Contributing Reporter

Before her son Ben was born last summer, Sepi Farivar Varon remembered reading a story in Newsweek about the nightmarish demands placed upon a working parent.

"I kind of panicked," said Farivar Varon, a manager in the global health economics department for Thousand Oaks-based biotech firm Amgen. "The perception was that enjoying your kids and career was impossible, given all the pressures of today's workplace."

Thanks to safety nets such as the Family Medical Leave Act, and Amgen's on-site day care, Farivar Varon's fears never came true. Her husband, Michael Varon, a defense attorney in Encino, reorganized his schedule to help ease her transition back into the workplace.

"Amgen's culture is a big part of my work/life balance," Farivar Varon adds. "When my cell phone rings in a meeting saying Ben is sick in day-care, my boss, who has four kids of his own, understands."

Farivar Varon may be the exception. Two other women in her San Fernando Valley-based new mother's support group left firms that refused them flex time or reduced hours.

Today's workplace presents complex conundrums for employees and employers pursuing life balance while remaining productive. New communications technology such as e-mail makes 24/7 contacts with colleagues possible, but that can often mean increased demands. The increased efficiency might enable a worker to complete a project more quickly, but that means another is waiting, and the sanctuary of the home is a thing of the past. Small firms and startups are typically the most sympathetic to workers' needs, but they need maximum hours and efforts from their staff to survive.

The fact is, that even with a great human resources department and an understanding spouse, the work-life balancing act is more challenging today than ever.

Not so progressive?
It begins with the region. Although perceived as employee-friendly, Southern California placed just two firms San Diego-based Scripps Health and Ventura-based Patagonia Inc. on the 2005 Working Mother Magazine's 100 Best Companies, a comprehensive rating system that has become the gold standard for work/life quality.

California is the only state in the nation to mandate paid family leave, which allows for more time bonding with new infants, or caring for an ill relative, while still getting a paycheck. But Diane Halpern, Director of the Berger Institute for Work, Family and Children at Claremont McKenna College, says the state's Paid Family Leave (PFL) program hasn't impacted those who really need it and that the business community has been resistant to PFL since it became law in July of 2004.


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