver in your home to fill any kind of need that can arise. The program can handle illness, if a child can’t go to daycare or school because they’re sick, if you have a spouse returning from the hospital who can’t take care of themselves, if your spouse normally takes care of your children but he or she is sick that day. It’s designed for erratic, unusual backup care needs.

Q. What’s the cost?
We wanted to make it affordable, understanding how, especially with preschool aged children, you typically have a cost that stays stable even if your kids aren’t there ... We’re going to only charge a co-pay of $5 an hour if you earn under $60,000 as your annual base salary, and $8 an hour if you make over that amount as your annual base salary. Childcare is for everybody in your home 17 or under. Adult care is for 18 and over. That has a slightly higher cost because the community costs are more. The co-pay is $8 for under $60,000 and $10 for over $60,000.

Q. Is there a limit to the usage?
Ten days a year total. So, if you found out your mom [who lives out of town] hurt herself, you probably want to go there, but you may not be able to leave immediately. You may have to arrange for care [for your mom] for today and tomorrow, but when you go there, you have to have a couple days of coverage for your kids here. In the sandwich generation, that’s a very common experience.
I remember one time, I was in Florida taking care of my parents and one of my kids got sick and my husband had to be in court and couldn’t undo it. We had a lot of creative care arrangements. I was always good at that, but we ran into a real crisis that day. We used a local program that was very expensive. Not everybody can afford that, nor would they necessarily know to look into that.

Q. How does this fit in with the mission of other Quality of Worklife Programs and HR?
Well, HR's job is to create an environment that allows us to recruit and retain the best talent and to create the best environment for that purpose as well. Quality of Worklife fits within that with the desire to create a productive, constructive and positive work experience. Backup Care helps to address one facet of the working family set of issues, as do the Dependent Care Resource and Referral Services, which provide--via phone or online--help for faculty and staff seeking long-term care arrangements (day care, after school programs, assisted living and nursing home options for elders, etc.). They also serve as the basis for the workshops we offer on campus related to dependent care, and work and family/work life-related topics.

Q. What are flexible work options?
That was rolled out in 1998 and it allows for flexibility for improved productivity and service. ... Some people have child care arrangements for a certain number of days, so maybe they work a compressed work schedule so they can have more time with their children on one or two days a week.
We’re always exploring ways to be more helpful to the Penn community. For example, the Employee Assistance Program, to me, is one of the most important things we do. It’s our free counseling service, up to eight visits through a tri-state network that is managed by Penn Behavioral Health.

Q. Under what circumstances might people take advantage of the Employee Assistance Program?
It’s not for people who are in extreme crisis. You have your mental health services through insurance coverage for that. [The Employee Assistance Program] is helpful for good and tragic things because either can create real stress for you—a new home or marriage, a new baby, even a new promotion. It’s both sides of the coin. Last year, over 500 people took advantage of our free counseling services.
One of the main things that the EAP also does is provide managers with coaching on how to deal with issues going on in their environment. The EAP is so important for helping co-workers, managers figure out how to deal with a distressed co-worker. I’ve been in the workplace long enough that I remember what it was like before there was this sort of thing. It was just devastating.

Q. You also recognize long-time employees at Penn. Talk about those programs.
Early on, we expanded our Service Recognition Program. There was already a 25-year club, but there was a clamoring for a recognition-of-service milestone. We originally designed it to go up to 45 years of service because we couldn’t envision beyond that. But every year, we get three or four people who reach 50 years. ... One percent of the population reaches 25 years of service every year. People love being a part of Penn. Our longevity is something for us to be proud of.
Eleven years ago we introduced the Models of Excellence program to recognize real high achievement above and beyond. The President, Provost and EVP have said that they enjoy being able to talk about and celebrate the important contributions the staff make to the University’s success. We’ve given out over 500 awards to every environment on campus.

For more information on the Employee Assistance Program, call 888-321-4433. Visit for information on all Quality of Worklife Programs.

Originally published on January 7, 2010