15 May is International Day of Families and time to take stock. How family-friendly are European companies? Is it really becoming easier to manage the demands of a job and family? Why is a family-friendly corporate culture a significant competitive advantage?
Work-life balance: more hype than reality
Increasing living costs, limited provision of day-care facilities, stressful work, job insecurity, … How well can European workers combine family and career? Although governments and businesses are keen to highlight many individual initiatives for mothers and fathers, the reality is often completely different. Take for example the European directive on parental leave, which has been discussed in the European Parliament for many years and has still to be implemented. No big surprise - since under the new legislation women will continue to enjoy full pay for the first six weeks after giving birth, without exception.
Being family-friendly is important for everyone
Employees now regard being family-friendly as an important factor in choosing an employer. Highly skilled workers in particular are no longer prepared to put their career before family. Employers wishing to recruit skilled and motivated employees - and keep them in the company - also need to recognise the importance of a family-friendly working environment. This new corporate culture is also important for Europe if we wish to remain internationally competitive.
Flexible working hours to retain staff
Women in particular often find themselves in a difficult situation: in Europe there is still a significant gender pay gap of about 16 percent. This difference is even more acute for pensions, where women receive, on average, 39 percent less. For women, taking time out for the family can therefore easily become a financial risk. But the situation is precarious for companies as well: if mothers decide in favour of the family, employers lose valuable workers. Furthermore, in today's 'applicant's market', the search for replacement staff is becoming even more of a challenge, not least because of the high costs and effort involved.
"The better you treat your people, the better they work for you - a win-win situation", explains Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive at Working Families. "Morale and general employee happiness have a direct bearing on their effectiveness and happiness at work. As an employer, you want staff to be committed and feel secure in their work."
A company crèche, individual working hours, time off to care for relatives: small changes in corporate culture can have a significant effect. For example, employers that offer flexible working hours to improve the work-life balance of their employees not only increase loyalty and motivation, but also ultimately the productivity of their top talent. Because in an age where companies are having to "fight" for the best people, staff retention is one of the most important factors for long-term business success.
Family-friendly policies as a matter of course
There is great desire to put family and professional commitments on an equal footing. The range of initiatives for achieving this is increasing. But companies and society still need to change their mindset. Enabling a good work-life balance needs to become an automatic part of a company's goals. Management and leadership should not forget their role-model function in this. Only by routinely setting an example of the above can bosses convince their staff that family-friendly initiatives are more than just veneer.
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