Case Study: Awareness Raising – Zorggroep Noordwest-Veluwe, the Netherlands
Company / organisation name
Zorggroep Noordwest Veluwe
Conscious life stage policies (levensfasebewustbeleid)
About the company / organisation
Zorggroep Noordwest-Veluwe (ZNWV) is a welfare organisation that provides care services, mainly to older people, inspired by a Christian vision of care. Their principal services include housing and care within rest homes as well as care related services to people who live in their own home. In addition to care services and housing in long-term care institutions, ZNWV provides a range of leisure activities for older people.
The organisation belongs to the non-profit sector and has 1,300 employees, mainly located in the region of Noord-West Veluwe.
The organisation does not have a formal (written) policy on work–care reconciliation. However, it does provide support to working carers through a number of measures, as summarised below.
ZNWV encourages its employees to make use of their statutory provisions as laid down in the Dutch Act on Work and Care. The organisation also offers the provisions covered by the sectoral collective labour agreement (CLA). ZNVW has produced a brochure that lists all support measures and arrangements as contained in the legislation and the CLA. Its aim is to make it easier for staff to learn about available options.
The organisation acknowledges that tailor-made arrangements are often most appropriate for addressing the needs and preferences of working carers; as far as possible, such arrangements are agreed upon. Naturally, this process involves taking into account the nature and requirements of the job position.
Leave arrangements, tailored to the needs of each individual working carer, are available.
Various different models for flexible working hours present another option.
Awareness of the issue of work–care reconciliation, the needs of working carers, and how these can be met via effective support measures is considered to be very important. For this reason, the organisation started an awareness raising campaign. In this context, information on the issue has been circulated by mail, and for one week per year the 'Day of the Informal Carer' is celebrated by asking employees to write personalised messages to colleagues who have informal caregiving responsibilities. The messages are then handed over together with a willow heart designed for the purpose. Each of the different sites of ZNWV is invited to discuss internally about the issue of working carers, their needs and how these can be better met within the organisation.
Working carers were also invited to a lunch meeting. It gave the opportunity discussed their care-related needs and desires, and enabled them to share their experiences in combining work and informal care. At this meeting, working carers shared their experiences and discussed problems with those involved in designing of policies for working carers, such as representatives from HR.
In order to obtain support from line managers, special workshops were carried out to inform them of work–care reconciliation and support measures that should be made available to those concerned. Work–care balance has also become a topic in the annual performance review conversations between employees and their supervisors.
There are plans to introduce coaches for working carers – experts who provide practical advice and counselling about work-care reconciliation. Two or three sessions are planned per working carer.
The arrangements listed above are available to all working carers. They comprise one aspect of the broader ‘life stage conscious policy’, which the company has implemented to address the individual needs of each employee. ZNWV does not use a formal definition of working carers; it does not apply the definition commonly used in the Netherlands, of people who spend a minimum of eight hours per week on care-giving. The organisation places importance on the life stage of each employee. Life stages are used as a starting point to discuss the needs of working carers so that they can meet their work and care responsibilities.
It is ZNWV's approach that working carers have personal responsibility for identifying any problems in relation to work-care reconciliation, and for developing ways how to solve them. Based on the personal needs identified by the employee, supportive arrangements can then be requested and agreed upon in negotiation with the line manager..
Of course, line managers play an important role in enabling employees to reconcile work and informal care. The extent to which a working carer can actually avail of a certain arrangement, such as time flexibility, ultimately depends on the willingness and awareness of their supervisor. This can mean a lower availability of carer-friendly working arrangements in practice than the HR department would like to see.
Rationale and background of the initiative
In 2008, Werk and Mantelzorg, a Dutch network body that supports organisations in the adoption of working carer policies, approached ZNWV. They wanted the organisation to participate in a pilot project in which they would gain first-hand experience with support measures targeting working carers. ZNWV’s life stage conscious policy was already in place, but because of the obvious relevance of the work and care theme to this, ZNWV agreed to become involved.
The initiative was started by the HR department, which also has overall responsibility for the life stage conscious policy. A committee was set up, which initiated a number of activities for addressing the issue of work–care reconciliation among employees. A survey was conducted to estimate the number of working carers within the organisation and to learn more about their needs and preferences. One of the primary goals of these activities was also to raise awareness.
A member of the works council became involved in the committee. They contributed by asking employees about their personal experiences with informal care and the suitability of the support measures offered by the employer. If the initiative developed into a formal (written) policy, the works council would be asked for its approval.
The realisation that the absence of support for working carers was likely to have negative consequences, including financial ones, played an important role in this initiative. Working carers who are not well supported are bound to show higher rates of absenteeism because of the demands of reconciling work and informal care. It was a result of this that ZNWV now aims to prevent absenteeism is by offering effective support to working carers. Other contributing factors included recent attention placed by the Dutch Government on the issue of working carers and the (free) support provided by Werk and Mantelzorg. Last but not least, ZNWV faces an increasing scarcity of human resources within the Dutch labour market. This situation is forcing the organisation to consider new ways to prevent employees from leaving: the need or desire to engage in informal care should no longer present an obstacle to successful employment at ZNWV.
Results and assessment
The initiative has not yet been formally evaluated. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that the work climate is becoming more supportive to working carers. Moreover, the initiative, the attention placed on work–care reconciliation and the supportive measures offered to working carers have all considerably increased awareness of the issue within ZNWV. Nonetheless, the interviewees felt that some employees were still not aware of the support options available to working carers. Line managers seem to play a key role in informing staff of their options and offering supportive arrangements. The actual level of support offered could differ across departments since not all line managers pay equal attention to the issue of work–care reconciliation.
Evidence of an increased awareness of the issue can be detected in the growing number of employees who make enquiries about available support measures. Results of the initiative are sometimes discussed by the works council, based on the experiences of individual employees who have shared these with union representatives.
The organisation is aware of the positive influence of support offered to working carers on both productivity and costs. Absenteeism that results from the demands of work–care reconciliation is considered a good reason for providing effective support to working carers. Furthermore, the increasing scarcity of labour leads to costs related to the recruitment of replacements; this makes the organisation look for ways to reduce employee turnover.
There is no information on the extent to which the initiative meets the needs of working carers among staff. During an early stage of the initiative, a survey was conducted to find out about the needs and preferences of working carers within ZNWV. This survey showed that the level of support for employees very much depends on the goodwill of managers and therefore differs across departments and work teams. A follow-up survey has not yet been conducted.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
The experience at ZNWV indicates that line managers play a key role in providing effective support to working carers. It appears that not all managers if working carers are present within their team or if this causes any problems in terms of reconciliation. As a consequence, not all of them are willing to offer working carers the flexibility they need. This suggests that it is important to invest in raising awareness among managers. It is recommended to integrate the topic of work–care balance into manager training programmes.
Organisations such as Werk and Mantelzorg can play an important role in fostering take-up of supportive measures; they can share good practice information and offer hands-on practical support to companies trying to introduce support schemes.
ZNWV needs to ensure that the level of attention paid to the work–care balance issue is maintained. This is necessary because the initiative is seen as an ongoing process rather than a once-off project. Obtaining the active support from line managers, in particular, will require continuous efforts over a longer period of time. Experience at ZNWV also indicates that individual arrangements, tailored to the needs of each working carer, may be more practically feasible than designing and applying ready-made solutions.
Case study author:
- Dr Pascale Peters, Assistant Professor, Radboud University Nijmegen
- Jos Groen, HR Adviser, ZNWV
- Alice Roelofsen, Education Officer, Representative of the works council, ZNWV
Other sources not available online:
- Presentation of working carer support policies
- Outline of activities with regard to work and care
- Plan of action for introduction.