Case Study: Work adjustments – Axa, Portugal
Company / organisation name
Flexible working hours
About the company / organisation
Axa is a multinational company in the insurance sector. The history of Axa in Portugal goes back to the year 1835 when one of the companies that would become Axa in Portugal was founded. After several mergers and acquisitions, in 1997 Axa emerged as we know it today. This multinational group has two headquarters in Portugal and several agencies all over the country, employing in total about 900 people.
As part of a set of policies and practices of corporate social responsibility within the company, Axa developed a programme for well-being and work–life balance. This includes, among other things, flexible working hours and the option to adapt working hours to family responsibilities. Although most of the measures are available to all employees, some are targeted to specific groups of persons, including working carers.
There are four working time models in the company: fixed, flexible, shifts, and exemption. For some occupations and in some departments (like customer service), the physical presence of the worker in a specific period of time is required. However, around 80% of the workforce of this company makes use of flexitime. This consists of a core time, during which the employee is expected to be present at the workplace, and ‘glide time’ periods in the morning and evening. The latter means that employees can start working anytime between 08:00 and 10:00 and stop between 16:00 and 20:00.
Other solutions for time management include:
Part-time work: employees can ask for a part-time work model that meets their specific family or personal needs. Workers can chose between working 3.5 hours per day (17.5 per week) or 5 hours per day (25 hours per week).
Senior week: employees aged 58 years or older benefit from shorter working hours. This is provided on demand and is not available for top managers. Employees can ask for a four day working week (28 hours), with no compensation paid.
Telework: employees can ask to work from home, in which case the technical equipment is provided by the company. This only applies to positions that are found to be suitable for telework. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
‘Weekend Plus’: employees can decide to work for only three hours on either Mondays or Fridays. This is allowed, provided that they make sure that they carry out 35 hours of work per week and do not exceed eight hours of work per day.
Mobility work: employees who have a commuting distance of 50 km or more can concentrate their work during the week. Employees availing of this measure start the working week later than usual on Monday (by noon at the latest), and finish earlier on Friday (13:00 at the earliest). This allows them to avoid commuting at peak traffic hours on both Monday and Friday.
Axa has also been developing a programme of well-being at the workplace. This includes one office for psychological support and one for social support. Other initiatives involve alternative medicine therapies and massage services in the workplace, and cooperation agreements with health and well-being institutions outside the company.
Moreover, the company offers some of its internal products (health insurance) to their employees for free or at below-market prices. Health insurance can also be extended to employees’ family members at very favourable rates.
Rationale and background of the initiative
Axa is part of a multinational group that has a long history of being a major player in the market. In all the companies within the group, the need has emerged for internal programmes to support work–life balance and employee well-being. However, local subsidiaries have full autonomy to adapt the general principles of the group to the structural contexts they are operating in.
The flexible time management initiative was implemented in 2007. Its objective is to increase productivity and the quality of services provided to clients by assuring staff’s motivation and well-being.
An important impetus came from an annual survey, conducted to assess job satisfaction among workers. Findings suggested that the area of work–life balance needed to be addressed, in order to achieve further improvements in job satisfaction.
As an outcome of this, the flexible working time practices described above were implemented. This step was based on two factors. One was the assumption that motivated workers are more productive. The other was the fact that permanent physical presence in the company is not necessary, if work objectives can be fulfilled by other means, such as home-based telework.
Unions and the works council were supportive of the plans. They were both involved in the preparation of its implementation, although the initiative and its development came from the company’s management.
While some of the working time models, like part-time or flexible work, had already been defined in national legislation, this regulation places very limited attention on the actual practices which are required by companies. Axa’s objective was to provide conditions that allow employees to make full use of their statutory rights. It also aimed to extend the scope of some of these rights in innovative and creative ways.
Results and assessment
Around 80% of the total workforce use flexible working hours. The company does not have any information about the proportion and types of working carers included in this group. There is one well-known case of a working carer who, by working part-time, can care for her dependent parents.
All working time schemes on offer are available to any employee who is eligible. Two working carers who were interviewed for this study described how flexible working hours allowed them to manage their time to address their multiple roles; they do not perceive any need for further adjustments. Part-time work and telework are usually considered as exceptional options for cases involving a high level of dependence. This helps to explain the low rate of take-up of these measures within the total workforce.
Axa conducts an annual survey to assess job satisfaction among its employees. Since the introduction of flexible working time options, levels of satisfaction have developed favourably, which has encouraged Axa to continue the scheme.
No formal cost-benefit analysis has been carried out. However, the company management is convinced of the benefits of these measures, specifically their positive impact on employee morale and job motivation. In spite of the present context of uncertainty and economic constraint, the company wishes to sustain all the programmes and measures related to corporate social responsibility.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
Some of the regulations on working time in the Portuguese Labour Code have proven to increase quality of life of working carers. They have also been shown to be effective from the viewpoint of employers. However, in practice on the national labour market, the level of supply and take-up of flexible ways of working is still very low.
Axa is part of several company networks and works in collaboration with different institutions, in order to exchange and discuss working practices. For example, Axa is represented in the national network for the certification of companies concerning work–life balance (being developed by the Portuguese Association of Business Ethics APEE). The company also participated in the national social dialogue project, Platform for Discussion of Business Practices for Work–life Balance and Gender Equality (DSIE).
Implementing innovative measures for supporting work–family balance, and improving and extending existent ones, are ongoing concerns of the company. Axa’s experiences can also be valuable for other employers, as its initiatives should be very transferable.
The company appears to be a forerunner among Portugal employers. However, it is only beginning to address the specific situation of informal carers for persons other than dependent children at operative levels. Nonetheless, it is accepted that the issue will become more prominent in the near future, and that new measures will be developed to better address work–care reconciliation.
The stable relations and constructive dialogue that the company maintains with the unions and works council has proven to be of great benefit in the development and implementation of effective measures.
Case study author:
- Dr Margarida Barroso, Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology (CIES-IUL), Lisboa
- Luciana Silva, Company representative responsible for Corporate Social Responsibility, Axa.
- José Carlos Barroso, Representative of the Works Council, Axa.
- Anonymous (working carer), Lawyer, Axa
- Anonymous (working carer), Administrative Clerk, Axa.
- Website of Axa [accessed at: www.axa.pt]
- Axa. Relatorio de responsabilidade corporativa, 2009 (Annual report of corporate social responsibility). [accessed at: http://www.axa.pt/aboutus/relatorio_e_contas.html]
Written material not available online:
- Axa. Manual de políticas e práticas de responsabilidade corporativa AXA. 2010. (Description of the corporate social responsibility policy)