Case Study: Care-related supports – EDF South-West, France
Company / organisation name
Various supports to working carers
About the company / organisation
EDF is the main producer and provider of electricity in France. The French company has its headquarters in Paris, and a network of decentralised offices in all regions of France. Its workforce totals about 180,000, with women comprising 45% of this. Its electricity production comes primarily from nuclear power.
EDF was founded in 1946, following the nationalisation of a number of electricity producers, transporters and distributors. It has become the main electricity generation and distribution company in France. EDF was a state-owned public establishment with industrial and commercial character. However, this changed in 2004 and it is now a limited-liability corporation under private law.
Human resource management at EDF is dispersed into five geographical ‘regions’. The initiative described here concerns EDF South-West.
This department of EDF France originated from an initiative of the commercial director of South-West region. Since 2008, it has launched a set of measures for all kinds of working carers. The process of developing and implementing these initiatives for carers actively involved employees’ representatives, managers, occupational safety and health experts and working carers themselves (see below). These measures are outlined below.
A guide for employees was published and distributed to all employees of the SW delegation. Its goal is twofold. Firstly, it aims to provide information on issues related to working carers in order to raise awareness amongst managers and other employees. Particular emphasis is placed on drawing attention to the challenges related to the reconciliation of work and care and to the importance of showing solidarity towards workers with care responsibilities. Secondly, it aims to inform working carers about their rights, such as their statutory rights to specific types of leave, and about existing services that can provide support regarding their care responsibilities.
An online database was created, which lists recommended websites for working carers. This is available on the company’s intranet.
Several support services are provided. They help working carers to manage their daily activities. The company has reached an arrangement with housework services companies that help working carers in a range of areas, such as shopping, making appointments with the doctor and dry-cleaning.
An insurance system was established. While all employees are obliged to ‘pay’ into this system, only working carers are the beneficiaries of it. It takes the form of a package of credit hours available per year. Working carers can use some of these hours when required for care responsibilities.
Modules for management training were developed, in order to promote a positive attitude towards the issue of work–care reconciliation. Health and well-being modules are available for working carers, through a referral from the company doctor. EDF South-West is using a specific training module, developed by Novartis, for this purpose. The training module was initially developed for the employees of Novartis. Since then, it, but has been made available to other companies, such as EDF, as a result of an agreement on inter-company training programmes.
All employees are eligible for these measures, independent of factors such as job position or seniority.
Rationale and background of the initiative
EDF has always seen itself as a laboratory for social innovation. A few years ago, the company began to consider the idea that management of ‘vulnerable situations’ faced by employees could play a critical role in improving performance. It was also realised that this could improve social cohesion within the country. Every year, EDF recruits an average of 150 people with disabilities and workers aged 55 or older, many of whom are at risk of experiencing financial difficulty. This measure is an example of corporate social responsibility policy based on the will to manage ‘vulnerable situations’ at work.
Over the last two years, EDF has been involved in an exploration, at national level, of the issue of dependence. Particular focus is placed on the reconciliation of work and care and the specific needs of working carers.
When the current commercial director first took charge of the South-West delegation, an agreement was signed with the five labour union federations. It detailed improvements to be made regarding working conditions and work–life balance. Each regional director was required to apply this agreement in his region, via concrete initiatives.
In response to this, the commercial director in charge of the South-West delegation launched an internal committee on the issue of work-care reconciliation. A regional observatory of working conditions at EDF was set up. It is collectively managed by employees’ representatives, company medical officers, a panel of managers and affected employees.
An employee assessment revealed that:
Workers expressed a need for stronger social cohesion and solidarity within the company (EDF)
There was a recurrent pattern of absenteeism for short periods. Closer analysis showed that an average of 6-8% of absentee cases were caused by caring responsibilities. Following a discussion of these findings, the regional commercial director launched an internet-based survey. The aim was to identify a list of all kinds of work-care reconciliation issues existing in the company. The survey results showed an increased incidence of part-time work as a chosen means of dealing with informal care responsibilities. It also found that care responsibilities could lead to a reduction in geographical mobility. Employees with high responsibilities in the company are often required to travel. However, care requirements, led to some employees displaying resistance to too frequent travel. They expressed a wish to stay close to their home in order to better manage familial responsibilities. Other findings included an increased rate of absenteeism and the fact that some working carers experience conflict with their supervisors regarding work–life balance arrangements.
In light of these issues, a working group was set up to manage activities to address the issue. The working group is composed of selected managers as well as workers with informal care responsibilities. This group has been very active and its work has lead to a range of recommended solutions and initiatives (see above).
Results and assessment
EDF has not yet found the time to carry out a cost-benefit analysis of this set of initiatives, which were implemented only two years ago. As of yet, a formal assessment has not been commenced.
The commercial director of the South-West delegation reports that feedback from employees indicates a high degree of satisfaction. Since the initiatives have been launched, rates of short-term absenteeism have decreased. In many instances, concerned employees have expressed satisfaction with the care-related support measures on offer.
The long-term goal of EDF is to further develop the different kinds of initiatives and to implement them more widely, including throughout the other regional departments of EDF in France.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
The biggest lesson that can be learnt from this case is that well prepared and proactive initiatives lead to increased effectiveness and performance at work. In addition, they can reinforce social cohesion amongst employees. EDF’s experience shows that when workers feel they are valued and supported by the company, they tend to be more productive. If the available measures provide effective support to working carers, they are also likely to positively affect productivity; this is because the employees in question spend less of their working hours worrying about their care-related problems.
One important challenge is to make companies and organisations aware that work–care reconciliation initiatives are not only a social obligation; they also make economic sense.
Up until now, initiatives and concrete measures related to workers with informal care responsibilities tend to be implemented in big companies. This is because they have the financial means to support such initiatives without requiring intervention from public authorities. Many smaller organisations and liberal professions, however, cannot implement or benefit from such initiatives without support from public authorities. This suggests that it will be necessary to further develop national legislation and policy in order to provide more effective support to working carers. This support is needed for employees who do not engage in care-giving voluntarily but out of necessity. They simply cannot afford the costs of professional care providers.
Case study author:
- Professor Gerard Valenduc, Fondation Travail, Université ASBL
- Périne Brotcorne, Fondation Travail-Université ASBL
- Mickaëlle Guegan, Commercial Director of the South-West regional delegation, EDF