Responding to growing demands from employees, some of the nation's largest banking companies are offering full-scale programs to help workers juggle work and family life.

Child care is at the heart of many of these "work-life" initiatives. Human resources executives at banks said their child-care policies-which range from full-time day-care centers to emergency day care to subsidies for private care-help attract and retain qualified employees and improve overall productivity.

"It's really a win-win for all of us," said Linda Siebert Rapoport, director of work-family programs at First Chicago NBD Corp.

"It relieves stress for our employees, and it makes them more satisfied and productive workers."

First Chicago operates an on-site, full-time day-care center, with a capacity of 140 children up to kindergarten age, in its credit card servicing center in Elgin, Ill.

It also offers free temporary day care at a separate facility in Chicago's downtown Loop area for employees with infants and preschool-age children.

Many other banking companies offer temporary, or backup, centers either on-site or at nearby facilities.

The backup centers fill in for a limited period-generally 20 days a year-when an employee's permanent child-care arrangements fall through, human resources executives said.

The centers are cost-efficient if serving more than 1,000 employees, human resources executives said. Outside areas where that many employees are concentrated, many banks offer discounts on private day care.

Chase Manhattan Corp. recently announced it would build six emergency day-care facilities for its employees in major centers nationwide, including its headquarters in New York City and at five of its processing centers: Jericho, N.Y.; Tampa; Tempe, Ariz.; Newark, Del.; and Columbus, Ohio.

The bank will spend $400,000 to $800,000 to build each facility, said John Farrell, director of human resources. It now operates one emergency child-care center at its back office in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The centers will be free and available for infants through sixth graders.

Mr. Farrell said the idea to build more centers came from a 1997 employee survey in which Chase found that 87% of employees who were parents needed backup child care.

Announcing the new centers March 30, Chase president Thomas G. Labrecque said, "Listening to employees, we found the most pressing demand was for reliable backup support. We are taking action to fill that breech."

At J.P. Morgan & Co., which offers free access to temporary day-care facilities in New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco, productivity was also a benefit of the continuing work-life initiative, said Patricia Hammond, director of Morgan's work-life programs.

Charlotte, N.C., rivals NationsBank Corp. and First Union Corp. each operate full-time day-care facilities at their headquarters and free backup centers around their sprawling branch systems. NationsBank has eight backup centers; First Union has one in Roanoke, Va., and another in Philadelphia.

NationsBank also offers a $35 per week subsidy for each child in private care. And both banks offer summer camps and after-school programs for school-aged children.

At BankAmerica Corp., San Francisco, parents have access to a range of services, including free backup centers in New York and San Francisco, subsidized at-home nannies in Phoenix and Chicago, and discounts on day care in other areas.

Morgan, Chase, First Chicago, and BankAmerica also offer seminars for employees on caring for children and the elderly.

Jan Smith, vice president and human resources product manager at BankAmerica, said the Clinton administration's focus on child care has brought the issue into the spotlight to stay.

"I think when we looked at our employees," she said, "we recognized that if we didn't address this issue it would affect our bottom line.

"It's not just looking at what skills the employees have. It's looking at letting them use those skills without being distracted by family issues."

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