Identity and work-life balance: it’s all in the sandwich

In a previous job I was involved a bit with the preoccupation around identity, especially in an international context: how is our identity shaped or affected when we travel or live abroad. It was during that time, in order to understand the complex issue of identity, someone told me about our own, unique identity sandwich, as we are not one block that defines us, but many different layers that make up our unique identity-DNA if you wish. These layers can shift and move, and our identity make-up may change during our lifetime, especially, if we are exposed to intense experiences.

We are all individual. With our own specific history, up-bringing, culture, dreams and aspirations. Yet we are also part of a group, our family, group of friends, educators, church, and sports-club. During our lives these powerful connections we make shape who we are, our identity and our sense of belonging. So my identity sandwich for example is made up of the layers of being a woman, Hungarian, living in Belgium, being a parent, and not necessarily in that order. The thickness and importance of these identity layers will greatly influence my choices and priorities in life. Football fans across the globe I imagine prioritised watching the matches of the World cup over choosing other activities or even sleep in the past few weeks. Parents with a sick child will prioritise being there over going to the cinema. Avid walkers will prioritise a weekend in the woods over staying indoors and watching TV.

As most of us have to, and a large majority of us wants to work, we spend a huge proportion of our lives working. The paradox of work is, that while many of us end up hating it, we all initially actively seek it out. What is quite often forgotten, is that the business of work is not only to produce goods or services, but in fact work makes people. We become what we do. Our work makes up a very important layer in our identity sandwich.

In our societies work is central to our culture. If someone asks you “What do you do?” they really mean “What work do you do?” When a woman is asked “Do you work?”, what is meant is “Are you doing a paid job?”

As we are preparing for our up-coming conference in Helsinki, Finland on the 9th September, the European Employers’ Forum, the issue of work-life balance, or that of reconciling work and family life is again central to our thinking. We are finalising the programme, and there will be many very interesting presentations about the point of view of employers on this issue.

Reading about the subject, we can safely say that the trend is moving towards more democratic workplaces, away from the industrial age model. More autonomy and personalised human resource management seems also on the rise, at least in those workplaces that have woken up to this new workplace revolution.

Today I put two and two together, and started looking at these “new work” or “future work” trends through the identity lens.  As we seek out certain professions, we gravitate towards them because we are looking for a connection between ourselves and the identities we build through the work.

In relation to employers, they manage a number of individuals, who even with similar backgrounds have different identity profiles and thus value and prioritise different things in life. Some will outright prioritise work – if it figures very prominently in their identity getup. Others will always prioritise their family, no matter how committed they may be at work. And it is OK, as long as co-workers and line-managers understand, how important it is for everyone to be true to themselves and nurture their identities. Pretending to be a workaholic to please one’s boss will never work, at least not in the long run.

So where am I getting with all this? To put it simply, work forms us, gives us focus, a vehicle for personal expression and offers us a means for personal definition. And it will be those workplaces that will systematically outperform others, where employees and workers can stay individuals, even during working hours. Where they are recognised for their multiple identities and roles in society, in their family sphere, their civic sphere, and given the flexibility and freedom to be all these things. The rewards for such a workplace will be greater loyalty and enhanced productivity. Always.

Agnes Uhereczky

Posted in A Word from the Director, Companies, Employers, European Year 2014, Events, Life, Work/Life Balance | 1 Comment

Cracking the Myths of Work Life Balance on 8-9 September, Helsinki. Register now to secure your place!


The myth that work-life balance policies and practices are a luxury does not contribute to the company core business is still widespread! This is why we are organizing the Employers’ Forum for Work Life Balance in Helsinki, Finland on 8-9 September, as an opportunity to provide information and change attitudes, as a myth buster.

The Forum will bring together employers from the private, public and third sectors, experts and representatives of social partners, European and national level decision makers, scientists and researchers to discuss family friendly workplace measures that offer a better work-life balance for their employees.

The Forum will specifically feature work-life balance measures, and existing examples that have already demonstrated concrete outcomes in increasing company productivity, employee satisfaction, responsibility and ownership, gender equality.

Register now to secure your place!

This event is jointly organised by COFACE and its Finnish member organisation, the Family Federation of Finland (Väestöliitto) in cooperation with the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The conference will take place at The House of the Estates.

