Survey looks at work and family life
Employers take family-friendly working seriously and have a range of policies to support them, according to a survey. The research looked at family-friendly working policies in companies in six European countries. It showed companies were particularly strong in areas such as flexible working and parental support. The main driver for this in most countries was compliance. The survey found the economic crisis has had little impact on family-friendly working policy provision.
The European Company Survey on Reconciliation of Work and Family Life 2010 (1.36Mb PDF) has provided a detailed description and analysis of family-friendly policies implemented by companies in six European countries – Germany, the UK, France, Italy, Sweden and Poland.
The survey was carried out between late October and early December 2009 by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW Köln) and financially supported by the German Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ) and the Robert Bosch Foundation. More than 5,000 company managers and human resources managers in the six countries were surveyed by means of computer-aided telephone interviews.
Respondents were chosen at random. However, in order to ensure a representative outcome, the results were extrapolated using a 3x2 matrix consisting of three workforce categories (5–49, 50–249, and 250 and over) and two sectoral groups (production industry and service providers).
For Germany, it was important to ensure comparability with the 2006 Company Survey on Reconciliation of Work and Family Life. For this reason, a larger number of companies were approached in Germany than in the other countries covered by the survey. Upwards of 1,300 were surveyed in Germany, around 750 in the other countries.
Interviewees were asked about how important they considered the issue of family friendliness to be, and about their company policies. In addition, they reported on their main motives for, and the most significant obstacles to, the implementation of work-life balance measures.
Significance of family-friendly working
The study concluded that family-friendly working was regarded as important in all six countries covered by the survey. Managers in Sweden and in the UK were most likely to say they felt it was important or fairly important. In the other four countries, around eight out of 10 managers said that family-friendly working was important or fairly important for their company.
Attitudes and activities relating to family-friendly working
Interviewees were asked their response to five statements:
- The company ensures that the ability to reconcile work and family life can be taken for granted by our staff;
- Workers with family care commitments have the same development and promotion opportunities as employees without such commitments;
- The management regularly interviews staff as to their requirements in relation to reconciling work and family life;
- Employees are regularly informed by management about the work-life reconciliation policies offered by our company;
- The staff and their representative bodies are continuously involved in devising the work-life reconciliation policies offered by our company.
The results showed that more than 60% of Swedish companies could be characterised as particularly family-friendly. The figures for Italy were 54.8%, for France 47.9%, for Germany 37.7% and for the UK 30.3%. Polish firms did not significantly differ from German companies.
In terms of the number of policies on offer, companies in the UK and Sweden offered 10 policies (as a median value), whereas German firms had seven, French firms six, Italian five and Polish five. Only a very small minority of companies did not offer any family-friendly measures at all – Germany 0.8%, UK 0.8%, France 0.7%, Italy 4.6%, Sweden 0.4%, and Poland 1.2%.
The survey found that flexible daily or weekly working hours, individually agreed working hours and the opportunity to work part-time were the most commonly used flexible working measures in all countries. However, there were significant national differences. The number of companies in the UK that offered part-time work and individually agreed working-hours, for example, was significantly larger than in Germany. Swedish companies, meanwhile, were more likely to have implemented part-time working than German companies.
Parental leave and parental support
Supporting working parents was an important element of family-friendly policies. The survey found that the needs of parents were considered when work processes were organised in a very high proportion (80.1%) of German companies. This was also the case in the majority of firms in all of the other countries except Italy.
Paying particular attention to parents’ family obligations was the most common form of support for working parents among Italian and Polish companies. This was cited by 37.3% of Italian and 33.2% of Polish firms.
Child care and dependent care
The survey found that German (15.1%) and UK (18.3%) enterprises supported their employees in finding, organising or financing childcare more often than businesses in the other four countries. Support was most commonly through providing extra time off to employees. However, this type of support was less prevalent in all countries surveyed than flexible working provision and provision of parental leave and support.
The survey found few efforts to support employees in their household and leisure activities, or to inform and advise them on legal matters. In Sweden, however, a fifth of companies offered at least two forms of family support service.
Reasons for providing family-friendly working
The survey asked interviewees what motivated their company to provide family-friendly working to its employees. The most common reason cited in all countries, with the exception of Germany, was the need to comply with legislation or collectively-agreed provisions. In Germany, the main reason was to increase job satisfaction, followed by a wish to be a more attractive employer and increase productivity.
Compared with companies in the other five countries, relatively few German firms reported that their employees expressly requested the introduction of family-friendly measures. Also, compared with their counterparts in other countries, German companies went to greater lengths to accelerate reintegration of employees returning to work after parental leave.
Impact of the crisis
The economic crisis appears to have had relatively little impact on family-friendly working, according to this survey. Italy was the only country in which a significant proportion (around 40%) of the companies had been forced to withdraw or postpone reconciliation policies. By contrast, a similar response was found in only 7% of the enterprises in Germany and fewer than 3% in the UK.
Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies