Case Study: Awareness raising – Zavarovalnica Maribor, Slovenia
Company / organisation name
Family-friendly Enterprise Certificate
About the company / organisation
Zavarovalnica Maribor was established in 1991. The company has its head offices in Maribor and 10 branch units all over Slovenia, in Celje, Koper, Kranj, Ljutomer, Ljubljana, Maribor Murska Sobota Nova Gorica, Novo mesto and Slovenj Gradecand. This private sector company employs 893 people and offers a range of insurance services. Zavarovalnica Maribor ranks among the most important players on Slovenia’s insurance market.
The company emphasises the importance of social responsibility by supporting cultural, sports and other events that bear some relation to its mission. Social responsibility initiatives include care for employees, sponsoring projects and activities for protection of the environment.
In line with its emphasis on acting as a socially responsible business, Zavarovalnica Maribor was the first company in Slovenia that applied to take part in the certification process of the Family-friendly enterprise initiative.
Demographic analysis of the company shows that women make up 55% of its workforce and 20% of employees are more than 50 years old. The average age of employees in Zavarovalnica Maribor is between 42 and 43 years.
Zavarovalnica Maribor received the Family-friendly Enterprise Certificate in 2007. It was the first company in Slovenia that engaged in this process. In doing so, it acted as a pilot for application of the certification scheme in Slovenia.
Most measures are targeted at all employees, with some focusing exclusively on employees with preschool and school-going children. Only a few measures are aimed at workers taking care of an elderly family member. Of the five measures agreed upon in the certification, those outlined below are of direct relevance to working carers.
Appointment of a work–life balance officer: this advisory role was established to provide information and to help employees find solutions to problems regarding the reconciliation of work and family responsibilities. Usually, challenges faced by employees relate to a mismatch between working times and the schedules of public service providers, such as care providers. This problem is particularly relevant for employees who live in small town and villages, where service providers are few and far between. The work–life balance officer has the task of collecting ideas and developing recommendations to address these challenges. For instance, if an employee requests to work outside the established core time, the officer explores possibilities with management and the employee. There is also the option of enabling the employee to work from home (telework), but this has not yet been used by any working carer.
Management training and skills provision: this involved the training and sensitisation of managers at all levels of the company on issues relating to work–life balance. Relevant topics are introduced, such as employee’s care responsibilities at home. The company stresses the importance of this measure; line managers play a key role in ensuring that all work–family balance measures are implemented and that all employees have equal access to them when needed. Since the company has many units, and perceptions of management differ, significant effort has to be undertaken to inform and train all managers across the entire organisation on issues of work and care.
Internal and external communication: this involves informing employees about existing measures, new procedures and changes regarding the reconciliation of work and family responsibilities. Information is communicated by means of an internal newspaper, a portal on the intranet, and email. The certification process has led to increased interest, both inside and outside of the company, in the initiative’s background and the measures that are on offer. In general, there is a growing level of interest in how the company deals with reconciliation issues. To meet this demand for information, articles have also been published in local newspapers.
Internal employee survey: a survey is conducted to obtain feedback from employees regarding measures that are on offer, level of take-up, and their perceived benefits and disadvantages. This survey is conducted once every three years. In addition, the company also conducts smaller employee surveys through the intranet.
Additional measures were introduced and will be implemented in the next three years, up until 2013. They are summarised below.
System of reintegration after long-term absence: after a period of long-term leave, employees will be entitled to access a reintegration system. This will include information and counselling about re-entering the work process, alongside other matters related to the workplace. The main aim is to help the worker to re-integrate in the company and the work community without difficulties.
Health prevention measures: this will target at all workers and will include different activities. Some will be of special relevance to employees who face the double burden of paid work and engagement in informal care-giving at home.
Time accounts: this measure will be available to all employees who take care of an elderly family member in their spare time. Workers will be allowed to make flexible use of their overtime hours, possibly in combination with paid leave. Its aim is to enable these workers to reconcile their work and care responsibilities. For example, if an employee needs to take an elderly family member to a doctor’s appointment during normal working hours, they will be able to do so using by using their working hours ‘overtime account’.
Rationale and background of the initiative
Zavarovalnica Maribor strives to be seen as a company that cares for its employees and for society in general. For many years, the company has already been engaged in activities to this end. For example, every autumn employees are offered vaccination against flu, free of charge. Moreover, female employees aged 40 years or over can obtain a free mammography (national legislation requires employers to offer this for employees aged 50 years or older).
