Worried about the rising cost of health insurance and other non-wage benefits, many businesses are abandoning paternalism and seeking to limit their financial commitment to their employees' future welfare. In addition, the shift of the economy from manufacturing to services has resulted in more Americans working without health insurance and other benefits. Taken together, these trends may be spelling the breakdown of the system of employee benefits that Americans have relied on for decades.
Paid maternity leave, unpaid leaves of up to three years, flexible work schedules, help in finding child care and arranging for the care of elderly relatives—these are just some of the benefits enjoyed by the 223,000 employees who work for International Business Machines Corp. in the United States. IBM's generous array of benefits helps the company attract and keep desired employees. About a third of IBM's work force are women and the company was selected by Working Mother magazine last year as one of the “five best companies for working mothers.”
Most American businesses are not as large or as successful as IBM, however, and the benefits they provide are less liberal than IBM's and less attuned to the changed composition of the work force. A 1987 nationwide survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that although a majority of firms did have work-schedule policies that might help parent-employees, “employers as a group have yet to respond in a significant way to the child-care needs of their workers.”