September 28, 2006

AARP Ranks Cornell 32nd Best Employer

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The American Association of Retired Persons recognized Cornell this past month as one of the best employers for older people.

Cornell ranked number 32 on AARP’s annual list of the top 50 employers for people over 50. Other universities selected from this year’s 123 applicants were MIT (number 7) and the University of Kentucky (number 30).

Representatives of The University flew to Chicago last Thursday for a special dinner honoring the award recipients.

According to the AARP, an organization of 35-million members focused on advancing the interests of older people, Cornell implemented two key initiatives over the past few years that helped it clinch a spot on this year’s list.

One is the Catastrophic Leave Donation, which allows staff members to donate leave time to co-workers who are out of paid leave but must miss work because they or a family member have experienced a dire health illness or injury. The other program is the Long Term Care Insurance, which helps employees cover costs from a chronic disease or long-term disability. Coverage can go towards services such as nursing homes, adult day care centers or home care.

Other benefits AARP cited include flexible work arrangements, comprehensive health coverage and opportunities for retirees, who can take six credits of coursework at any college within Cornell for free. Employees also can take courses on personal development and job skills and enroll at Cornell’s Adult University.

The University’s focus on employee learning and development proved a winning strategy last year when it made AARP’s list for the first time.

In 2005, Cornell ranked number five, just ahead of MIT.

“It is becoming an extremely competitive award,” said Lynette Chappell-Williams, the Director of the Office of Workforce Diversity, Equity and Life Quality, about why Cornell’s ranking had taken a nosedive from last year.

A comparison of the 2005 and 2006 rankings reveals a whirlwind of changes, not just for Cornell but also for other top contenders. Stanley Consultants, Inc., which reigned in first place last year, fell to number 12 this year. Deere & Company, a large agricultural and construction equipment manufacturer, plunged from number four to last place this year. On the other hand, MIT edged only one spot down from number six a year ago, and several organizations — like Mercy Health System, which shot up 11 places to become number one this year — improved in standing significantly.

Deborah Russell, AARP director of workforce issues and the mastermind behind the best employers list, explained that organizations seesaw up and down on the list because they compete against each other, not against established benchmarks.

“It’s not that Cornell did anything wrong or dropped any particular program or policy, it’s really about what other companies are in the mix,” she said.
When asked what Cornell can improve upon for next year, Chappell-Williams said that the University will benchmark against other companies and institutions to identify areas where more resources are needed.

“What we will be doing is looking at those organizations who also made the list and comparing what we have in place to what they have. We will be talking with AARP. They do provide a report card on different areas,” she said.

After examining Cornell’s policies and programs, Russell said she believes Cornell may have opportunities for improvement in its work schedule flexibility and in utilizing its retired workforce.

Based on last year’s findings, the Office of Human Resources is exploring different resources for employees who take care of elder family members. Chappell-Williams said that the University has already put in place workshops on how to fund elder care and connect with agencies around Ithaca, but it is attempting to direct information and programs on a national level as well.