Join our LinkedIn Group
Check our channel on Work-Life Balance!
Programme and further information on our website8-9 September: The European Employers' Forum for Work-Life Balance, Helsinki

Posted in EY2014, Work/Life Balance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Work and Family Researchers Network conference

The international Work and Family Researchers Network organised its biennial conference, “Changing Work and Family Relationships in a Global Economy”, in New York on 19-21 June, where COFACE presented its activities in terms of the 2014 Year of Reconciling Work and Family Life in Europe.

WFRN poster presentation - COFACE

The event, which gathered more than 600 participants, including researchers, practitioners and scholars, touched upon many of the recent research areas on work-life balance, presented new book releases and provided space for debate and dialogue. Some of the highlights and most relevant research topics discussed at the conference were an update on the White House conference on Working Families, a lively dialogue on the understanding of working fathers in the 21st century, work-life balance in the times of financial cries and austerity in Europe. More about the conference here

Posted in Events | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

8-9 September, The European Employers’ Forum for Work-Life Balance, Helsinki

8-9 September: The European Employers' Forum for Work-Life Balance, Helsinki

8-9 September: The European Employers’ Forum for Work-Life Balance, Helsinki

With the support of the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the European Commission

Väestöliitto, the Family Federation of Finland and COFACE, the Confederation of Family Organisations in the European Union are organizing the European Employers’ Forum for Work Life Balance on September 8-9 in Helsinki.The conference will take place at the prestigious Säätytal (The House of the Estates).

9 September: EEFWLB Programme

8 September: Pre-Conference “New Dimensions of Family-Life and Work for Women, Men and Children”


You are also kindly invited to a pre-conference on the 8th September, organised by Väestöliitto, to showcase Finnish examples, as well as to a get-together party at 6pm on the 8th September at the premises of Väestöliitto.

The European Employers’ Forum will bring together employers from the private, public and third sectors to discuss family friendly workplace measures for offering a better work-life balance for their employees. The core focus of the Forum will be on sharing knowledge, developing good practices and identifying ways to take action and drive change on work-life balance strategies as well as programmes.

The Forum will specifically feature work-life balance measures that have already demonstrated concrete outcomes in increasing company productivity, employee satisfaction, responsibility and gender equality.

Experts and representatives of social partners, European and national level decision makers, scientists and researchers will lead the debate in each conference sessions. These debates will be preceded by keynote contributions and followed by the intervention of discussants and, of course, participants. Each session of the conference will be lead by a moderator who facilitate the discourse and debate.

The Forum will also explore the following policy areas: parental leave, company childcare, care services, family friendly working hours, work and care, sustainable work practices, fatherhood at working places, workplace options, job-sharing etc.

Join our LinkedIn Group European Employers’ Forum for Work Life Balance #EEFWLB

Further information will be available on our website

Posted in Companies, Employers, ERP, Events, Gender equality, Leaves, Mompreneurs, Work/Life Balance, Working parents | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Spring-clean your life, and thou shalt find balance

I am often wondering about the following paradox:

Time-use surveys tell us, that both men and women are spending more time with their children, than in the 1960s. This can be explained partially through the technological development (washing machine, dishwasher), and other socio-cultural factors. At the same time, people are also working longer hours, and we feel an increasing lack of time. This is what most of us refer to the difficulty to “juggle” family and work, or perceive as a lack of work-life balance.

So looking only at the external factors like the time we have available to be with our children, or the possibility to work from home, or spending more time on our favorite hobby, how come we have this sensation of running after our lives?

Time use surveys also can show us that we are definitely multitasking, yes, even in our leisure time. For example men would be drinking beer while watching a football match. Women would read their book on the metro on the way to work, or at the playground, supervising children. (forgive the blatant stereotypes).

I have come to the realization that we as human beings have not made the latest necessary evolutionary leap, which would enable us to cope with this new way of life. Either that, or we have to impose some rules on ourselves to manage.

At a recent conference, where I was talking about work-life balance, a participant told me this: “I just recently became a grandfather, and was shocked to see my daughter checking her emails while breastfeeding the newborn baby”. Before you gasp in horror, haven’t we all at some point become bored of one or other tedious task and sought refuge on our Facebook, Twitter or other social-media outlet?

There are just simply too many things going on in our parallel universes for us to shut off our minds. And real time-off comes from totally disconnecting. And I mean Downton Abbey kind of disconnecting, with no TV, no radio, just the birds and the clock.

