Case Study: Work Adjustment – Eircom, Ireland
Company / organisation name
Work–life Balance project
About the company / organisation
Eircom is the principal provider of fixed-line telecommunications services in Ireland and is also one of the larger providers of mobile services. The company employs over 6,000 staff.
The company has an in-house EAP support service that provides advice and guidance to employees and their families who are dealing with any one of a range of personal issues. An extensive range of concrete measures to support work–life balance are provided. They include:
- work adjustment;
- leave-related provisions;
- hours reduction;
- health and well-being supports;
- care-related supports;
A company website presents information for employees who wish to access information on these issues. The company also provides a separate website, called ‘Diversity Share Point’; this acts as an information portal for employees. It provides a wide range of information on many topics of interest to carers. This includes lists of nursing homes, a section on social welfare entitlements, information about cancer and cardiac conditions, and available supports.
Initiatives are not targeted towards specific population groups; rather, they focus on the broad range of carer needs that apply to employees. This includes employees with caring responsibilities for disabled or sick children and adults, as well as elderly relatives. The company recruits for talent. If employees become distracted by caring responsibilities, Eircom takes responsibility for providing support and easing the impact on work productivity and capacity to contribute to the company.
Carer initiatives are managed and implemented through the ‘HR business partners’ located in each part of the organisation, such as retail, and technical sections. In this way, carer support initiatives are managed in an integrated manner across the organisation.
Online application forms are available to employees wishing to avail of work-life balance measures. All employees are eligible for the available options, which are however usually subject to business requirements. There is a formal process in place and clear guidelines for all employees.
Rationale and background of the initiative
Work-life balance arrangements had been in place for a long time at Eircom. The Work–life Balance project implemented by the company a few years ago served to pull together an existing range of policies and practices. The core purpose of the project was to survey employees regarding their particular needs. This was followed up by a range of flexible working initiatives targeted at facilitating employee needs and the company’s business requirements.
An important contextual consideration was the fact that Eircom, as a telecoms company, is in the business of selling technology to support remote working and e-working. This made it necessary for the company to provide these options for its own employees.
More generally, a range of legal rights regarding issues such as carer’s leave, parental leave and maternity leave also need to be communicated to employees. However, the business case is the main driver for the company. It is a win-win situation for all concerned when these initiatives meet both employee and business needs. Initially, internal measures focused on the childcare needs of new recruits. When the work–life balance survey highlighted that some staff had caring responsibilities towards sick and elderly relatives as well, this model expanded to address their needs.
The work–life balance initiative in Eircom takes an ‘individualised approach”. Its focus is on addressing individual needs as they arise. For this reason, concrete targets have not been put in place.
Results and assessment
The most recent research, conducted in 2005, revealed that at that time, 10% of staff availed of the company’s flexible working arrangements. The survey also found that the information service was effective – 98% of surveyed staff stated that they fully understood the options that were available.
Experience has shown that uptake depends on a number of factors, most notably, income requirements and constraints. Employees who need their full income deal with caring responsibilities by means that do not involve taking leave or a reduction of working hours. The recession has impacted on uptake, with staff now tending to revert to full working hours where possible. Females are more likely than men to avail of support measures.
No formal research has been conducted on the uptake of measures among working carers and the extent to which they meet their needs. However, those who avail of the measures report very positive results. One person was able to support his spouse through breast cancer using flexible working options. Another had more time to support a child with special education needs by remote working from home in the afternoons. Unexpected consequences included people finding themselves with more time to be socially involved and being able to contribute back to the local community.
Some aspects have been more formally evaluated. A cost–benefit analysis of e-working revealed significant savings, in terms of travel and working hours, for those who participated in the initiative. It was clear that many participants made effective use of the extra time saved in travelling to work; it was perceived that this led to a significant increase in productivity.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
Experience has shown that, in some cases, many important issues are not evident at the outset when discussing flexible working and work–life balance requests. In deciding on suitable support measures for an employee, consideration must be given to all possible consequences of changing a work pattern, whether short-term or long-term. , This will ensure that, when a new arrangement begins, the employee will be fully aware of all its pros and cons. Every aspect must be explored in detail, and all practical and financial implications should be fully and completely explained, such as its impact on salary, tax and pensions.
Working carers may fear that availing of flexible working may indicate low motivation, which might harm their careers. It needs to be clearly stressed that use of such support measures will have no impact on their career.
Line managers need to be informed of the possibility that employees on flexible work arrangements may feel ‘disconnected’ with the office. Alternative ways of communication may need to be adopted. For example, the timing of meetings, team briefings and in-house training may have to be altered slightly.
In the future, the company will continue to fully inform employees about its range of work–life options for working carers. It will also continue to provide training for managers, in order to ensure that alternative working arrangements are provided in a fair and consistent manner.
It is felt that the approaches adopted by the Eircom initiative would be easily transferable to other organisations. In particular, SMEs could learn a lot from larger organisations who have already implemented these types of work–family measures.
More generally, it is felt that there could be better communication about the statutory provisions with regard to carer’s leave. Public information on these matters should be set out in ‘user-friendly’ language and should avoid bureaucratic jargon.
Relevant parties such as GPs could be included in a communications programme to assist working carers. Provision of some form of financial subsidy to those who are working but who have responsibility for caring for someone with a disability would also be very useful. In addition, employers who have introduced relevant programmes could be provided with specific grants to support working carers.
More generally, it could be useful to appoint a ‘national champion’ at Government level to provide leadership on the needs of employees and business regarding work–life balance; as one person noted, ‘It’s so easy to do’.
Case study authors:
- Kevin Cullen, WRC;
- Sarah Delaney, WRC;
- Ciaran Dolphin, WRC.