Good practice in reconciling work and family life
A report from the National Thematic Network on reconciliation of family and working life reveals shortcomings in the policies being pursued in this area in Greece. The report identified obstacles that make it difficult for people to achieve a work–life balance, including a possible conflict with traditional working methods as well as attitudes in society. Fears of higher costs make small and medium-sized enterprises particularly wary of schemes designed to foster a better balance between work and family life. Nevertheless, the report also highlights a variety of good practice examples. Overall, the network has sought to raise awareness of the issue in Greece.
National Thematic Network
The National Thematic Network on reconciliation of family and working life was set up in 2003 for the purpose of highlighting good practice developed after completion of national projects financed under the European Commission’s EQUAL Initiative. The network aimed to further disseminate these practices to international organisations and agencies, and relate them directly to European developments.
As part of the network’s operation, it implemented various actions to disseminate the results of eight development partnerships and to raise public awareness of issues concerning a harmonious work-life balance. It prepared scientific and informational material, and created a forum for dialogue on such issues. The network’s activities constitute an innovative approach to the investigation of the broader issues falling within the domain of family policy and policy for gender equality in the labour market. In Greece, the relevant bodies in this area are few in number and have been established relatively recently, compared with other EU Member States. In July 2005, the network’s final progress report was published, the key findings of which are outlined below.
Key findings of report
The report draws important conclusions on the prevailing situation in Greece with regard to the issue of reconciling family and working life, and highlights the need to re-examine and renegotiate work–life balance in order to eliminate difficulties and obstacles that render the coexistence of family and working roles incompatible. In particular, the report emphasises the fact that, in comparison with the rest of Europe, in Greece few initiatives have been taken by the social partners at national, sectoral and enterprise level aimed at directly or indirectly facilitating the reconciliation of family and work. Existing initiatives mainly focus on the issue of unemployment and employability (Mouriki, 2005).
Furthermore, the report identifies serious obstacles to the implementation and dissemination of initiatives to foster a work–life balance. These obstacles include the following factors:
- the negative attitude of senior executives in relation to such initiatives, which undermine traditional working methods;
- the limited application of working time flexibility due to concerns of increasing labour costs, particularly in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and the loss of managerial control (GR0609019I);
- the rigidities of the statutory framework, which in certain cases has an inhibitory effect on the process of reform of the labour standard and the use of workers’ rights. For example, parental leave is unpaid in the private sector;
- the prevalence of traditional standards and attitudes in relation to the division of family responsibilities;
- other structural factors, such as low pay, which forces workers to work overtime and take second jobs; the predominance of SMEs in the business sector of the economy, which underlines the difficulty of offering more flexibility in the organisation of employment programmes due to high cost; and an inadequate social care infrastructure.
Examples of good practice
However, the report also highlights successful models of reconciliation of family and work, such as the Children’s Creative Activity Centres (KDAPs), which were set up within the framework of previous and current EU operational programmes. In parallel with the eight projects included in the Network as part of the EQUAL Community Initiative, certain good practices emerged, which can be more widely implemented in the future. Among these practices were the following measures:
- implementing equality schemes in selected undertakings in the services sector;
- introducing the position of an equality and diversity consultant in the work environment;
- providing information on equality policies to local business people and workers in the Aegean islands;
- distance learning opportunities for women in rural areas;
- introducing telework as part of a pilot scheme in the call centre of an information technology (IT) company.
For example, the establishment of equality and diversity consultants at the workplace took place during the completion of a project on overcoming obstacles and barriers that female engineers face in the labour market. The consultants have a strong influence on the human resource (HR) policies adopted by the companies involved in the project.
Another project regarding company-level gender equality plans focused on 30 companies in the hotel sector representing almost 30,000 employees. First, the project investigated the existing situation, searching for equality indicators such as the number of women in administrative and managerial job positions. In a later phase, HR directors were interviewed in order to determine appropriate ways of improving the current job status of women. As the concluding report of this project highlights, the success of the respective actions was due to the commitment of managers to the targets set as part of the exercise (Equal Newsletter, 2004).
The National Thematic Network report underlines that while none of the above actions and projects directly relates to policies on reconciliation of family and working life, nevertheless they all operate towards this end and offer a variety of innovative features. As a whole, the projects and the attempt to maximise the possibilities of disseminating them through the network’s joint work programme have acted as an incentive for addressing the issue of reconciling family and work in Greece. This increasing awareness may also be seen in recent legislation and cooperation in the related area of gender equality (GR0609049I, GR0607019I).
References and further information
Mouriki, A., Project results: National Thematic Network on reconciliation of family and working life, EQUAL Community Initiative, Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, 2005.
EQUAL Newsletter No. 2, Good practices at the workplace, EQUAL Community Initiative, Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, available at: http://www.e-andromeda.gr/Data/newsletter/newsletter2.pdf
Publications and information on the issue of reconciling family and working life in Greece are provided in pdf format on the website of the Research Centre for Gender Equality (KETHI), while other related initiatives may be found on the following websites (mainly in Greek):
For further information at European level, see the EWCO topic report Combining family and full-time work (TN0510TR02).
Lefteris Kretsos, Labour Institute of Greek General Confederation of Labour (INE-GSEE)