Case Study: Hours reduction – Labamoro, Portugal
Company / organisation name
Various supports for workers with care responsibilities
About the company / organisation
Labamaro is a family owned clinical laboratory founded in 1980. With 15 employees, the company headquarters are located in the city of Lisbon. The company provides a wide range of services in its areas of expertise (biochemistry, microbiology, haematology, immunology, endocrinology, pharmaceutics and molecular biology). Labamaro is certified by the Ministry of Health and works for a diverse group of clients, such as medical clinics, private general practitioners, insurance companies, occupational health organisations and veterinary clinics.
Although it is a small and family owned company, Labamaro has always developed its activity in line with high standards of quality. This has led to Labamaro being awarded a number of quality certificates.
The measures that the company offers to working carers are mostly related to working time adjustment and hours reduction. It also includes other informal supports to facilitate the reconciliation of work and informal care. Labamaro considers the following employees to be working carers: those who have children with disabilities; those with dependent adults in their family, such as elderly relatives; those with small children.
Due to the company’s area of activity and the nature of services it provides, its main laboratory is open from 07:30 to 20:00. Consequently, Labamaro has established three different daily work schedules: 07:30 to 16:30; 08:30 to 17:00; and 11:00 am to 20:00. Employees can to choose between them to suit their private needs.
The company grants workers with care responsibilities for disabled children or dependent adults the right to a reduction of daily working hours. Their working time is reduced by one and a half hours per day, without any loss of remuneration.
Working carers are also given priority when choosing the site where they would prefer to work according to their caring responsibilities. The company has three laboratories in Lisbon and a working carer’s preference may depend on a site’s proximity to their home, a relative's home, or a service provider such as a day-care centre, for example. The same entitlement applies to choice of holiday period.
The company also an additional support measure in place in the event that the hours reduction is not sufficient to reconcile work with care responsibilities. An example would be a medical appointment that lasts more than one and a half hours. In such situations, employees can make informal arrangements with their direct supervisor and colleagues to be away from work for a few more hours, so their work is not compromised. Again, this is allowed without any loss of remuneration.
Company administration is in charge of the implementation of these measures. The company makes use of an informal style of management. This is characteristic of small and family owned companies. The family running the company comprises a father and his two daughters. One of the daughters is responsible for the company’s finance and human resources; she underwent complementary training to obtain the required skills. The company’s rules, including of its main measures and initiatives, stem from a culture of close working relations between employers and employees. For that reason, the directors of Labamaro never felt the need for formal, written regulations. The management decides, on a case-by-case basis, if a worker is eligible for a particular entitlement. So far, tailored support has been provided to all employees who have requested it.
Rationale and background of the initiative
Labamaro was founded in 1980 and since then has maintained its informal management style, which has proven suitable for a family-owned company. There is no formal structure of workers’ representation and decisions are made following a case-by-case evaluation, according to identified needs.
All the initiatives that were introduced to support working carers were developed when employees presented with a clear need for support in this area. This includes the introduction of reduced working hours for working carers, priority when choosing the site of work and holiday periods of holiday, and facilitating informal ways of improving work–care reconciliation.
One employee who works in the laboratory has a child who was born with a severe disability. She was on leave for two years, making use of a statutory right defined in national law. When she returned to work, it was evident that she needed to adapt her working conditions to her caring responsibilities. Following an informal conversation with management, tailored working conditions were agreed, involving additional measures that can benefit her. She also underwent on-the-job training to compensate for her loss of experience during her absence. Remuneration and career opportunities remained unchanged.
Another employee was taking care of her elderly father. This case led to the extension of the hours reduction measure to all carers of dependent adults; prior to this, it was only available to employees with children with a disability. A significant proportion of the company’s workforce have young children (most members of staff are between 20 and 35 years old). The company has extended the option of choosing a workplace and flexible working time to all carers who do not live close to the laboratory. The objective here was to reduce commuting distances, thus minimising the negative effects of traffic, and consequently promoting the quality of life of its workers.
Results and assessment
The company has five employees who currently benefit from at least one of the measures outlined above. Two of them are using working hours’ reduction and the others were given the option to choose their place of work. The latter group includes a person caring for a child with disabilities and a person caring for an elderly relative. The other three have small children.
Labamaro has a professional evaluation system that aims to assess both the accomplishment of work objectives and the commitment and motivation of staff. Results from this evaluation system confirm, according to the management, that commitment and motivation are strongly related to good performance. Since the company’s area of activity requires a highly qualified and self-motivated workforce, increasing staff’s motivation is a means of retaining both customers and valued employees. This has been achieved, as the company has a low labour turnover rate. One employee who avails of hours reduction was interviewed for this study. They felt that the way in which the company’s response to her family situation has fully met her needs.
No formal cost-benefit analysis has been carried out. However, available information suggests that the relationship is positive and that the positive effect on workers’ well-being is tangible.
The company’s management style involves a close relationship between managers and employees, and puts a strong emphasis on team work. This approach contributes to the efficacy of the system. Issues, challenges and lessons learned
The company’s measures to improve its employees’ ability to reconcile work and care have arisen out of a willingness to address the urgent needs of some employees. They are also defined individually. The small size of the company and the importance of informal arrangements between management and employees can make it difficult to transfer its approach to other employers. Nevertheless, the company does communicate its experiences with addressing the needs of working carers to others, by participating in meetings and seminars with other companies from the same sector. However, the scope to transfer its approach remains limited.
Labamaro is an expanding company. So far, its performance indicators give good reason to maintain current policy and practice. The importance the company ascribes to its workers’ professional skills implies that it should supply them with the necessary conditions to perform their jobs successfully. Doing so is one of the strategic objectives of the company.
Case study author:
- Dr Margarida Barroso, Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology (CIES-IUL), Lisboa
- Sara Faria, Human Resources Director, Labamaro, conducted on 20 December 2010.
- Carla Roberto, Clinical Analyst, Labamaro, conducted on 27 December 2010.