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March 10, 2013
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Local groups trying to improve work-life balance in Vail Valley

EAGLE COUNTY - A couple of local groups are trying to fine-tune the work-life balance in the area.

The Youth Foundation and the High Country Human Resource Association have created what they're calling the "Business Champions" partnership. The main goal, as stated in a press release, is "to help local businesses increase productivity, innovation and customer satisfaction and thereby grow their bottom line."

It's an ambitious goal, with an ambitious first step.

The local groups are working to determine how businesses can better accommodate workers with either small children or those who are caring for aging relatives.

Lisa Ponder, the president of the human resources group and also the human resources department director at Eagle County, said the idea behind the project came from The Youth Foundation's efforts to help families with kids ages 3 and younger.

As the foundation studied how to make sure youngsters are ready for school, one answer became clear, Ponder said: Good parents help nurture good kids.

This first project is a way to help parents do their jobs better. That means providing parents with more ways to help their kids, Ponder said. In an economy in which both parents usually hold full-time jobs, that means finding ways for adults to do those jobs and still provide time to take care of their kids.

An offshoot of that idea comes at the other end of the demographic scale.

"One in seven Americans is caring for an elderly parent," Ponder said.

Beyond those with kids or older adults at home, the fact is that most people come to Eagle County for the lifestyle. More flexibility at work pays dividends for those people, too.

But what does workplace flexibility look like?

Ponder said while many people think "flexibility" involves mainly working from home, the idea goes much deeper.

Working from home or other remote locations might work for people with desk jobs - "I do some of my most productive work at Starbucks," Ponder said - but bus drivers, line cooks and housekeepers don't have that option.

That's where other ideas are needed.

Ponder said Eagle County allows people to take longer lunch breaks and then either come in early or stay later in the day. For bus drivers, other drivers can fill in for co-workers who need a few hours off.

But filling in can be a challenge in a couple of ways, Ponder said. First, employees need to be willing to fill in for a co-worker. Employers, in turn, need to be willing to accept the cost of some overtime.

"It really takes everyone in the organization buying in," Ponder said.

At the Antlers Lodge in Vail, general manager Rob LeVine agreed that having management and employees on the same page regarding workplace flexibility is crucial.

LeVine said the Antlers doesn't have a lot of people who need flexibility in their schedules, but those who do are allowed to take time as they need it.

"Employees are happier, they feel respected," LeVine said. "That far outweighs the few hours of overtime I pay."

That's the kind of thing the human resources' group wants to learn from the current survey.

But what happens next?

Ponder said there's a meeting scheduled for April 30 at Colorado Mountain College. Those who attend will learn about the results, and about 100 human resources specialists have volunteered to do some one-one-one work with business owners and managers interested in learning more about ideas that allow businesses to provide less rigidly structured work environments.

"People want to be good at their jobs," Ponder said. "But they also want more control in their lives. We want them to be good at both."

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Mar 10, 2013 11:16PM Published Mar 10, 2013 11:15PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.