Case Study: Work adjustments – Prime Minister’s Office, Finland
Company / organisation name
Prime Minister’s Office, Finland
Flexibility options available to working carers
About the company / organisation
The function of the Prime Minister’s Office is to support the duties of the Prime Minister. The office is also responsible for monitoring implementation of the Government’s political programme. It represents one of the 12 ministries that form the Government of Finland. The office is based in Helsinki and has 250 employees, 60% of whom are women. The average age is 48. The legal status of civil servants in the Prime Minister’s Office is laid down in the State Civil Servants Act and the related decree. The Act on Collective Agreements for State Civil Servants covers collective agreements on terms and conditions of service for civil servants.
The organisation encourages employees to make full use of the various provisions for worker-centred flexibility laid down in work legislation and collective agreements. These include flexible working hours, or flexitime, with work hours to be chosen within the timeframe of 07:00 to 19:00. Part-time work is also available, as are part-time pensions, whereby employees benefit from reduced working hours in the years before retirement, in exchange for a moderate cut in pension entitlements.
Another option is that of job alternation leave. Here, long-term leave is available to employees with at last 10 years of service with the office. Duration ranges from 90 to 359 days. For this period, the employer must find a substitute from the unemployment registry. The employee on leave is compensated at 70% of unemployment allowance, 80% if s/he has been with the organization for at least 25 years. Leave banking allows employees to save up holiday leave, to be used later.
Employees are also entitled to 15 therapy sessions, provided they have a referral from the doctor in occupational health services. Reasons for needing therapy can be wide-ranging, including issues involving family life and caring.
Since 2000, the office has offered employees the options of remote working, or teleworking from home. At time of writing, 15 employees worked from home for a proportion of their working hours. The reasons why these individuals chose to telework have not been documented. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that they include the need to reconcile paid work with caring responsibilities within the family.
Rationale and background of the initiative
The office places much emphasis on creating a work climate that takes account of employees’ needs to reconcile work and family responsibilities. This includes care-giving to elderly or disabled dependants.
The Prime Minister’s Office recognises the issue of working carers among its staff. As of yet, however, the HR strategy does not explicitly reference this particular target group. Accurate data on this issue is not available, but it is estimated that around 10 out of 250 employees are working carers.
The work–care reconciliation issue is seen to belong to the larger area of well-being at work. The office adopts a holistic approach to its strategy, and considers the individual as a whole rather than as just ‘human capital’.
Results and assessment
Available information suggests that working carers within the office avail of various options that improve their work flexibility. For example, job alternation leave is currently used by two employees for caring purposes, one of whom is caring for her spouse, the other for a child. Home-based telework is also used for this purpose.
So far, no initiatives have been developed that specifically target working carers.
Once a year a survey is conducted on the subject of employee well-being at work. It includes questions on the reconciliation of work and private life.
As part of the annual appraisal interviews, employees and their supervisors have the opportunity (on a voluntary basis) to discuss issues related to work–life reconciliation.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
Office representatives interviewed for this study felt that the extent to which work-care reconciliation is supported in practice is mainly a question of attitudes and good leadership. They also envisage that further information will be required in the future, in order to kick-start an informed debate and to improve support for working carers.
Direct personal experience with care-giving in the family will play a significant role in increasing awareness of the specific needs and requirements of working carers. Overall, more information on this issue is seen as essential.
The Amendment to Work Contracts Act was passed in early 2011. It gives carers in Finland a statutory right to unpaid leave if they need time to care for a close relative. The duration and other terms are to be agreed between the employer and the employee. The law states that employers have to try their best to reorganise work (if necessary) in ways that enable applicants to make use of care leave. Duration and other terms of the leave arrangement need to be agreed between employer and employee.
It is planned that in the near future, the Prime Minister’s Office’s HR strategy will fully incorporate the issue of reconciling work and informal care.
Case study author:
- Malla Heino, Omaishoitajat ja Läheiset - Liitto ry
- Auni-Marja Vilavaara, Director General, Prime Minister’s Office, Helsinki
- Kirsi Valto, Development Manager, Prime Minister’s Office, Helsinki