Work–life balance policies: a win-win situation for all

Some three quarters of German employees regard family-friendly policies as advantageous not only for themselves, but also for employers. The results of a recent study reveal that enterprises particularly benefit from outcomes such as increased employee motivation, reduced staff turnover, an improved work atmosphere and less family-related absenteeism.

In December 2005, on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, BMFSFJ), the Allensbach Institute for Polling (Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach, IfD) looked at the prevalence of family-friendly policies in enterprises. The study, Family-friendliness in enterprises (in German, 472Kb PDF), is based on a representative population survey among workers aged between 16 and 44 years.

Perceptions regarding the family-friendly company

First, the survey respondents were asked to assess the criteria for an enterprise to be regarded as family friendly. Of those questioned, 83% stated that the enterprise had to offer flexible working time; two thirds (67%) believed that the employer should facilitate the return to employment after parental leave by making contact or offering training courses during the parental leave period. More than half (52%) of the workers surveyed consider an employer as family friendly if telework is offered. In addition, two further policies were regarded as being nearly as important as telework in terms of being family friendly: childcare facilities provided by the employer and part-time working. Some 51% of the survey respondents assessed both aspects as being essential for an employer in order to be considered family friendly.

Indicators for work–life balance
Indicators that reveal an improved work–life balance
Indicator 1991 2004
Working mothers with children aged under 18 years (in %) 59.1 63.4
Women working part time (in %) 30.2 42.1
Men working part time (in %) 2.1 6.2
Average working time of women (hours per week) 34.4 30.8
Average working time of men (hours per week) 41.2 40.2
Women working in flexible working schemes (in %) n.a. 49.0
Men working in flexible working schemes (in %) n.a. 54.0

Source: Federal Statistical Office (Statistisches Bundesamt, destatis)

The employees were also asked to assess the attitude of their employer towards balancing the demands of work and family life. In the survey, 41% of employees positively reviewed their employer’s consideration of work and family life. A third of the respondents (33%) stated that their employer actively supports staff in achieving a balanced work and family life. Less than one third (30%) reported that, in their organisation, family issues were regarded as a private matter for employees, and that such issues should not, under any circumstances, interfere with their work.

Differences in perception

The researchers involved in the survey revealed a significant difference between the relatively positive personal work experiences of the respondents and the largely negative assessments of enterprises in general. Although the statistics reveal that the number of organisations offering flexible working time schemes or part-time jobs or employing mothers has risen considerably (see table above), only 16% of respondents stated that enterprises had, in general, become more family friendly. Indeed, more than one third (38%) of the survey respondents believe that enterprises have become less family friendly.

The survey results reveal a trend in this kind of perception and assessment. Consequently, the researchers concluded that general assessments were often more strongly influenced by negative perceptions or experiences than by positive ones. Further proof of this pattern was evident by comparing the assessments of working mothers with those of mothers who were not employed. Non-working mothers assessed the general situation in enterprises to be worse than employed mothers did.

Positive impact on enterprises

When asked what family-friendly policies meant for the employer, some 73% of those surveyed believed that they were beneficial for the enterprise, whereas 12% expected that they were disadvantageous and 15% did not know. Almost two thirds (63%) were convinced that family-friendly policies increased staff motivation and led to an improved relationship between employees and the employer, thereby reducing staff turnover. Half of those interviewed expected that the working atmosphere would improve; 47% stated that family-friendly policies led to less family-related absenteeism; and 46% were convinced that employees are more content with their work because such policies ease some of the difficulties – and significantly reduce the tension – in reconciling work and family life.

The researchers who conducted the survey also recognised a correlation between the ‘package deal’ of family-friendly policies and employers’ ability to attract highly qualified staff: employees with higher degrees prefer to work for family-friendly employers. Indeed, twice as many highly qualified mothers work in family-friendly enterprises than in less family-friendly enterprises. Thus, the researchers regard family-friendliness to be a competitive advantage for all businesses.

Commentary

This is not the first survey that reveals evidence that family-friendly policies improve the work environment, enhance employee motivation, increase productivity and, thus, improve company performance (DE0511103F). Findings from the European establishment survey on working time and work–life balance 2004–2005 are also available. However, the positive message has still not reached every enterprise, and efforts to disseminate this information will have to continue.

Further information

See the topic report Combining family and full-time work (TN0510TR02).

Christiane Flüter-Hoffmann, Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW)

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