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What measures can help to balance work and family?

Northern European countries complain of work-family conflict the least; Mediterranean and Eastern European countries the most

Andrea Ollo López, Public University of Navarre; Salomé Goñi Legaz, Public University of Navarre

The increasing incorporation of women into the labour market has led to the emergence of new family models, which has in turn brought tensions to the relationship between work and family. The data compiled in this study show that work-family conflict is high in all European countries, especially in Mediterranean and Eastern European countries, and the conclusion drawn is that in Europe work-family conflict is usually more pronounced for women than for men.
Key points
  • 1
       In Spain, female unemployment has gone from 40.77% of the total in 2006 to 45.46% in 2017. Couples in which the husband is the sole breadwinner, already a minority, coexist with two-income couple and single-person household models. Demographic and economic changes have caused new tensions in the relationship between work and family.
  • 2
       Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands are the European countries with the least work-family conflict. At the opposite extreme are Greece, Hungary and Spain. These differences between territories appear to be linked to the degree of development of the welfare state.
  • 3
       "The Fifth European Working Conditions Survey" reveals that in nearly all European countries (with the exception of Austria, France and Spain) women have more problems balancing work and family life than men, especially in Portugal and Greece.
  • 4
       Family-friendly policies in businesses (support for nurseries or education) tend to be more valued by men while women are especially satisfied with additional parental leave (complementary to what is established by law).
  • 5
       The employees who make use of flexitime practices are not those who most need balance but the employees who are most valuable to the company.
How is work-family conflict experienced in Europe? Degree of work-family conflict in European countries by gender (where 1 is “there is never any conflict” and 5 is “there is always conflict”)

There are cultural factors which also condition work-life balance. One of them is ambiguity aversion, which some countries seek to correct through regulation: for example by creating parental leave, family protection laws and nurseries. Another cultural variable that should be taken into account is social support, which translates into support offered from the company or from the family environment. In this sense, there are countries that try to reward those who carry out these actions in a selfless way.

Some recommendations for favouring balance between family and professional life are the following ones: 

  1. Those countries most inclined towards regulation should facilitate separation between the private and labour spheres of the public as much as possible.

  2. Societies with a tendency to reward generous and humanitarian actions should provide support to help fulfil work and personal obligations.

  3. Companies adopting practices that favour balancing work and family life should do so adapting them to the country’s culture and the profile of their professionals.

  4. Corporate balance policies should respond to the real needs of employees, which will increase their well-being and, consequently, corporate profits



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