In that half-hour, she hands off the remaining duties of the day to the staff shesupervises as an assistant vice president for data and financial services at theGreenfield, Wis., PyraMax Bank and drives nine minutes home, from a world of parking lotsand signs to green grass and pines.

There, she picks up where her husband, Todd, has left off with daughters Brianna, 5,and Isabella, 2. He's off to his shift as a diesel mechanic, and she can watch the girlsplay on the swings and slides in their backyard.

Four years ago, PyraMax hired Merkel through that golden window. Its family-friendlywork practices have made it a magnet for young moms who negotiate flexible schedulesright along with salaries and vacation time.

Baby boom moms largely worked out the details of flexible hours, telecommuting and thelike with their bosses one at a time, behind closed doors, for fear of setting anapple-cart-upsetting precedent.

Their daughters, the current mothers of young children, put their expectationssquarely on the table. Employers can respond with "flexwork" options, or they can lookfor someone else.

A 2005 survey by staffing company Spherion found that a "continued need for work-lifebalance" was one of three top retention factors. Only 32 percent of workers, it found,are satisfied with their ability to maintain balance between their personal andprofessional lives.

"For many young mothers, it just didn't work for them that their mothers went to work.I hear that all the time: I'm not going to do that to my kids,'" says Susan Seitel,president of Work & Family Connection Inc., a publishing and consulting firm inMinnetonka, Minn.

Young moms say that they've got flexible attitudes about flexibility: They'll make itwork for their employers, if their employers will make it work for them.

In her 20 years in the work force, Vicky Vogt has seen a 180-degree turn in how youngmoms are straightforward about presenting their expectations of flexibility upfront injob interviews.

Vogt is vice president of employer-relations services for Pewaukee, Wis.-based MRA -The Management Association Inc., an employer consortium that provides consulting servicesto members and that strives for a culture that accommodates working moms.

"I would say they're very upfront and, as they look for opportunities, they've made uptheir minds that they'll only leave their present positions or get back into the workforce if it meets their needs," she says. "I don't think that attitude existedbefore."

MRA's national research indicates that about 25 percent of the work force at itsmember companies use a compressed workweek, and fewer than 22 percent take advantage offlexible schedules. Half of MRA's own employees work some sort of alternative schedule,and of those working full time, about 30 percent use a flexible schedule.

Brookfield, Wis., resident Linda Berger started working at MRA five years ago, whenher first child was a baby. She now puts in up to 20 hours a week as part of MRA'semployment-reference-checking service.

Her volume of work fluctuates with member companies' hiring patterns. Team membersback each other up so that deadlines are met, says Berger, and that can mean taking workon short notice or working from home.

"I talk about this all the time with my friends from college and business school,"says Slaughter, a 2005 graduate of the University of Chicago Business School who is aninternal consultant with Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.

Instead of being forced to accept or decline a job with non-negotiable hours and workculture, she says, "for our generation, we hope that there's the opposite - creative waysto make it work."

Each department at Northwestern Mutual offers a combination of work-life programs thatmeet its business demands, says Jean Towell, a company representative. Managers candecide if and how to use options such as job-sharing and compressed workweeks.

Still, she was skeptical when her interviewer - Monica Baker, senior vice president ofmarketing and human resources - told her about the bank's flextime practice.

"All of the managers are doing the flextime," Baker tells a reporter. "If someonewants to do four 10-hour days, they can. It's just the culture now, as long as the workis getting done and the bank is profitable."

Employers that don't adapt their cultures to embrace the expectations of working moms"don't know what they're missing - a big swath of people who need flex," she says.

As a manager, Merkel now sees both sides. She has to manage a staff that expects thesame freedoms that she has and balance the needs of employees who don't have youngchildren with the needs of those who do.

"There are a lot of last-minute requests," she says. "But it's not just the moms thatunderstand it. It's a culture throughout the whole company. And I just hired a mom, andshe asked about flex in the interview."

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