In 2006, Zavarovalnica Maribor agreed to become a pilot company for testing the Family-friendly Enterprise Certification instrument. The certification methodology is based on the European work and family audit developed by the German organisation Berufundfamilie in the 1990s. The original methodology was adapted to the Slovenian economic and legislative framework. The certification process requires companies to agree to adopt at least three measures from a catalogue of work–family reconciliation measures. These include flexible working times, company childcare services, job sharing, adoption leave, part-time work and assistance in caring for a family member with a disability. Moreover, participating companies must agree to undergo an assessment of their existing measures that address employees’ reconciliation of work and family life.
A project group was set up for the purposes of piloting the certification process. This was done in cooperation with an external group of experts and Zavod Ekvilib, the organisation in charge of the certification process. The project group had responsibility for overseeing the certification process and for selecting a number of measures to be implemented in the short term; these were drawn from a catalogue of measures provided by Zavod Ekvilib. The list of planned measures was then presented to top management for approval. It was important that the project group reflected the heterogeneity of the company’s fields of interest and its workforce. Its members include a representative from the HR department, the finances section, the public relations section, the trade union, and an employee with small children. The project group is responsible for selecting measures that reflect the workers’ needs, and for planning and implementing those measures.
Within the first three years, the company implemented five measures and received what is called a basic certificate. It also agreed to implement three additional measures within the next three years, after which it received the full certificate in December 2010.
In 2006, prior to the certification process, Zavarovalnica Maribor had introduced flexitime. This term refers to the option of flexible work schedules. It is provided in the form of a core time, at which all employees are expected to be at work, combined with flexible times of arrival and departure. Following consultation with their co-workers and manager, employees can choose to start work anytime between 7:00 and 8:00 and can finish anytime between 15:00 and 16:00.
In addition to this, employees who take care of a family member with a disability are entitled to additional days five days of paid leave per year. This is according to the existing collective agreement for the insurance sector of Slovenia and a collective agreement for Maribor Insurance Company,
Apart from ensuring that employees avail of their statutory rights and the measures listed above, the company focuses on seeking individual solutions. Such agreements are based on an agreement between a worker and their line manager. This means dealing with work–family balance requirements on a case-by-case basis, rather than through company-wide regulations. In this context, it is important to note the advisory function of the work–life balance officer; they have already played an important role in dealing with requests to work from home. In these situations, the work–life balance officer assessed each request. Many applications have related to the need to reconcile work with caring for children but some have involved employees caring for elderly family members. In cases where working from home was found feasible, the demand has always been fulfilled.
Results and assessment
There are indications that the measures introduced through the certification process have led to improved job satisfaction among employees. This can translate into higher productivity. It appears that employees have perceived that their employer cares about them.
A formal cost-benefit analysis has not been undertaken. However, the results of the employee survey show that attitudes towards work have developed positively as a consequence of the initiative. According to the survey, the measures introduced are perceived positively, and are well accepted among employees. The most popular measures are those that address the needs of working parents, such as the ‘childcare time bonus’.
The project group also asks employees to contribute their own ideas for initiatives that address the work–family balance issue. Recommendations for improvements are also collected from staff. So far, most of the suggestions have referred to the needs of working parents. However, an increasing number of employees have begun to suggest measures that would address the needs of those caring for family members who are elderly or who have a disability.
Experience shows that the certificate can be effectively used to promote the company. Company representatives confirm that job interviewees tend to speak favourably of the company’s work–family reconciliation measures, having seen the certificate logo on the vacancy announcement. In addition to making it easier to recruit the right people, the certificate is also perceived as having a strong symbolic value for the company and its image in society.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
Eight measures were agreed upon during the certification process at Zavarovalnica Maribor. Only one of them (time accounts) is explicitly targeted at working carers of adult family members; namely, those who are elderly, ill, or who have a disability. Currently, the focus is on measures that can be availed of by all employees or are target towards those with children at preschool and school-going age. In the near future, more emphasis will be given to the specific needs of working carers. The time account measure allows employees to use their overtime hours, possibly in combination with paid leave, to meet urgent needs related to care-giving to elderly family members. It is the company’s first measure that is explicitly addressed at this group. The company plans to increase the effectiveness of this measure by offering paid short-term leave. This would be similar to the ‘childcare time bonus’, which was already introduced in the context of the certification process for employees with small children.
As of yet, no information exists on the extent to which the issue of reconciling work and informal care-giving is faced by employees in the company. Nevertheless, the average age of employees is now 42-43 years, and these issues will become increasingly relevant over the coming decade.
So far, staff needs relating to care responsibilities for family members who are elderly or have a disability have been addressed on a case-by-case basis. This is done in compliance with the existing legislation.
Case study author:
- Dr. Ziva Humer, The Peace Institute, Ljubljana