EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Case Study: Leave-related measures – Travel Agency, Finland

About

Country: 
Finland
Organisation Size: 
Large (250+)
Sectors: 
Private sector
Initiative Types: 
Leave-relatedHours reductionWork adjustments


Company / organisation name

Travel Agency

Initiative name

Work adjustments available to working carers

About the company / organisation

The company is a travel agency that offers a full range of services in both business and leisure travel. While headquarters are in Helsinki, the company has a network of branch offices covering different parts of Finland. The total number of employees is 350, about 90% of whom are women.

The company has received an award for their work in promoting work and family balance from a major non-governmental organisation working with family issues.

The initiative

It is company policy to place importance on the separation of work and leisure. For this reason, the company has undertaken various activities to ensure that employees make full use of their statutory rights with regard to work–family balance. They have also established day-to-day work practices that support the reconciliation of working and private responsibilities.

In recent years, this policy has been reflected in the company aim of reducing the practice of working overtime among employees. This initiative has in fact been successful, enabling employees to spend more time on leisure and family activities.

At any given time, about 10-12% of the staff are on family leave. Most of these employees are on maternity leave, but this also includes paternity leave, care leave and partial care leave.

Special training is provided for those returning from family leave to support their reintegration process following a period of absence.

If you are an older employee, you may reduce your workload by transferring to part-time work. Currently, four employees are on a part-time pension. This means they reduce their daily or weekly working hours in the years before retirement, in exchange for a moderate reduction in their pension entitlements. This scheme, regulated by national law, can be used by working carers who are close to retirement age.

Job alternation leave is offered when possible, although the extent to which employees may have used it for caring purposes is not known.

Temporary (unpaid) short-term leave is offered to employees who need time off to take care of family issues. This includes a wide range of situations, both planned and unforeseen. For example, it might be used by an employee to care for a family member who has been discharged from hospital, following a major operation. In Finland, employees have a statutory right to short-term leave in order to deal with unforeseen family emergencies. This law does not specify the maximum length of emergency leave but it tends to be used for a few days at most.

Although this company does not allow for flexible working hours (flexitime) as such, individual needs and wishes can be met through adapted work arrangements, such as changing shifts. This often goes hand-in-hand with a temporary reduction of working hours, known as partial care leave. In practice, such work adjustments represent an important means for working carers to address their specific goals.

The company makes use of virtual office technologies to facilitate liaison between its different sites. This practice helps to decrease the need for travel; team members working in offices located in different parts of the country can meet virtually rather than physically. As business trips represent a potential challenge for working carers, reduced work related travel can help to improve employees’ work–family balance.

The company also offers employees the option of adapted work shift arrangements. This enables them to reduce their working hours, and is particularly useful for employees with young children or working carers.

The teams are organised so that those working for six hours per day have flexibility around the choice of morning or evening shifts. Team members can also change the shifts between themselves, according to their needs.

As a rule, regular meetings (such as weekly team meetings) do not take place in the morning or late in the afternoon. This makes attendance easier for staff members with reduced working hours.

The virtual office model is also used to allow employees to remain at their present place of work in the event of organisational restructuring.

At time of writing, a new initiative based on teleworking was underway. The aim is to increase well-being at work while at the same time increase productivity. Under this scheme, staff will be given the option of working part of the week from their home. This will help staff members with long commuting distances to their places of work. Before this could be implemented, agreement was needed on how to ensure optimal working conditions in people’s homes.

Rationale and background of the initiative

While the company does not have a formal policy regarding working carers, it places a great deal of emphasis on the issue of reconciliation in general. It has firmly established practices regarding maternity and parental leave, due to the fact that the majority of its employees are women. The company has a very open attitude to employees with special requirements. Whenever an employee presents a need for reconciliation, the HR department and their direct supervisor will work together to find a practical solution that benefits both employee and employee.

Results and assessment

The company has not yet formally gathered any information about the staff’s care responsibilities for children or adults with a disability. However, an employee survey is planned for the near future that is likely to address the issue of work–care reconciliation.

Issues, challenges and lessons learned

This company is committed to the issue of work–family balance. Despite this, the issue of working carers and their specific needs and requirements has not yet been received significant attention. Work–care reconciliation is bound to become more important in the near future; the average age of its staff is 45 years. Most employees have been employed in the company for a long time and have job-related experience that would make them difficult to replace. Since the expertise required in this field of business is very specific, the employees’ extensive experience is considered a major competitive advantage.

Well-developed company frameworks for improving work–life balance in general can go a long way towards meeting the needs of working carers. However, the company’s small amount of experience with working carers indicates that more targeted initiatives will be required in the future.

Sources

Case study author:

  • Malla Heino, Omaishoitajat ja Läheiset - Liitto ry

Interviewee:

  • HR Manager

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