Case Study: Awareness raising – CERA Cooperative, Belgium
Company / organisation name
Supporting Workers: A New Perspective for the Family
About the company / organisation
CERA is a financial holding with the status of a cooperative society, formerly linked to the Flemish Agricultural Federation. The cooperative has about 500,000 individual members, mainly in Flanders. In 1998, following the merger of CERA bank, ABB insurance and Kredietbank into a new banking and insurance group (KBC/CBC), the role of CERA cooperative was restructured. Since then it has been limited to two main activities: financial holding and societal sponsorship. Although the CERA Cooperative remains one of the key shareholders of KBC/CBC, the CERA Cooperative is now a company distinct from KBC/CBC. It pursues the social sponsorship activities of the former CERA bank. Regarding employment, CERA is a small company with 48 employees, eight of whom are women.
Its mission of corporate sponsorship is named ‘Investments in welfare and prosperity’. Under it, the CERA cooperative supports a series of social projects in Belgium and, to a lesser extent, in other countries. In order to be selected, the social projects must respond to real societal needs and lead to sustainable outcomes for the general society. The projects must also reflect the fundamental values of the cooperative: cooperation, solidarity, participation and individual respect. In some cases, CERA gives financial support to new or existing projects. In other cases, it gives this alongside active support in initial, conceptual or evaluation phases of programmes. This approach allows it to meet the objectives of effectiveness, efficiency and flexibility.
CERA supports projects in different fields of interest. In the medical-social domain, the CERA cooperative has been supporting projects related to carers for some years now.
The CERA strategic document concerning health and social sponsorship identifies the support of care for older people as one of five priorities. Since 2007 CERA has been supporting a project related to carers in general, entitled ‘Support to carers: a new perspective for the family’. This project consists of two parts. One is a study of carers’ needs in rural areas. This was contracted to the association ADMR (Homecare in Rural Areas), a non-profit home care provider in the southern part of the country. The second part involves the sponsorship of local projects selected by an advisory committee in CERA.
The research study that was conducted by ADMR was qualitative in nature. It involved the conduct of in-depth interviews with informal (family) carers of older people, most of whom were aged 40-59 years. The purposes of the survey were to understand carers’ needs and to improve the relationship between informal and professional carers. The study identified several elderly care models and carer profiles, two of which concerned working carers. . In one, work was perceived as very important for carers, notably for their mental health and their incomes. In the second profile, having a job generated tensions in work and care. The key perceived constraints were difficulties in accessing flexible assistance from professional carers; the increasing burden of care in daily life; and the lack of external support, namely networks through which carers can receive psychological or social assistance. These constraints may lead working carers (mainly women) to leave their job. The expectations of carers concern the quality of professional homecare services, practical and psychological support, training needs, information needs, and recognition of the carer status, including for those who are in employment. The recommendations of the study do not directly address the reconciliation of work and care; ADMR only recommends that care services support the associations and networks that develop demands and policy measures in this area. The results of this study were published in 2009 in a brochure that is widely disseminated by CERA, especially within social services and healthcare circles.
In parallel to this external initiative, CERA wishes to raise awareness regarding the issue of within the company. So far, however, the cooperative is not facing any case of working carers.
KBC/CBC Bank, in the same financial group, has stated its concern regarding the working carers’ issue. It is fully committed to apply all existing legislation and applicable collective agreements – thematic leave and time-credit arrangement. Beyond the opportunities offered by the legislation, KBC/CBC does not develop any formal additional measures regarding this specific issue. Nonetheless, it does pay attention to all issues relating to work/life balance. The HR department considers all private situations and demands of their employees. The department operates on an informal and discretionary basis. In practice, decisions related to working carers are made on a case-by-case basis, through dialogue between line managers and the HR department, in order to find an adequate answer to the problem expressed by the employee.
Rationale and background of the initiative
At the beginning during the 19th century, the cooperative CERA was founded with a mission to fight poverty, particularly in rural areas in Belgium. The philosophy and the organisation of the current financial group are both still based on the principle of a cooperative. Under its leitmotiv of ‘cooperative sponsorship with a social gain’, CERA underlines its willingness to engage in supporting different social projects, across a range of areas. These include poverty and social exclusion, local entrepreneurship, arts and culture, rural life, social and healthcare. The project on carers that is supported by CERA reflects this mission.
Results and assessment
Until now, CERA has not shared the study’s recommendations regarding working carer issues with their employees. This is because, as of yet, no employee has broached the issue. However, CERA is well known among carers associations as a positive example of a company that provides support to carers.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
The ADMR study, funded by CERA, showed that big companies are more likely than smaller ones to implement initiatives and concrete measures related to working carers. The reason is twofold. Firstly, bigger companies have more financial means to support such initiatives in the absence of intervention by public authorities. Secondly, smaller companies are less likely to be presented by this issue – a smaller workforce means a lower probability of this arising. This particularly applies to workforces where the average age of the employees is low, as younger employees are less likely to be caring for older dependants.
Nonetheless, if the issue did present itself, small companies such as CERA would initially introduce measures on an informal and case-to-case basis. In doing so, they would take into account the provisions offered by the legislation, going beyond them when needed. They would do so through informal arrangements rather than by developing a specific HR policy.
Despite the attention given by CERA to local projects supporting family carers, no specific measure has yet been introduced, for the employees of the cooperative itself. This situation is not due to a lack of interest. Rather, it is because, as a small company (48 workers in total), CERA is not aware of any of its employees being working carers. The absence of working carers is also due to the young age profile of the workforce; only six employees out of 48 are over 50 years old.
The HR manager shared the cooperative’s intention be open to any measure that would improve the work–life balance improvement of its employees. If its employees did include working carers, CERA would certainly apply the recommendations promoted in its corporate sponsorship of carers associations.
Case study authors:
- Prof Gerard Valenduc, Fondation Travail, Université ASBL
- Périne Brotcorne, Foundation Travail-Université.
- Christophe Kevelaer, HR Manager, CERA
- Claude Escalier, HR Manager, CBC Bank