Case Study: Awareness raising – Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, Austria
Company / organisation name
Wirtschaftskammer Österreich (The Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, WKÖ)
Work–Care Reconciliation Guidelines for Employees and Supervisors
About the company / organisation
The Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (WKÖ) represents the interests of business and promotes the Austrian economy at national and international level. It operates Austria’s trade delegations and provides services for the organisational structure of the Austrian chambers of commerce as a whole.
In Austria, the chamber of commerce has the status of a ‘professional self-governing body’. This means that it represents a section of the Austrian civil service that enjoys complete autonomy within the scope of its mandate.
WKÖ operates 70 trade delegations in 58 countries, in addition to 30 marketing offices in 20 countries. It also provides advice to its members on legal matters, on issues such as employment and social matters, tax law, environmental law, and trade and factory law. It runs an EU office in Brussels, the Export Trade Organisation, an interest group called ‘Women in Business’, the Junior Chamber Austria and the Business Start-Up Service, as well as the Institute for Economic Promotion (WIFI).
WKÖ has 900 employees in Austria, in addition to 100 abroad. 60% of all employees are female.
In early 2011, WKÖ finalised and distributed two guideline documents dealing with the issue of work-care reconciliation.
The first guideline document is addressed to line managers / supervisors to prepare them to deal adequately with requests coming from employees who want to combine their job with informal care responsibilities. It lists the kinds of support which WKÖ grants to employees with care responsibilities, and lists recommended steps which line managers should take in the case that an employee requires a special arrangement for reconciling work and care responsibilities.
The second guideline document is addressed to employees who are interested in learning about options and measures available for working carers, and about the procedures which are applicable in the organisation for those who want to avail of specific measures.
Publication of the guidelines is accompanied by a number of events for discussing the issue and raising awareness about the need to support working carers. Communication is also via various other channels, such as the employee magazine. Publication of the guidelines is a result of the “Family and Work Audit” certification process. WKÖ was amongst the first organisations who applied for participation in the audit berufundfamilie (“Family and Work Audit”) in Austria. It received the basic certificate in 2003 and a full certificate in 2006 and again in 2009.
The guideline documents describe a number of measures which have been available for a longer time already, and which – although not exclusively addressing the needs of working carers – are of major relevance to employees who seek to combine employment with private care responsibilities. These include flexible working times, holiday leave which can be brought forward, and independent provision of counselling and advice services for employees. The latter service is free for WKÖ employees, and operates anonymously – the contractor does not ask for the name of the enquirer, and information provided back to WKÖ is strictly anonymous.
Rationale and background of the initiative
A major impetus for the development of new measures for supporting work–life balance within the company has come from the work and family audit certification process.
Based on the initiative of the same name developed in Germany, the Austrian audit acts as a consulting instrument, allowing employers to examine the family orientation of their company and take specific measures to improve it. Companies who undergo an assessment of their current status regarding work–family balance, and who set up a plan for making progress in areas defined by themselves over three years, are awarded with a basic certificate. A full certificate is given to companies who have carried out a second assessment at the end of the three year period, reviewed achievements against plans, and agreed upon further steps to be taken in the coming period.
The audit instrument originally focused on issues related to working parents. However, in recent years both the audit instruments and the measures implemented or planned in participating companies, have been extended to include the specific needs of working carers. When WKÖ needed to define the targets for the current three year period (2009-2012), it became aware of the increasing prominence of working carers in the public debate on the issue.
An employee survey was conducted within the context of preparations for work–care reconciliation measures. It found that a considerable number of employees were engaged in informal care-giving. In the eyes of the HR department that was responsible for the certification process, this confirmed the relevance of activities that aimed to address the specific challenges facing working carers. As a consequence, the main focus in the period 2009-2012 has been placed on measures that address the needs of working carers.
In offering support to working carers, the principal objectives of the organisation are as follows:
- to increase satisfaction and motivation of employees by offering them working conditions that allow them to reconcile work and care responsibilities according to their needs and preferences;
- to ensure the quality of services and to continuously improve the services provided to the organisation’s clients, by fostering employee morale and work motivation;
- to promote the public image of the organisation as an attractive place to work and a socially responsible employer.
Results and assessment
To date, no evaluation has been carried out of the extent to which the available measures are sufficient to meet the needs of working carers.
A survey was conducted to find out more about the extent to which employees are engaged in family care, and the actual needs of working carers. This took place during the preparation stage of initiatives for the current three year period (2009-2012). A key result was that 10% of all employees who responded said that they expect to be affected by the need to look after a dependant requiring care in the next one to two years.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
The organisation has little experience with specific measures that explicitly target working carers, as such measures have been implemented only very recently. There is a strong consensus within WKÖ that current demographic trends, which are changing the structure of the Austrian labour force quite significantly, require companies to reconsider their HR strategies. WKÖ has been a major contributor to the national debate on this issue for a number of years. For example, in 2010 WKÖ, together with the Federal Ministry for the Economy, Family Affairs and Youth (BWMFJ) published a report on what companies should do to improve their ‘demography fitness’.
Case study author:
- Karsten Gareis, empirica GmbH, Bonn
- Dr. Stephania Constantinescu, HR and Organisational Development, Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, conducted on 07 February 2011.
- Irene Slama, Managing Director, Familie & Beruf Management GmbH, Wien, conducted on 13 December 2010.
- Website of WKÖ, the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber [accessed at http://www.wko.at/awo/wkoat_english/download/WKSELBST_awo_EN.pdf ]
- Website of Beruf und Familie GmbH, Zertifikat [accessed at http://www.familieundberuf.at/fileadmin/user_upload/Best_Practices_Unternehmen/Wirtschaftskammer_OEsterreich.pdf]
- WKÖ, BMWFJ & Zukunftsinstitut. (2010): Demografische Fitness – Wie sich Unternehmen auf den Wandel vorbereiten, Schriftenreihe des Wirtschaftsförderungsinstitutes Nr. 342, 2010. [accessed at: http://portal.wko.at/wk/format_detail.wk?angid=1&stid=548666&dstid=6963]