Case Study: Care-related supports – Nova Gráfica, Portugal
Company / organisation name
Working hours adjustment and financial support to workers with care responsibilities
About the company / organisation
Founded in 1982, Nova Gráfica is a small Portuguese company based on the Azores islands. It operates in the field of printing and publishing. With 40 employees, the company provides graphic services to a variety of client organisations, mostly within the same region. During its almost 30 years of existence, Nova Gráfica has been investing in creativity and technology. The company has been awarded with several distinctions in the areas of innovation, creativity and quality of products.
Since 2008, Nova Gráfica has been an active member of the national network for social responsibility. The activity of this network consists, among other things, of promoting and disseminating notable organisational practices of human resource management, diversity and social inclusion. The network comprises a variety of relevant stakeholders such as companies, public authorities, universities, employer associations and unions. It grew out of a number of projects funded by the EU's EQUAL programme and focuses on the promotion of corporate social responsibility.
Nova Gráfica is located in a geographic area associated with significant levels of poverty and unemployment, and with a lack of social infrastructure and services when compared with other regions. In response, the company has been developing a variety of internal actions that aim to improve the quality of life of its employees and to promote the community’s social development. A significant proportion of the company’s workforce has caring responsibilities for children, their elderly parents, or in some cases to both. To help address their work–care balance, the company offer employees three different models of working hours. It has also implemented a scheme of financial support for workers and their families in cases of extraordinary need.
The initiative of establishing three working hour models aims to reduce the burden of commuting between work and home and to compensate for the limited public transport system operating on the island. The company’s field of business and its small body of staff mean that workers must be present during the core working hours of 10:00 to 16:00. Outside of these periods, employees can work flexible hours, between 07:00 and 10:00 in the morning 16:00 and 19:00 in the afternoon/evening. This measure is formally defined and available to all members of staff.
The scheme of financial support for working carers aims to assist employees in the event of additional expenses related to informal care. Examples of such costs include travel and accommodation expenses when obtaining medical assistance on the mainland that cannot be obtained in the Azores. The provision of financial support is not formally defined and is agreed upon by a case-by-case evaluation. Workers can request financial support but so far, the initiative has come from the company, and has not involved a prior request from the employees in question. Nova Gráfica has paid for travel and accommodation expenses for two employees who needed to go to Lisboa and Porto to accompany their elderly relatives while they were undergoing medical treatment. In both cases, the company also extended the period of leave to assist family members beyond what is set out in the legislation, without any loss of remuneration.
The company administration is responsible for the application of these measures. In general, an informal approach is taken to HR management; this is characteristic for many small companies, and enables the company to seek tailored solutions to challenges concerning work–care reconciliation.
Rationale and background of the initiative
The origins of the measures are grounded in the social and economic context of the Azores islands, where Nova Gráfica is based.
It is the company’s experience that the poor system of public transport and related infrastructure on the island causes commuting problems for its workers. This can leads to difficulties in organising daily schedules, for example, when public transport operating hours clash with typical working schedules. By introducing flexitime, employees are much better able to reconcile the different spheres of their lives.
The scheme of financial support for working carers originated in the experiences of two members of staff. When more sophisticated medical treatments are required, the inhabitants of Azores need to fly to a mainland city such as Lisboa, Porto or Coimbra in order to obtain adequate assistance. Expenses associated with travel and accommodation for such purposes are not completely covered by the national social insurance system. Moreover, the islands’ social infrastructure and level of services are limited, in terms of care for older dependents or those with a disability; this is one reason why care-giving is predominantly organised within the family. For these reasons, providing financial support emerged as a way of avoiding financial strain, thereby improving employee’s work motivation. It also helps the company to retain valued workers, including working carers. Nova Gráfica acknowledges that at certain points, working carers may need to devote all their time to person dependent on their care. The company is therefore prepared to offer employees the required freedom to deal with the situation, which can sometimes mean offering a longer period of leave than what is legally defined. Decisions of this type are based on a case-by-case evaluation.
Results and assessment
The services offered by the company to its clients require a workforce with very specific qualifications. These are not always easy to find and maintain in the Azores region. Developing measures to promote the quality of life of employees is a way of retaining and motivating staff. The company’s low staff turnover in recent years is an indication of the impact of its internal policy of social responsibility. Its success is particularly evidenced by working carers who, in spite of their family responsibilities, show no intention of giving up their job with the company.
Nova Gráfica conducts an annual survey to assess the social climate within the company. Results have been positive, showing that working conditions have developed in line with the objectives of management. This survey and informal meetings with employees have both allowed the company to confirm that these measures have met the needs of working carers. Moreover, they have also been appreciated by their colleagues.
All workers make use of the flexitime system, and so far dedicated financial support has been given to every employee whose role as an informal carer was leading to the risk of financial hardship.
There is no formal procedure for a cost-benefit analysis in place. Nonetheless, the company’s management is convinced that the investment is paying off through increased motivation of employees, higher rates of productivity and a low staff turnover. The company also appreciates that it can contribute to the well-being of its employees’ families, and that its activities have positive implications for the local community.
The company was twice awarded with the ‘Equality is Quality’ award (on work–life reconciliation, protection of parenthood and gender equality). This involved its practices being presented at a national ceremony. It was also mentioned in a number of publications from the Ministry of Labour.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
Nova Gráfica is in a privileged position to present and discuss its experiences with other employers. This is because it is part of the national network of social responsibility, in addition to various other company networks. Nova Gráfica has benchmarked its practices in the regional context of Azores as well as at national level.
The transferability of the initiative of financial support, however, may require some degree of financial stability and prosperity within the company wishing to implement it. The continuity of this measure is, in fact, dependent on Nova Gráfica’s ability to overcome the present context of economic constraints in the country. Between 2009 and 2010, the company experienced a decrease of 20% in demand from its clients. Although the administration does not want to discontinue this initiative, the concern about its sustainability is always present.
The company wishes to maintain its flexible working conditions and to keep them available for all employees.
The existence of these provisions in this company raises important questions about the needs of informal working carers. The need to cover indirect expenses associated with medical care highlights the limitations and insufficiencies of the regional and national health system, and the national social insurance system. This case study illustrates that small companies can have a relevant role in the promotion of quality of life for working carers. However, it also illustrates the vulnerability of small companies to structural contexts, such as the current economic crisis, and how they can put some practices at risk.
The supports provided are an outcome of structural determinants and specific episodes in the lives of workers. For that reason, take-up of the initiatives varies with demand.
This case also raises the question of regional inequalities. It shows that policies developed at national level do not always consider local specificities, namely, the access to services, infrastructure and benefits.
Case study author:
- Dr Margarida Barroso, Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology (CIES-IUL), Lisboa
- José Ernesto Resendes, Director/Associate manager, Nova Gráfica, conducted on 24 November 2010
- Ambrozina Arruda, Office Manager, Nova Gráfica, conducted on 24 November 2010
- Sónia Oliveira, Printing Operator, Nova Gráfica, conducted on 24 November 2010.