EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Erste Bank, Austria: Increasing the labour market participation of underrepresented groups – women


Organisation Size: 
Financial services
increasing labour market participation of underrepresented groups

Erste Bank AG, which is Austria’s second largest bank, employs 4,850 people, 54% of whom are women and 53% over 41 years of age. The company has launched various measures to improve the compatibility of work and family life in the past, which are in addition to its productive ageing programme. These measures include support in childcare and family matters, re-entry programmes for employees on parental leave, working time on trust, sabbaticals and voluntary financial contributions.

Organisational background

Erste Bank AG is Austria’s second largest bank, focussing on retail banking with its head-office in Vienna. Erste Bank AG operates 142 branches in Austria and three offices in Hong Kong, New York and London. It is also the parent company of the Austrian Sparkassen with over 700 branches. In the past years, Erste Bank Group has made several acquisitions in other countries. With more than 15 million customers, Erste Bank Group is one of the leading financial service providers in Central Europe.

Erste Bank AG employs 4,850 people, more than half of whom work in branch offices, the other half are employed in one of the 21 central offices. Female workers comprise 54% of the total workforce; in branch offices, the female proportion is around 60%. The average age is 41.4 years (average age in the Austrian banking sector is 38.8). Eighteen percent of the employees are academics, 44% have a schoolleaving certificate, 36.3% are skilled employees and 1.7 % are unskilled. About 75% work full time and 25% work part time. There are 94.2% of the employees on permanent contracts, 5.4% on fixed-term contracts and 0.4% on temporary workers. The central works council consists of 25 male and 19 female representatives. Erste Bank AG also has a European works council. The union density rate is between 30% and 40%.

Description of the initiative

Erste Bank AG offers a wide range of measures supporting women to enhance the compatibility of work and private life. These measures have grown over the years and are not the result of a single initiative. Women comprise a high proportion of the workforce; about 60% of the staff in the branch offices and almost the entire part-time staff are female.

The main parties involved in the measures are the works council, the works council’s women and family committee (see below), the Work Life Centre (see below) and HR management. Projects are carried out by these participants in cooperation with other departments (e.g. company communications) or external partners (e.g. for training sessions).

In 2003, the productive ageing programme lifetime was initiated due to the demographic trend of society (e.g. structure of the staff: 53% are over 41 years old and 33% are between 31 and 40 years old). The programme is covered by the board of the directors, head of HR and the works council among others, and focuses on being an attractive workplace for employees of every age group. One outcome of the programme was the founding of the Work Life Centre in 2006, which has work/family and private life issues as well as well-being services on its agenda and is an information and consulting point for these topics; its aim is to sustain productivity and life quality for every employee.

Since 2003, the company offers a programme to ease re-entry to work after parental leave, resulting from the experience of a high drop-out rate among re-entrants. Before leaving the company, re-entry plans are discussed. During their leave, parents are kept updated of the developments in the company by the weekly forwarding of internal announcements. Additionally, twice a year, parents are invited to an information afternoon about recent events in the company. Before re-entry, parents are offered seminars concerning the individual management of family and work. In addition, every parent is offered parental leave until the school entry of the child. In addition, telecommuting and sabbaticals are offered (both agreed upon in a employer/works council agreement).

In order to ease organisation of childcare, Erste Bank AG has an arrangement with the Employee and Family Service, a private company (see This service provides support in the organisation of childcare and care of elderly, consulting in family and work matters and providing mediators for private conflicts. Reaction times of the agency are very short, which results in emergency cases being treated as priority. All services are completely anonymous and free of charge. The agency has branch offices in Vienna, Graz, Linz and Salzburg, but is responsible for all branches in Austria and available by a telephone hotline seven days a week. Users of the service have the possibility to give feedback about its quality.

Erste Bank AG offers voluntary financial contributions to employees with children. There is a supplementary allowance of 100 euro per child/per month. Parents of disabled children and parents in need receive extra payments from the works council fund, depending on circumstances. Financial support is given for children’s participation in holiday excursions; single parents receive more than families with two parents.

According to an employer/works council agreement in 1998, all employees work on working time on trust, which allows flexible and individual arrangements of working times. This flexi-time is based on confidence and is characterised by reduced control, which means no continuous control of the working time. Employees keep records of their actual working time on their own. This system is based on personal responsibility. Another characteristic is the fact that there is no rigid position of the working time (no core working time). All working time is subject to informal consultation with collegues and line managers. Furthermore, Erste Bank AG offers various possibilities of part-time work.

As a basic principle, there is also the possibility of teleworking, sabbaticals and gradually reduced working time before retirement.

All measures of the programme are monitored, not only by the parties involved, but also by an audit ‘Family and Work’ of the Federal Ministry for Social Security, Generations and Consumer Protection and employee surveys. The company was recognised for its successful age management by this Federal Ministry and as the most family and women friendly workplace in Vienna (second place in Austria). Treatment of employees is written in a company code of conduct.

Although most of the participants are women, all the initiatives are open to every employee.


Although the introduced initiatives supporting the compatibility of work and family are not exclusively designed for women, women are the main target group. Women comprise the majority of employees in the company and women are usually in charge of raising children.

The measures of Erste Bank AG are not ‘one-time’ projects or the result of a recently decided strategy, but have grown over the years. Accordingly, they also have different roots. For example, the Work Life Centre is a result of the productive ageing programme ‘Lifetime’. The facilitating of the compatibility of work and family life can be seen as a progressive approach towards the challenge of raising female employment both at younger and older ages. Some initiatives stem from the works council and/or its women and family committee, others from the HR department. The decentralisation of the initiatives shows that the issue is not only the task of one department but the entire organisation. It is also an advantage because it ensures a high relevancy of the measures to the concerned employees and work places.

The initiatives seem to be well accepted among the employees. Seminars after parental leave have significantly reduced the drop-out rate of re-entrants, and are regularly well attended. Use of the external employee and family service is being documented and analysed. Internal communication and the raising of awareness of available programmes are named as key aspects for success even though they are also named as a field with remaining potential for improvement.

Data collection has been extended over the last months to evaluate the impact of the measures.

Exemplary and contextual factors

Due to their high proportion of female staff, Erste Bank AG has developed various measures to facilitate the compatibility of family/private life and work. All initiatives have grown over the years and not in a project-like effort. The responsibilities for the initiatives are spread throughout the company among the works council, works council’s women and family committee, HR department and an own Work Life Centre. The company has been repeatedly recognised by various organisations for its HR management.

Note: Company figures are for 2005. Description of initiative relates to inquiry period (June 2006).

Maria Klambauer, FORBA, Vienna

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