Case Study: Awareness raising – Versa Welzijn, the Netherlands
Company / organisation name
Working carer-friendly HR policy
About the company / organisation
Versa Welzijn is a social welfare organisation that offers services to a diverse group of clients, varying from education in nursery schools to services for older people. Other activities include social and cultural work and legal advice to people at risk of social exclusion. Another department can be described as an intermediary between volunteers and organisations in need of volunteers. One of the departments provides support to informal (working) carers and supports organisations in the adoption of working carer policies.
The organisation belongs to the non-profit sector and has 340 employees in the regions of Gooi, Vechtstreek, Amersfoort, Baarn and Eemnes.
At Versa Welzijn, a working carer is defined as an employee who takes care of a family member or other relative. A minimum of eight hours per week must be spent on nursing, for at least three months, alongside paid employment. This definition is commonly used and has been adopted by the Dutch government and other key stakeholders in the country.
The elements of the support for working carers include are outlined below.
Versa Welzijn is fully committed to enabling its employees to make use of their statutory provisions, as laid down in the Dutch Act on Work and Care. The organisation considers it their responsibility to inform employees about these arrangements.
The sectoral collective labour agreement (CLA) for the welfare and social work sector includes provisions that go beyond those laid down in the national legislation. For example, according to the sectoral agreement, short-term care leave is paid by the employer, and it is for a longer period than that stipulated in statutory legislation.
Flexible work hours are also on offer. Access to flexible working hours is available to all employees. However, the needs of working carers are taken into account when discussing the solution to be agreed upon between the employer and the worker.
Accumulated overtime (working time budgets) can be used flexibly if the need for crisis leave arises.
In general, Versa Welzijn tries to offer tailor-made arrangements. The organisation acknowledges that the situation of every working carer is unique. This calls for tailored solutions being made available to the working carer, thereby enabling the reconciliation of work and informal care responsibilities.
A training programme is offered to line managers and executives on the topic of working carers. This includes discussion of the implications of combining paid work with informal care, as well as the benefits of enabling effective work–care reconciliation. The training aims to raise awareness about the issue among managers.
A training programme is also offered to working carers themselves. It addresses the issue of combining work and informal care and seeks to enable working carers to reconcile their different responsibilities. It also provides information about available support offered to working carers within the organisation.
The arrangements mentioned are available to all working carers, as far as the nature of the job allows. For example, a teacher at a nursery school may not be in a position to adapt her working hours because of the school timetables. Tailor-made arrangements are sought in such cases.
Individual arrangements are made between the employee and the HR department. Line managers are instructed to discuss the topic in the annual performance review with employees.
Rationale and background of the initiative
In 2008, Versa Welzijn signed a covenant in which they declared that they sought to adopt working carer-friendly policies. Furthermore, in 2009 the local organisation in charge of supporting informal carers merged with Versa Welzijn, in effect becoming a department within Versa Welzijn. The department offers support to informal (working) carers and supports organisations in the adoption of working carer policies. Support for informal carers is now one of the services offered by the company. This further contributes to the notion that Versa Welzijn, as an employer, wants to support its own working carers.
The company director, the management team and the HR department were pivotal in getting the initiative off the ground. The department supporting informal carers has also been involved in raising awareness of the topic, as they have the required know-how and experience to do this. They developed and provided the training programmes to line managers and executives, which played an essential role in raising awareness about the work–care reconciliation issue.
As of yet, a written policy on work–care balance has not been prepared. This is because the initiative has mainly sought tailor-made arrangements for addressing the challenges faced by working carers. This has meant that the worker representatives have not yet been involved in the initiative. They will become involved, however, once the initiative is transformed into a written policy.
At an early stage of the initiative, a survey was conducted to identify the number of working carers in the organisation, as well as their problems and needs. This gave all employees the opportunity to share their thoughts on the issue.
The main impetus for the initiative to support working carers has come from the merger with the local organisation supporting informal carers. It was considered necessary to become active in preventing working carers from suffering from their dual responsibilities, which would probably have a negative impact on their work performance. The arrangements have also been adopted in order to prevent long-term negative effects on employee health and well-being.
Results and assessment
The employee survey about work–care balance, mentioned above, contributed to raising awareness of the issue. Reconciliation of work and care seems to have become an increasingly popular topic of discussion within the organisation. Other factors that have raised awareness include the training offered to line managers and executives, and the inclusion of work–care balance as a topic in annual performance reviews. The number of employees requesting information on the issue is increasing.
The employee survey also highlighted a low level of take-up of supportive arrangements (such as the right to carer’s leave). Following the initiative, Versa Welzijn found that the take-up of support measures had increased significantly.
The initiative, however, has not yet been formally evaluated.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
Tailor-made arrangements are be used to handle the different needs and preferences of working carers. As jobs differ greatly regarding the type and extent of flexibility they allow, it is also important to offer arrangements which both meet the needs of working carers and are feasible for their jobs.
Werk and Mantelzorg, is a Dutch network that supports organisations in the adoption of working carer policies. It does this by sharing ‘good practices’ of supportive policies and offering support to individual organisations in the adoption and implementation of working carer supportive initiatives. Both their support, and that of local organisations supporting informal carers, seems to be of great value in the introduction and adoption of supportive measures. This is because they have the required know-how in the field and are aware of good practices in other organisations.
In order to provide effective support to working carers, it seems to be very important to have a good level of awareness within the organisation of the specific challenges of work–care reconciliation. This is necessary among both executives and the colleagues of working carers. Versa Welzijn promoted the introduction of supportive arrangements for working carers through a number of steps, namely training programmes for managers and an employee survey on the issue. The survey was increased awareness of the topic. Versa Welzijn won a national award called ‘We work working carer-friendly’. This is given to Dutch organisations that show a good level of awareness of the needs of working carers and adopt initiatives to support them. When this happened, it was announced to all employees in a newsletter.
Versa Welzijn’s HR managers who were interviewed for this study identified its next steps regarding working carers. The organisation should continue with the initiative. It also needs to investigate whether all working carers feel they have full access to the support arrangement they consider most helpful.
The experience of Versa Welzijn suggests that national policy-makers could play an important role in promoting a public debate about work–care balance. Awareness seems to be a key issue in achieving effective support in practice.
Case study author:
- Dr Pascale Peters, Assistant Professor, Radboud University Nijmegen
- Marian Smeekes, HR Manager, Versa Welzijn
- IngeTijhuis, HR Officer, representative from works council, Versa Welzijn.
Other sources not available online:
- Collective Labour Agreement 2008-2011 Welfare and Social Work.
- Results survey among employees about work and care.