Work–life balance is a term used to describe a state of equilibrium between an individual's work and personal life. A satisfactory work–life balance is achieved when an individual’s right to a fulfilled life inside and outside paid work is accepted and respected as the norm, to the mutual benefit of the individual, business and society.
Work–life balance is a consistent theme in Commission proposals on the future of European social policy that promote a shift away from a work–leisure dichotomy towards more complex patterns of time use. New working time patterns offer the possibility for new combinations of work, education and training, social responsibility and leisure in a more integrated life cycle, with associated measures going beyond traditional labour law rights to equal treatment in employment and social security. Such measures include rights and entitlements to training, caring responsibilities and community service, and the provision of incentives for workers to undertake these activities. EurLIFE, an interactive database on quality of life in Europe developed by the European Foundation for Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), collates data drawn from surveys and other published sources on the amount of time individuals spend on family activities, sports, social activities, cultural activities and relaxation.
The European quality of life survey, conducted by Eurofound, provides comparisons between countries on issues relating to the employment situation, living and working conditions, family and community life, health and housing in 28 countries in Europe. In relation to the reconciliation of work and family life, the survey finds increasing support for more flexible working time arrangements. These include arrangements that would give women greater scope to develop both family and career plans as well as providing opportunities for men to reduce their formal working time in order to take on more family responsibilities. Additionally, the European company survey provides data on why and how companies make use of a broad variety of working time arrangements, such as full- and part-time work, overtime, flexi-time, shift work, phased and early retirement and childcare leave arrangements.
In 2007, the Commission adopted a second-stage consultation with workers’ and employers’ representatives on how to achieve a better balance between work, private and family life. In June 2009, the European social partners achieved a historic advance in adopting an agreement revising their 1995 framework agreement on parental leave. In particular, the agreement provides for an increased period of leave and encourages fathers to take some leave by making part of the leave non-transferable. In addition, parents will have the right to request flexible working when returning from parental leave. In October 2008, the Commission also presented proposals for the revision of Council Directive 92/85/EEC on measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers or workers who have recently given birth or who are breastfeeding (COM(2008) 637 Final).The proposed revised directive was considered by the European Parliament in April 2009 and adopted with amendments, following which Member States were encouraged to consult on the proposals.
Labour law does not formally or directly regulate non-working time. However, the availability of non-working time, and the uses to which it can be put, depend on the working time regulation. EU policy in this area aims to extend employment protection law to atypical workers, in particular part-time workers, and to restructure working time. In the short term, EC law can be used to require the equal treatment of part-time workers and atypical workers. In the longer term, it seeks to legitimise and promote various forms of work to help reduce unemployment and reconcile work–family life demands. Furthermore, the employment guidelines of the European Employment Strategy (EES) also direct Member States to look at working time policies and, in particular, to create additional opportunities for part-time and flexible work. The section on ‘Reconciling work and family life’ in the equal opportunities pillar of the earliest EES guidelines states: ‘Policies on career breaks, parental leave and part-time work, as well as flexible working arrangements, which serve the interests of both employers and employees, are of particular importance to women and men … An equal sharing of family responsibilities is crucial in this respect’ (Council Resolution of 15 December 1997 on the 1998 employment guidelines, as amended by Council Resolution of 22 February 1999 on the 1999 employment guidelines).