Case Study: Leave-related measures – Bundesimmobiliengesellschaft, Austria
Company / organisation name
Federal Real Estate Company (Bundesimmobiliengesellschaft, BIG)
Work and Family Audit (Audit Beruf und Familie, Austria) at BIG
About the company / organisation
The Federal Real Estate Company (BIG) is a limited liability company wholly owned by the Republic of Austria. It was created by law in 1992, when the company took responsibility for federal real-estate management; previously this had been the role of a federal and several regional government agencies. With property assets of around €9 billion, BIG is one of the most important real estate owners in Austria. The company’s core business is property management for Austria’s public sector, covering the entire real estate lifecycle, from construction to demolition. It rents out buildings to government bodies, carries out renovations and new investments, and handles the sale of buildings and land no longer in use by the public sector.
BIG has 831 employees spread across different sites in Austria, 450 of whom work at the company headquarters in Vienna. Women make up about one third of the workforce.
Due to the history of the organisation, some of the workers have civil service contracts and are therefore subject to civil service law, while others have a regular employment contract, and are subject to labour law. As a consequence, employees are covered by different collective agreements, which need to be negotiated separately.
BIG received a basic certificate from the work and family audit (audit berufundfamilie) in 2010. Based on the initiative of the same name developed in Germany, the Austrian audit acts as a consulting instrument. It allows employers to examine the family orientation of their company and take specific measures to improve it. Companies who undergo an assessment of their current status regarding work–family balance, and who set up a progress plan, in areas defined by themselves, for a three year period are awarded a basic certificate. A full certificate is given to companies who have carried out a second assessment at the end of the three year period. These companies must also have reviewed achievements against plans and agreed upon further steps to be taken in the coming period.
In the context of the audit process, BIG agreed to initiate measures in the following areas: working time, leave, reintegration after leave, working site, information and communication policy, management cultures, and services for families.
With regard to working carers, the most relevant measure is the availability of highly flexible working time options. This includes flexitime alongside annualised working hours (working time accounts). It also includes the option to transfer anything ranging from a deficit of ten working hours to a surplus of 60 working hours from one year to the next. Employees can also avail of ten compensation days (Gleittage) if they have accumulated the required amount of overtime. So far, sabbaticals have not been agreed upon; however, this can be arranged on demand.
In the event of unforeseen (crisis) events in the family, such as a family member becoming dependent on care, employees have the possibility to make use of crisis leave. Line managers are also instructed to take account of employees’ family responsibilities when planning holiday leave within their unit.
A range of part-time arrangements are available to employees who seek to reduce working hours, for reasons such as informal care responsibilities.
During times of leave, the company undertakes various measures to remain in contact with the employee. This includes carer leave for which a statutory right exists in Austria only for palliative care (Hospizkarenz). This can include minor employment and some involvement in project work, as far as is possible and desired by the employee.
Employees on leave are also encouraged to engage in training programmes. The company puts a lot of emphasis on providing employees with a range of training and education options. Health promotion is a topic of particular importance in this context.
Rationale and background of the initiative
The company’s main reasons for participating in the audit process were:
- strengthening the public image of BIG as a family-friendly company;
- sharing the message with existing staff that the company takes the issue of work–family balance seriously, as a way to foster job motivation and to further improve employee loyalty;
- identifying the extent to which measures for supporting work–family balance are already in place;
- developing initiatives to address the need for additional support, where such need becomes evident.
The audit process within BIG is being overseen by an internal project group comprising a range of stakeholders. This includes representatives from the HRM department, the facility management unit that links the company to its regional branch offices and the works council. An annual progress report is submitted on a mandatory basis to the auditing body.
Employee representatives have played an important role throughout the process. For example, the number of compensation days was recently increased from six to 10 per year in response to a demand voiced by the works council.
Results and assessment
The company has already achieved some success in raising its profile as a family-friendly employer. In 2009, it won first place in the public sector category of a regional competition, Taten statt Worte, for being the most family and women-friendly employer in Vienna.
Feedback received from employees, both directly and via the works council, suggests that available options for working time flexibility effectively meet employees’ needs. This includes those with informal care responsibilities. There have been a few cases where tailored solutions had to be agreed upon, and the company is generally open to such arrangements. As an example, some employees needed to be relieved of duty during core working hours (09:00–15:00 from Monday to Thursday and 09:00–12:30 on Friday).
So far, there has been no quantitative evaluation of the impact of such measures. At time of writing, the project team were discussing the option of conducting an employee survey.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
The audit process has given rise to plans for a number of additional support mechanisms. For example, the company is developing a new measure that aims to support employees faced by situations of family emergency. This would include a family member becoming dependent on care. In the near future, the company will be able to provide hands-on, tailored support in such situations, via an external (commercial) service provider. Once a framework agreement has been reached with the provider, employees will have free access to counselling, life coaching and practical advice on any issue related (in whatever way) to their work, including problems of work–care reconciliation.
Other measures that are planned for the near future include initiatives for raising awareness about and sensitivity toward work–family reconciliation issues, especially among management staff. Workshops and training modules are currently being prepared for this purpose. The topic is also to be integrated into the company’s mission statement.
Much information on work-family reconciliation is available on the company intranet, including information addressed at working carers. However, this information has not yet been integrated within one source. This can make it difficult to access. The company planned to integrate and structure this information in the near future. The objective here is to provide employees with a one-stop source of quality-checked information which can be tailored to their specific needs.
Telework, which involved enabling employees to work from home, was discussed in the context of the audit process, but as yet there does not seem to be much demand for it.
Case study author:
- Karsten Gareis, empirica GmbH, Bonn
- Sonja Rappl (project leader), Human Resources, Bundesimmobiliengesellschaft, conducted on 9 February 2011.
- Leopold Hederer, Deputy Head of Human Resources, Bundesimmobiliengesellschaft, conducted on 9 February 2011.
- Website of BIG [accessed at http://www.big.at/]
- Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft, Familie und Jugend. Audit Beruf und Familie, Zertifikatsverleihung 2010. [accessed at: http://www.kibis.at/pdf/audit/ZertifikatsverleihgBroschuere-2010.pdf]