Parliamentary report recommends actions to improve work–life balance

The Spanish parliament has recently approved a report on the regulation and adaptation of working time and work flexibility in Spain, aimed at reconciling work, family and personal life. This report underlines the existing gender-related differences with regard to work–life balance and provides a number of recommendations for improving the situation, both for public institutions and private enterprises.

In April 2007, the Spanish parliament (Congreso de los Diputados) approved a report (in Spanish, 657Kb PDF) with policy proposals on the regulation and adaptation of working time regulation and work flexibility in Spain. The overall aim of the report is to address the issue of reconciling work, family and personal life in a balanced way. The report analyses the concept of work-life balance and provides an in-depth review of the current situation, highlighting those elements that underline the extent of the problem in Spain (see also the EWCO article ‘Working time organisation under review’, ES0603019I).

Furthermore, the report examines the existing regulatory framework and presents an extensive list of recommendations for improving the situation, both for public institutions and private enterprises. A specific parliamentary commission compiled the report from research and information, as well as from hearing a large number of experts on the subject.

Gender-related differences in use of time

The report understands the need to recognise work–life balance in a comprehensive way. Such an approach requires arrangements to reconcile work with other elements of a person’s life to allow for the full development of individuals, including family life and personal development with regard to education and leisure time.

It is recognised that the problem of successfully reconciling work and other aspects of life is particularly difficult for women. This is due to the fact that Spanish society continues to develop along the lines of a traditional social model which is based on a distinct gender division of roles: women are expected to assume the family and household duties while men are mainly devoted to productive activities, that is, gainful employment.

In this context, the report identifies three main gender-related differences in the use of time:

  • for men, the time devoted to work determines the time devoted to family tasks, whereas the opposite is usually the case for women;
  • for women, time is usually understood as a continuum, with no clear separation between work and leisure time, while this distinction is much clearer in the case of men;
  • for women, time is often organised according to the interest of others – so-called ‘heteronomous’ time – while men are usually much more autonomous in organising and distributing their own time.

This societal model is currently regarded as unsustainable due to the substantial integration of women into the Spanish labour market. The report highlights the fact that Spanish women still devote three hours more a day to home and family-related obligations than their male counterparts do. As a result, women have less time available for leisure activities and for skills development.

Awareness of the value of reconciling work and family life

To date, the Spanish employment rate of men is slightly higher, at 73.8%, than the European average of 72.7%, while the employment rate of women remains 8.5 percentage points below the European average. More than 90% of men who have children work, while only 40% of women who have children work. In this instance, it should be noted that up to 80% of current part-time employment contracts in Spain are held by women. The difficulty of reconciling work with family life may explain, among other elements, why the Spanish fertility rate is one of the lowest in Europe, with about 1.3 children per woman.

The report underlines that public authorities and employer and employee representative organisations are increasingly paying attention to work–life balance issues aimed at reconciling work and family life. From the employers’ perspective, companies are becoming more aware of the positive effects on productivity derived from both a positive corporate image and a satisfied workforce resulting from work–life balance measures. However, this perception is not yet sufficiently widespread.

It is also worth noting that the social partners are gradually including more provisions related to work–life balance issues in their collective agreements. In 2006, up to 17% of the collective agreements allowed for flexibility in the annual distribution of working time, and 20% of the agreements provided for flexibility with regard to start and end times. In any case, there is still room for improvement.

Policy recommendations

Against this background, the report identifies 18 recommendations for public authorities and the social partners in the following areas:

  • time use – fostering co-responsibility attitudes, adapting leave provisions for maternity and paternity leave, as well as for care of elderly and disabled people, and initiating gender equality measures;
  • organisation of working time – launching a general revision of working time organisation, adopting working time control measures to avoid exhaustion or burnout, implementing flexibility measures and promoting part-time work;
  • care provision – offering social care and care services for children and other dependent family members.

Iñigo Isusi and Antonio Corral, IKEI




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