EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Case Study: Work adjustments –Pharmaceutical company, Poland


Organisation Size: 
Large (250+)
Private sector
Initiative Types: 
Leave-relatedCare-related supports

Company / organisation name

Pharmaceutical company

Initiative name

Case-by-case support provided to working carers

About the company / organisation

The company is a manufacturer of both over-the-counter and prescription medicines, dietary supplements, dietetic products and cosmetics. It has been operating on the market for more than 20 years as a private sector company and is owned by Polish shareholders. At present, the company employs about 300 people, half of whom are women. A total of 13% of the workforce are aged 50 years and over.

The initiative

Over recent years, it emerged that some employees wished to combine their work duties with private caring responsibilities for a disabled or a chronically ill member of their family. In response, the company made a range of solutions available to working carers who presented with such needs. Tailored support was granted to four working carers, all of whom were women. In each case, solutions were agreed on an individual basis and reflected the specific needs of the employee in question. As these needs varied, so did the chosen solutions. Each working carer had a different role in the company, ranging from jobs in production to executive positions. One employee provided care to her seriously ill parent, while the other three cared for their disabled children, who were suffering from spinal cord injury, Down syndrome, and cystic fibrosis, respectively.

In two of these cases, the board of management decided to grant financial support on a once off basis. All four working carers required some organisational changes to be made, in order to adapt their work to their needs as a working carer. They also availed of their statutory rights as employees, as provided for in the Labour Code; examples of these rights include a leave of absence due to care responsibilities for an ill member of the family. In addition, the company allowed them to take ‘leave on demand’ more frequently than the four days per year provided for by this legislation. In urgent cases, employees were allowed to take leave at short notice, e.g. to inform their supervisor that they needed to leave the office the following day. When one employee needed to accompany her disabled child to a three week rehabilitation stay, she was allowed to take a longer period of leave than that guaranteed by labour law.

At present, the company has no formal procedures or rules that specify how to proceed in providing support to working carers. An individual response is developed each time such a case presents, which depends on the specific needs of the employee and the nature of their job. Neither has a model been developed for identifying working carers; this is partly due to data protection and privacy issues. This practice makes it impossible to determine the number of working carers in the company.

The working carer or their work team apply for support. Information tends to travel via ‘the grapevine’. The board of management make a decision regarding the provision of financial or other forms of support; this is done on the basis of information provided by the human resources (HR) and training department. Considering of the fact that such support often involves a reorganisation of working hours, its management involves both the direct supervisors of the employees in question and the HR and training department. Any decisions concerning financial support are made by the board of management.

Rationale and background of the initiative

The company tries to support its employees in reconciling their work and family life. Aid is most often provided due to a heartfelt need to do so, and it has no strategic purpose other than to help an employee deal with a difficult situation. It is certainly of significance that the company is no stranger to the idea of corporate social responsibility: the company has been involved in a number of charity and sponsoring campaigns, and it gives product donations to welfare centres, hospices, children’s homes, social care institutions and hospitals all over Poland. In this context, the provision of targeted support to its own employees who are facing care-related challenges can be viewed as a natural progression.

Results and assessment

It is difficult to assess outcomes of this support, as the measures taken have not been evaluated in any way. No cost benefit analysis has been carried out. However, the company’s activities can certainly be expected to lead to increased loyalty and job satisfaction among those employees who have received support, although this is hard to measure. Another outcome may be the building up a positive image of the company, not only in the eyes of beneficiaries, but also among other employees and stakeholders outside the company.

It is also hard to determine the extent to which the support granted has fulfilled the needs of all working carers. It is probable that not all employees who might benefit from it are being identified. This is partly due to the informal nature of the support provided, and partly due to the priority given to privacy protection, which prevents full disclosure of work–care reconciliation-related information.

The company management is also aware that support granted may sometimes represent ‘a drop in the ocean’ in relation to the financial and other needs of working carers. Two of the four working carers who received support eventually gave up their job in order to provide round-the-clock care to their disabled children. It turned out to be too difficult for them to combine their work and caring responsibilities. Issues, challenges and lessons learned

It seems that some companies, including the one reviewed here, would benefit from formalising their process of identifying working carers who require support. This could be done either via the employment regulations or in the company’s rules and regulations for using the Employee Social Benefit Fund (Zakładowy Fundusz Świadczeń Pracowniczych).

This would give a clear signal that the company is not indifferent to the problems of working carers among its staff. It would also mean that those employees would be invited to apply for more appropriate terms of work and annual leave provisions, or financial support. It is likely that a higher number of employees would disclose such needs; more effective use would need to be made of funds for supporting working carers. Simply being aware that support is available, be it a day’s leave for a medical appointment or the option of changing a work schedule, could be of great help. The special situation of sales representatives must also be considered. This group comprises a large proportion of the company’s employees but sales representatives are scattered all over Poland and are supervised by regional managers. It is likely that some of them are involved in informal care for disabled or ill family members. They could also be provided with some form of informal support from their regional managers (e.g. with regard to the organisation of working hours). The management at headquarters need not be informed of such adaptations. The needs of this group exemplify the value of developing more formal solutions to this issue.

It is difficult to assess whether or not the solutions developed and used by this organisation may by adopted by other companies. Each business has its own way of organising work and its own financial situation. Any decisions of this type should be taken on a case-by-case basis and should depend on the options available to each employer.

Some legal regulations could improve the situation of carers on the labour market. At present, a substantial number of people with care responsibilities are either outside the labour market or are unemployed; this is because they are unable to take up a regular job. Moreover, in Poland employment often means that the carer will forfeit the right to certain benefits, such as the carer’s allowance, which in practice acts as a disincentive to get a job.

A change in policy and the promotion of a public debate on this topic are also required. This is because, while at first glance the issue of support for working carers is not a ‘gender issue’, it is certainly no coincidence that all four working carers in this company were women.


Case study authors:

  • Katarzyna Świeżawska-Ambroziak
  • Dominika Stelmachowicz-Pawyza.

Interviewee (21.02.2011):

  • Head of the Human Resources and Training Department, conducted on 21 February 2011.

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