EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life
Young employees and family-friendly work practices
A research project sought to examine young parents’ situation in the labour market. Young people often work long hours, and combining work and family is challenging, as employers do not usually have family-friendly policies in place. The employee survey focused on issues of employment and work organisation, parental leave, work–life balance and discrimination. Case studies revealed that employers have little interest in adopting family-friendly policies.
About the survey
Between 2005 and 2007, a partnership comprising two Slovenian research institutions and the social partners carried out a study entitled ‘Young mother/Family-friendly employment’; the two research bodies included the Faculty of Social Sciences (Fakulteta za družbene vede, FDV) at the University of Ljubljana (Univerza v Ljubljani) and the Institute for Economic Research (Inštitut za ekonomska raziskovanja, IER). The project aimed to diminish the hidden discrimination regarding the employment of young women due to their potential motherhood and to promote organisational practices reconciling work and family life. Funding was provided by the European Commission’s EQUAL Initiative and the Slovenian Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs (Ministrstvo za delo, družino in socialne zadeve, MDDSZ).
The main activities of the project were as follows:
- research on young or potential parents, their employment situation, and the work-life balance policies and practices in organisations;
- informing employers and young or potential parents about the employees’ rights;
- a public information campaign in relation to the issues concerned, including press conferences, round-table discussions and presentations;
- developing standards to assess organisational practices regarding support for reconciliation of work and family life.
FDV carried out the research (in Slovenian) and used both quantitative and qualitative methods. A telephone survey was conducted in 2005 based on a sample of 1,592 telephone numbers for persons aged 22–35 years; the survey achieved a response rate of 55.4%.
In 2005–2006, the research undertook case studies in seven organisations of varying size and type of economic activity in the public and private sectors. Focus group discussions were carried out with managers and young employees with and without children. In addition, the study examined organisational documents.
The survey focused on: issues of employment and the family situation of respondents, use of parental leave, the difficulty in achieving a work–life balance, work organisation and intensity of work, and negative experiences in employment or at work due to parenthood or potential parenthood.
Employment status and working time
A relationship emerged between age and fixed-term employment: the younger the respondents were, the higher the proportion of those on fixed-term employment contracts. Almost half of the respondents (46.6%) younger than 25 years were on a fixed-term employment contract; a majority of them were women. Most parents (74%) had an open-ended employment contract, while 17% were employed on a fixed-term basis. Young people without children stated that having a stable permanent job was an important precondition for having a child.
On average, young people spent 47 hours a week in paid work. Only 13% of respondents had complete autonomy over their working time arrangements. The employer decided the start and end work times for almost half (48%) of the survey respondents. A large majority of young people worked full time and wanted to continue that way, regardless of parenthood. Nevertheless, 18% of young people would prefer to work part time – 10.8% of men and 21.6% of women.
Parental leave and work–life balance
Some 43% of young parents reported that in the past year they did not use any parental leave. Furthermore, 13% of young parents ended such leave prematurely – the reasons most often stated by fathers were financial, while mothers cited the negative attitudes of employers (see also the findings of the study entitled ‘Dividing work and family between parents’ SI0603019I).
Overall, 29% of respondents found it very difficult to balance work and family life, 32% were undecided and 38% reported that this was not a problem. A total of 58% of respondents evaluated their employers as understanding the needs of parents with young children. In general, young people have low expectations in relation to their employers. Most respondents (65%) wanted public childcare centres to stay open longer and about one third wished that they were open over the weekend.
Discrimination in the workplace
Women more frequently reported having encountered problems due to potential or actual parenthood while looking for a job. Mothers more often than fathers reported the following problems at the workplace, particularly after having a child: unwanted increased workload, not getting a job position they wanted, hindered promotion, demotion, worse social relations or the employer’s termination of their employment contract. Fathers more often than mothers cited unwanted long work hours of over eight hours a day, or terminating the employment contract on their own initiative due to unbearable problems at work.
Case studies in organisations
Focus group discussions sought to determine the attitudes of management towards young parents, the attitudes and expectations of young parents, and practices in organisations.
Little interest in family-friendly work practices
Generally, the problems of young parents are not an issue for managers, and family-friendly employment is not high on the list of their organisational values. The attitudes of managers vary from open disregard of the needs of young parents – stating that little can be done for them since the work organisation and technology dictate the pace of work – to an understanding that taking young parents’ needs into consideration leads to increased job satisfaction for employees and boosts work productivity. Human resource managers are more sensitive to the needs of young parents than general managers are.
Workers expect more state help
The expectations of young or potential parents towards employers are low. The employees mostly consider reconciliation of work and family life as a personal responsibility, and largely rely on the support of their social networks. However, they have higher expectations with regard to the state, such as organising flexible working hours in public childcare facilities, lower costs of public childcare and child equipment, tax reductions for young families, support in solving housing problems and better control over the implementation of legislation related to parenthood.
Increasing work intensity and job insecurity
Regarding the current environment, work is becoming increasingly intensified, with prolonged working hours and overtime accepted as standard. For highly educated young people in particular, long working hours are associated with a greater sense of work identification and with work results that need to be achieved regardless of how long it takes. Employers discourage part-time work, which is considered as suitable mainly for persons with disabilities. Moreover, fixed-term employment acts as a selection mechanism for young employees. Organisations have little incentive to pay particular attention to young parents as a group of employees or to prepare special programmes for them.
Kanjuo Mrčela, A. and Černigoj Sadar, N. (eds), Delo in družina – s partnerstvom do družini prijaznega delovnega okolja [Work and family – in partnership towards a family-friendly working environment], Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, 2007.
Martina Trbanc, Organisational and Human Resources Research Centre (OHRC), Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana