Differences in corporate family policies between MNC HQ and Czech subsidiary

Companies operating in different countries do not automatically adopt the same approach towards working parents or regarding work–life balance. Case studies carried out at the headquarters of engineering companies in France, Germany and Sweden and in their Czech subsidiaries pointed to differences and identified factors which determine corporate family policies, highlighting the role of cultural and historical impacts, state policy and stakeholders’ behaviour.

At the turn of 2006 and 2007, the Department of Gender and Sociology of the Sociological Institute of the Academy of Science of the Czech Republic (Sociologický ústav Akademie věd ČR) carried out a research project, which sought to reveal employees’ work-life balance conditions, and the methods used for negotiating these conditions in global companies in the field of engineering. The primary focus was companies that have their headquarters in one of the original EU15 Member States (pre-2004) – namely in France, Germany and Sweden – and their subsidiaries in the Czech Republic.

The authors’ report (Křižíková et al, 2009), on which this overview is based, is an output of numerous research projects financially supported by grants from the Czech Science Foundation (Grantová agentura ČR) and from the Grant Agency of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (Grantová agentura Akademie věd ČR, GAAV).

Research methodology

Case studies were carried out in three organisations at both their parent company abroad and at their Czech subsidiary. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with human resources (HR) staff, trade union representatives and employees who are parents of young children. Interviews were supplemented by a brief questionnaire mapping the existence of corporate family policies. Other data sources also included corporate documents, programmes and collective agreements.

Data were analysed through a continuous comparison: accordingly, both the Czech subsidiary and the parent company were compared in each case study. Moreover, the results of the case studies were compared mutually. Each case was unique and the results were influenced by the particularity of each organisation, the country in which it is situated and also the willingness of companies to cooperate. Nevertheless, mutual comparison of case studies enabled authors to identify generally applicable factors determining corporate family policies.

Detected differences

The following table shows differences detected between the parent organisation and their Czech subsidiary which emerged in the case studies.

Conditions for working parents in company headquarters and their Czech subsidiaries
Country Corporate approach towards parenthood Existence of measures Parents’ possibilities to negotiate
Case study 1
Germany Attempt to establish a ‘family-friendly company’ by the trade union, works council and HR department Flexible forms of work in use – such as flexible working hours, part-time work and home-working Flexible working time is also permitted for shift workers Parents know their rights, and they are well informed and supported by the trade union, works council and HR department
Czech Republic Despite a trade union presence, a neo-liberal approach exists, whereby companies do not feel committed to the private life of their employees Flexible working forms are only allowed for administrative staff, and are refused for shift workers Part-time work is allowed, but only marginally used Home-working is only permitted for top management Lack of knowledge of rights, and a fear to ask for information and to negotiate has led to passivity among parents Management have concerns regarding discrimination against men or non-parents if they introduce policies directed at parents
Case study 2
France Strong trade union presence, with measures focusing on work–life balance included in the company agreement Frequent overtime work and physical presence at work is a prerequisite for career growth Possibility of flexible working hours and part-time work Flexible forms of work used by parents but seen as a barrier to career advancement Parents are passive in negotiating their own requirements and tend to rely on the trade unions
Czech Republic Minimum experience with work–life balance issues Flexible working hours are permitted Company does not encourage other flexible forms of work As there is no trade union presence, the success of negotiation depends on individual activity and the employees’ relationship with their superiors
Case study 3
Sweden Non-discrimination and family support policies are legally established and culturally embedded Flexible forms of work, part-time work and home-working are commonly used Rights are negotiated through the trade unions as well as individually
Czech Republic Minimum experience with work–life balance issues Recruitment of young staff without encumbrance Overtime work is used as a token of loyalty Flexible forms of work are not institutionalised, but possible by agreement As there is no trade union presence, success depends on parents’ ability to negotiate and on the willingness of superiors

Source: Křižíková, Maříková, Dudová and Slobota, 2009 – adjusted data

Causes of differences

Based on their comparison, the authors have identified a number of key factors that cause differences in policies and practices within the establishments as follows.

  1. State welfare regime – conditions and state support for parents’ participation in the labour market are generally better in France and Sweden than in Germany and the Czech Republic.
  2. Parental (maternity) ideologies and cultural traditions – that is, the embedded opinions of society regarding the acceptability of mothers’ integration into the labour market – in this respect, the ‘male breadwinner’ stereotype seems to persist in Germany and mainly in the Czech Republic.
  3. Organisational culture of non-discrimination and equal opportunities – these are affected by historical and cultural impacts and the legislation of the given country.
  4. The actors’ activity in work relations – that is, the participation of working parents in negotiating better conditions, as well as the willingness and openness of management towards work–life balance issues.
  5. The role of trade unions in negotiations – that is, the existence and approach of trade unions towards negotiating family-friendly conditions.
  6. The given organisation’s experience of working parents – that is, the recruitment and presence of parents at work.

Reference

Křižíková, A., Maříková, H., Dudová, R. and Slobota, Z., The conditions of parenthood in organisations: An international comparison (156 Kb PDF), Prague, Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Science of the Czech Republic, 2009.

Hana Geissler, Research Institute for Labour and Social Affairs (RILSA)

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