Combining work and family life

Parental leave and responsibility for childcare is often associated exclusively with mothers, and this can negatively impinge on the job and promotion opportunities of women in the labour market. Empirical evidence from a study on how parents divide work and family time reveals that mothers of young children had substantially more negative employment and career experiences than fathers of young children, with divorced or single mothers aged up to 30 years being most affected.

Background

Slovenia has maintained a tradition of a high level of full-time employment of women, combined with parental leave legislation and an extensive network of public (or licensed private) childcare facilities. However, several research studies have shown that unpaid domestic work and childcare is highly feminised and that women are, thus, overburdened by both paid and also unpaid work.

This position is even more pronounced in the current labour market situation of greater employment flexibility, intensification of work and often prolonged working hours, all of which particularly apply to young employees. Therefore, some of Slovenia’s latest social and employment policy measures – including the paternity leave introduced by the Parenthood and Family Income Act (PFIA) in 2001 – aim to promote the importance of work–life balance.

In this context, the national Office for Equal Opportunities funded a research study (2004–2005), Dividing work and family between parents, which was carried out by a research group at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana. In 2005, the Office for Equal Opportunities funded another study on the influence of paternity leave on active fatherhood, Perspectives of new fatherhood in Slovenia, and initiated an awareness raising and information campaign targeted at young fathers, using the slogan Daddy, be active!.

Take-up of parental leave

The 2004–2005 study on dividing work and family between parents explores how often parents use different forms of parental leave, and how the take-up is distributed between mothers and fathers. In accordance with the PFIA, four types of parental leave are available:

  • maternity leave (105 days, of which 28 to 45 days must be used before the birth);
  • paternity leave (90 days, of which 15 days must be used during maternity leave; fathers can take the remaining days at any time until the child is eight years old);
  • leave for nursing and care (260 days following the maternity leave; this can be used either by the mother or by the father, or may be divided between them);
  • adoption leave (150 or 120 days, depending on the age of the child).

All four types of leave are financed through the social security system as 100% pay replacement; employers do not contribute directly towards the employee’s salary during the leave period.

The PFIA also introduced the possibility for parents to work part time until the child reaches the age of three.

Due to national policies supporting the reconciliation of employment and parenthood, the majority of organisations in Slovenia have not advanced any additional practices or initiatives beyond the legislative standards. As a result, few examples of good practice are developed in the area of family-friendly forms of employment and work organisation.

The study findings confirmed the official statistics that some forms of parental leave, especially maternity leave and leave for nursing and care of the baby – which, taken together, last for one year – have a very high (nearly 100%) take-up. In the majority of cases, only mothers take leave for nursing and care of the baby: in recent years, only 1% of fathers per year have availed of this option. According to the study, some 35% of interviewed fathers reported taking paternity leave, although most of them only used up to 15 days (during the mother’s maternity leave).

Just 3.1% of respondents in the study survey availed of the right to work part time until the child’s third birthday; again, practically all of these part-timers were women – who used the option for about one year on average.

Career and employment opportunities

In addition, the study revealed that mothers of young children had substantially more negative employment and career experiences than fathers of young children did. This applies to different aspects of employment and career development, such as looking for work, employment contracts, promotion possibilities and relations in the workplace. Further analysis proved that negative employment and career experiences were most concentrated among divorced or single mothers aged up to 30 years.

Some 23% of parents in the study reported that employers had asked them in the job interview about their intentions of having children. Employers asked such questions more often to women (28% of interviewed mothers) than men (11% of interviewed fathers). Moreover, 22% of mothers and 3% of fathers reported real problems and barriers in their job search, because they had planned to have children soon or because they already had small children. Some 2% of interviewed parents even had the experience of employers asking them to sign a blank notice on voluntarily resigning from the job, to be used in the event of the employee ever having a child.

Some 8% of parents reported that, after they had a child, they could not get a promotion – this proportion was 10% among interviewed mothers and only 2% among fathers. Furthermore, 4% of interviewed parents were involuntarily assigned to less demanding jobs after having a child; this concerned 5% of interviewed mothers and only 1% of interviewed fathers.

In all, 10% of parents reported that relations with their superiors worsened after having a child (13% of mothers and 3% of fathers). Relations with colleagues were less negatively affected, with only 5% of parents reporting such instances, but again women (7%) experienced this more frequently than men (1%).

Some 6% of parents reported that the employer terminated their job contract after they had a child. Younger parents (up to 30 years) stated this more often (12%) than older groups, and mothers encountered it more often than fathers (8% compared to 2%). In all, 14% of mothers aged up to 30 years claimed that their employment was terminated involuntarily after having a child. Termination of contracts is closely related to the fact that younger people more often have temporary or fixed-term contracts. Moreover, 6% of parents reported that they had to terminate the employment contract themselves because of the untenable situation at the workplace.

Recommendations

Based on the study findings, its authors present recommendations for action at national, organisational and individual level to improve the balance between work and family life. They emphasise the need to:

  • strengthen and support family-friendly organisational policies and good practices of employers, through tax relief and similar measures;
  • reorganise work processes at organisational level;
  • offer more employee-friendly flexible forms of employment, in contrast to the more ‘employee-unfriendly’ forms currently used to create a more flexible labour market, such as overtime, weekend shifts and temporary contracts;
  • promote the redistribution of paid and unpaid work;
  • redefine gender roles to enable a more equal distribution of parenting and other obligations that are traditionally associated with women. In this context, promoting and enabling an active role for fathers in childcare is essential.

About the study

The empirical results of the study, Dividing work and family between parents, are based on a telephone survey that was carried out in November 2004. The basic representative sample included 7,500 household telephone numbers in Slovenia; 6,300 of the households were actually called and 880 of those filled the basic criteria of the survey: having children aged less than seven years (pre-school age). In all, 608 parents were interviewed, which corresponds to a response rate of 69%.

The study is available (in Slovenian; 230Kb pdf) on the website of the Office for Equal Opportunities.

Martina Trbanc, Organisational and Human Resources Research Centre (OHRC), Institute of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana

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