Less stress at work – more effective workers and better parents

The European Employers’ Forum for Work-Life Balance was organised in Helsinki on 8-9 September within the framework of the Alliance 2014 for Reconciling Workand Family Life. The main message of the event was that working at a family-friendly workplace, being able to work flexible hours makes employees who are parents less stressed and better at work, while it also helps better parenting. On the first day we learnt about the situation and experience in Finland while on the second day we could look at the topic from diverse perspectives, including the perspectives of employers, women entrepreneurs, the service sector, small businesses and trade unions. The report below gives a lot of references to links to further reading.
Tuomas Kurttila, Omudsman for Children in Finland and the former head of national EPA member was one of the first speakers of the conference. He identified the importance of negotiations with employers and the availability of good services as starting points for a good balance between family life and work. However he made the point that even though a child-friendly community depends on tripartite cooperation but also on individual citizen’s involvement. He also introduced the ‘Child Impact Assessment' tool that the Finnish Government encourages all national and local authorities to use. We started discussing about a similar initiative for employers in general.

Väestöliitto, the host organisation, the Finnish member of COFACE offered interesting ideas and data on parenting. One of the presenters showed data on working hours and time spent on parenting in different European countries. Finland for example has the strange case of working mothers, even those working 40+ hours spending more time with their 0-11-year-old children than average. There is research available on the effect of parents working long hours, in 2/3 shifts or regularly working late afternoon and evening hours. Their children in general are more likely to stay up late and spend time alone at home. These children are also likely to sleep less. It also has an effect on the likelihood of doing homework.

A presentation on the transition from maternity leave to a gender-equal and better timed leave policy introduced the Leave Network. On their website you can find extensive information on leave policies of many countries, including different forms of parental leave. Minna Salmi also talked about the obstacles fathers are facing when taking leave or considering it. Apart from financial issues, the most important were assumed and real job related pressures and – surprisingly enough for Finland – the traditional division of labour between men and women.

A great new toolkit showing inspiring practices for gender equality and some also supporting good parenting was also introduced at the conference. You can find the toolkit here.

On the second day Barbara Hobson introduced her new book Worklife Balance using the Capabilities Approach , a number of institutional, individual and societal factors, means and resources that provide opportunities to choose a life one values. She introduced different solutions companies are offering in a new spillover of work and private life as compared to the traditional on-off situation, including the ‘Company Town’ offering services to keep you at the workplace. (if you want to see how it works watch the movie The Internship about Google). She also introduced data from the European Social Survey clearly showing the importance of a balance between work and family life. She made references to a study by Laura den Dulk on the Support for Work-Life Balance in Europe: the impact of state, workplace and family support on work-life balance satisfaction.

More than one speakers made reference to the ‘rush hour of life’ when both work and family has a great pressure on the individual. It was also mentioned parents with children tend to put a lot of emphasis on the balance between work and family life while there is little limelight on other life situations, especially the period when you have to care for elderly relatives.

ETUC introduced another useful toolkit on gender equality published recently, containing best practices, too. When talking about gender equality there was an interesting question raised: why parental leave is not available for grandparents and other family member.

Anand Shukla from the British Family and Childcare Trust seemed to share my personal dislike for the phrase work-life balance and work is part of life. He introduced the business benefits of family-friendly work arrangements (it raises morale, satisfaction and engagement) that senior managers are usually aware of. Their research shows that well-educated people are more likely to have flexible working hours. He also mentioned that in the UK flexible work arrangements are more typical at small businesses (same in my country) and public authorities (in my country they are the least flexible). ISS, a big international service provider showed that flexible working arrangements can be offered and enjoyed by blue-collar workers, too.

Alison Maitland was also introducing a new book, Future Work, smart work that is people, economy and environment friendly. It seems to be a solution for the pressure on economy to  cut cost, raise productivity and be attractive workplaces at the same time, while also taking care of environmental issues and using new technology. Her main solutions seem to be in changing processes and getting rid of industrial era work organisations that are still in place. For changing the system the most important premise is trust, also used as an acronym in her book.

Antje Leist from a German non-profit organisation, Beruf und Familie (Profession and Family) introduced a certification system developed by them, used by many big names in Germany Kara McCann from Ibec, Ireland introduced a Maternity and Paternity Toolkit, a useful tool for employers and employees alike. Robert Anderson from Eurofound made references to the European Quality of Life Survey as well as their 2011 publication on Company Initiatives for Workers with Care Responsibilities.  

The organising team of COFACE made sure it was a real great interactive event. You can find a lot of interesting comments and links if you search for the hashtag #eefwlb on social networks, especially Twitter. 

There is one core EPA issue, very closely related to the topic of the conference needs to be surveyed and discussed, namely how the world of work validates and values skills and competences acquired in the family, especially through parenting. We still have to work on this.

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