I also realized, that even when we are home, and all devices switched off (OK, more likely the internet being down), we are still busy. Because we also have so much more stuff than we used to before.

And then I read an article, where Greg McKeown was quoted saying: “The number of things we can do/buy/keep has grown far faster than our ability to adapt”.

Prices have gone down drastically over the years, so we can just buy things we “like”, as opposed to things we really need. I am the first to admit, my house is overfilled. With books I still need to read, with CDs I need to listen to, and other things too. And so is my iPod filled with apps I have to fumble, and documents downloaded on my computer I have to study, and my worse enemy is my Inbox. Hello, I am Agnes, and I have 457 unread e-mails in my Inbox.

So, as it’s spring, a good ol’ spring-clean is on order, and I have decided to get rid of/donate/sell stuff. Because not only will I be able to close my drawers properly, but I will have to spend less time putting objects back to their designated place.

We somehow need to find ways of getting some of the simplicity back. When cooking dinner, just doing that: cooking. When reading a document, asking your colleagues not to disturb you. Calling people, if the e-mail would be longer than 5 lines. And probably the most valuable of all: prioritize. Only keep things you love, and give away things you like, because someone else will love them. Focus on the most important things you have to do in the day, and get them done, without stressing over the other 100 things you won’t.

Have a great weekend!


Posted in A Word from the Director, Life, Work/Life Balance | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons from the crisis and its impact on families

All of the speakers agreed: the current crisis has hit women and children hardest, and not knowing when it will end adds extra pressure on families, who have already great difficulties coping with the effect of cuts to services and to financial support.


As you know, last week we organised the “Families in the Crisis – Finding work-life balance in difficult economic context”conference in close cooperation with our member KMOP and the Hellenic Presidency of the EU.

The event gathered more than 100 participants at the Impact Hub, a social enterprise in the heart of Athens with the aim to understand better the situation of women in the Southern and Eastern European countries, and the impact of the crisis on their employment, family life, pensions, mental health and outlook.

The event was a great opportunity to foster exchange between key research institutions and experts, Greek and other European civil society organisations and government representatives about the latest intelligence on the effect of the crisis, and possible initiatives and routes out. Among the many issues discussed it clearly emerged that the resilience of families to cope with the crisis has its limits, families mobilise a patchwork of different solutions, however without a real equal sharing of paid-work, caring and household work between men and women, societies won’t be able to sustainably exit the crisis.

We are very pleased with the success of the conference. Great many attended, and the discussions were very fruitful, it was great to see the exchanges and discussions between participants from ministries, NGOs, universities from all corners of Europe. The presentations, the photos and the videos are already online on our website!

A BIG Thank you to all the participants #familiescrisis and to our Twitter friends!


ps: The next highlight event of COFACE’s Year of Reconciling Work and Family Life in Europe thematic work programme will be the European Employers Forum to be held in Helsinki on 8-9 September. You can already register here!

Posted in Events | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

‘Families in the Crisis’ conference in Athens

Atenas29 April, “Families in the Crisis – Finding work-life balance in difficult economic context” conference.

Next week we are in Athens, to bring key European policy makers, researchers, family organisations and other stakeholders together to take stock on how the crisis has impacted the lives of families, in particular women.

Over 100 delegates will join us at the Impact Hub, a social enterprise in the heart of Athens to listen to different plenary presentations, to network, to learn more about projects and to understand better the situation of women in the Southern and Eastern European countries.

As is now commonly understood, budget cuts to services for families, loss of jobs, reduction of family support payments make it more and more difficult for women to remain on the labour market and poses a serious risk to their health, mental health and economic independence and future pensions.

We are very excited, that among the distinguished speakers we will be able to welcome Commissioner Andor, several Greek Ministers, and hear from Eurofound and the OECD, about their research findings and policy recommendations. Lieve Fransen, director at DG Employment will give us an up-date about the implementation of the SIP, and we will also hear from EIGE about their report to the Greek Presidency on the subject.

We will have our usual camera crew at the event, so even if you couldn’t join us in Athens, we will be recording and sharing the sessions afterwards, to make it more accessible as widely as possible.

For the full programme go here

And to ask questions and interact with the conference use #familiescrisis . We hope to see you there!

Posted in Crisis, Events, Family Carers, Gender equality | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment