European Commission publishes Roadmap to address challenges of work-life balance faced by working families

The thing about social change is that most of the time it happens slowly, gradually, away from the limelight. Media usually laps up dramatic change, like the Fall of the Berlin Wall or 1 billion users on Facebook. Gradual social change usually is only visible, when there is a tipping point, like the one we are experiencing with the refugee situation in Europe and globally.

Another social change is going on however, and this is only partly mediatised. The change in family forms, and how families live their lives, and in parallel the changing world of work. The majority of countries have left behind the single male-breadwinner model, and in most families both parents are working.

These changes mean that a number of structures and policies we have in place now are becoming redundant, outdated or even hindering progress. And as the policies and legislation are not keeping up with what is happening in the real world, they can be used to the benefit of business and to the detriment of workers.

This Blog entry aims to draw attention to some of these important changes, and to make the link with the Roadmap of the European Commission, published in August 2015 to address the challenges of work-life balance, faced by working families.


The Roadmap follows the Press statement of Commissioner Thyssen on the 17th July, after the informal EPSCO Council meeting. Commissioner Thyssen also stressed the importance of better policies and regulation in favour of a better reconciliation of work and family and private life and care.

Both the press-statement and the Commission Roadmap are framing the issue of work-life balance in women’s participation on the labour market. Even in our European Reconciliation Package we point to the risks of presenting the matter purely as a “mommy-issue”. There are a variety of important undercurrents, which are fundamentally transforming the way we work and the way we live and consume, and if the European Commission is aiming for a really progressive proposal that will stand the test of time, it needs to look beyond the replacement of the scrapped Maternity Leave Directive and address these shifting tectonic plates.

What is at the root of all this? Europe is grappling with a huge productivity crisis and old structures are not serving the quest for perpetual growth anyomore. Think of it as a balloon being filled with water, but eventually the balloon is developing some cracks, which start leaking and become holes where water is already seeping through, and eventually, the balloon will burst.

The labour to productivity ratio is worsening. Parts of the labour intensive work has been outsourced to China or Bangladesh, with the arrival of robots, artificial intelligence and digital tools, other low-intensity work is also disappearing. An estimated 40% of current jobs (mainly low-skilled) are forecast to disappear by 2020. This will also concern translators, interpreters, doctors, accountants. Anything that is a repetitive task, smart machines will overtake. What will remain for us humans are the difficult parts of any job, the one that requires us to be human and negotiate, navigate complex information flows, synthetise information and find innovative solutions.

So how will we squeeze more productivity out of our ageing workforce? On the one hand there are huge barriers to innovation and entrepreneurship in Europe, and thus hampering the new job-creation mechanisms. And many skilled women, who have completed tertiary education are not in the workforce. So they need to be brought back through Maternity leave legislation and childcare provision.

Then there is the issue of flexible work. We wholeheartedly support the introduction of flexible time and place for work – again, this can only happen for the highly skilled, who are participating in the global race for talent.

I read somewhere that as the young generation is very aware, that they won’t live as well as their parents’ generation, they are looking for maximising their quality of life in a different way. And this means that they are looking for jobs, where they can have the flexibility to take care of their families, to have hobbies and to participate actively in their communities.

Flexible work can be interpreted in a variety of ways, yet very recent data is now emerging which shows, that employers are using flexibility to keep down pay and also restrict working hours, especially in the retail and service and even healthcare sectors. What we can see from recent data, is that employers are hiring from the already-employed segment, not from the unemployed. It means, that many people are multiplying part-time jobs to make ends meet. These data point to tightness in the labour market, and is bad news for the long-term unemployed. There is on the one end of the spectrum a great level of underwork (unemployed or bad quality part-time work), and on the other end of the spectrum overwork.ONS flex work

So the answer to both work-life balance and the rising unemployment may lie in a much better distribution of work.

Currently there is a clash of two ideologies, on the one hand thriving for full-employment, getting everybody into work, and on the other, fighting burnout, injuries, health implications of overwork, as well as advocating for time for family life, leisure, and wanting to be the good citizens we are: civic engagement and volunteering.

Work defines us and we are defined by work. But instead we should be defined by our whole lives. We need to challenge the very strict and very gendered professional norms that put pressure on both sexes equally. If the European Commission aims (very rightly) at enhancing the take up of paternity and parental leaves by fathers, then we need to look at the pressures on men at work to perform and be constantly ON, and also look at the gender segregation of the labour market, which in parts is responsible for the still pervasive gender pay-gap.

There is the culture of business and a very competitive environment. Consumerism has also created powerful influential forces in favour of long working hours. In addition to long working hours, often they are spent under very poor working conditions. There is a growing number of studies showing the human costs of longer working hours. These include lower physical and mental health. Working long hours can add to the risk of having a stroke, coronary heart disease and developing type 2 diabetes.

We need to challenge the counter-intuitive argument that longer working hours lead to higher productivity. This is not true, because we are speaking about humans (still) and not robots. Persistent overwork has serious impact on health and implication on productivity, due to absenteeism, high turnover rates (recruitment and training costs) and low employee engagement.

We congratulate the European Commission for the new initiative, which will unfold in 2016, and we are pledging our support with our knowledge, our network and our eagerness in helping Europe rethink the way we want to live, work and consume.

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A culture of “freedom and responsibility”

Blog post 2015.08.25 A culture of freedom and responsibility
by Ana Pérez

You have probably read this summer that Netflix, the American provider of Internet streaming media, has introduced an unlimited leave policy for new moms and dads that allows them to take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.

“We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances. Parents can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back out as needed. We’ll just keep paying them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay. Each employee gets to figure out what’s best for them and their family, and then works with their managers for coverage during their absences”, announced Tawni Cranz, Netflix’s Chief Talent Officer.

Why this is so important in the U.S. context?

Working parents in the U.S. are faced with a difficult reality from the moment their babies are born. New mothers can take 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act and taking a parental leave is unusual.

Keeping this situation in mind, we can conclude that Netflix is giving a revolutionary perk, with the company showing both current and potential employees how much it cares. The company suggests parents can come back to the office either part or full time, organizing their time as they wish during the first year. All paid of course.

Yahoo doubled its maternity and paternity leave in 2013 to make it more competitive with Facebook and Google. We are witnessing a shift in the working culture. Today, most workers would choose a better work-life balance over a salary rise. This is something that we have already noticed in the last years in Europe, and Netflix is following this trend. It’s a smart strategy: the company wants to keep the best talents on board.

I believe this is a fantastic initiative for at least, three reasons. First, it lowers gender discrimination in the recruitment process, where young women still face discrimination because of their potential motherhood and the role of primary carer they take later on. Second, it gives men a chance to get involved very early and actually frees up women to work and reducing the gender pay gap and subsequent gender pension gap. According to the Institute for Labor Market Policy in Sweden, a mother’s future earnings is increased by 7% every month the father stays on parental leave. And third, it also lowers the risk of poverty for the most vulnerable families such as single parents and large families.

Even though I applaud Netflix for this initiative for new parents, it is important to keep in mind that, as we have been advocating at COFACE, reconciliation policies should be available to all workers regardless of the age of their children, since families’ needs for flexibility do not end after the first year after a child’s birth or adoption. Young children and teens may also need the attention and time of their parents during major life transitions, for which no “leave” is generally foreseen, apart from the regular paid vacation. One possible solution could be to complement the temporary leaves for both parents with a system of flexible time arrangement allowing them to continue their professional activity.

We are witnessing today significant changes in the way we work, collaborate and communicate. And this is precisely why we need a paradigm shift at work, as well as a family-friendly legal and policy environment.

Find out more about COFACE on our website and sign up to receive our news. Find us also on Facebook and Twitter

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Reconciling care and work responsibilities is still a pending issue

by Ana Pérez

Reconciliation and equality policies are key to guarantee co-responsibility in care work and housework. This is one of the conclusions of the course on new family forms and new values, recently organized by UNAF, the Union of Family Associations in Spain, as part of the Summer Courses of the Complutense University of Madrid.

Family picture of the participants of the course ofganised by UNAF, Spain

Participants of the course on new family forms organised by UNAF (Spain) on 7-8-9 July in Madrid

In recent years, families have been evolving from the traditional male breadwinner model into the dual-earner model or a single-earner model. Families are now more diverse. However, the lack of child and elderly care services, flexible working arrangements and the perpetuation of gender stereotypes create inequalities between men and women, and make it more difficult for some families, for example single-parent families or recomposed families.

Men and women should have the opportunity to be carers and earners in equal measure to help families relieve the tension between their professional and family lives.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and thus, a dedicated public policy is needed to help families reconcile work and family life. These reconciliation measures should be complemented with equality policies, to avoid women carrying most of the burden. This is the case for parental leave or leaves to care for a family member, which are mostly taken by women.

According to a recent survey on reconciling work and family in Spain, 91.9% of women do housework and take care of children, elderly and dependent family members, spending 4h29 a day.  This is compared to 74.7 % of men, who spend an average of 2h32.

In order to balance this situation, it is important to put in place measures that support women in accessing and staying in employment and encourage men to take a higher share of the family and care responsibilities. This is exactly what COFACE highlights in its European Reconciliation Package.

The European Reconciliation Package presents recommendations of what needs to be done at EU and national level to contribute to gender and pay equality, increased employment, improved childcare and care infrastructure and better wellbeing overall. It is available in English, French, Spanish and Italian.

Read more about UNAF’s event here | Pictures and videos of the course will be available here

Find out more about COFACE on our website and sign up to receive our news. Find us also on Facebook and Twitter

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Migrant care workers need to reconcile too!

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Millions of people work as carers for elderly in Europe, many of them are migrants who leave their country and their families behind. Most of them are women and move to become carers and, especially in southern Europe, they live in the same home of the person they care for. For example, in Italy it is possible to estimate the presence of around 900.000 migrant carers, the majority of whom work without a fully regular contract. Because of their irregular situation and the often high dependence of the person cared for, these workers are not able to reconcile their work and family life, as COFACE also highlighted in its European Reconciliation Package.

On 15 June, Paola Panzeri, COFACE Senior Policy Officer in charge of this dossier, presented the European Reconciliation Package conclusions and discussed about possible policy and legislative needs in the Italian Chamber of Deputies in Rome, intervening in a conference together with the Italian Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Interior.

The conference was organised by Soleterre, an Italian NGO who has been leading a research and exchange project on reconciliation possibilities for migrant care workers (report available in Italian here), financed by the European Integration Fund. During the project a set of indicators to evaluate work-life balance and a compendium of good-practices from across Europe has also been developed (available in Italian). During the conference, the issue of transnational families has also been touched, since many of these women move leaving their children or elderly parents in their country of origin.

COFACE believes this is a growing issue in Europe and will be working more closely on labour migration and families in the coming months, organising a capacity building seminar and a European conference in Bulgaria in November 2015 (more information about this event here).

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You don’t need kids to struggle with balance

work-life balance in Europeby Ana Pérez

We have all heard the phrases “work-life balance” and “having it all”, but what we don’t hear are the unfiltered, unpretty truth from those in the trenches -what trying to create a balanced life actually looks and feels like. In this post, you will read the views of professional women -CEOs, single moms and those who are childfree by choice- on the notorious pursuit of “having it all.” Here’s what they said.

Work-life balance is not a static state that, once achieved, means you can maintain constant equilibrium. It’s always shifting. “What was ‘in balance’ for me 11 years ago before my daughter’s birth would throw me out of balance in today’s life”, says Aleasa M. Word, 45, a single mom of two, corporate employee. Quiana Murray, a business consultant, says: “The real key to balance is trying to determine what (or who) needs to be at the top of your list right now, today, and letting go of any judgment around that”.

For many working moms, work isn’t something they have to do, it’s an escape. Alison Podworski, 38, CEO and mom of three young girls, says that while her job is flexible, working in PR means working weeknights, weekends, and early mornings -but she loves it. “Sometimes I would rather be at a press conference or in the office than with my kids”, she says. It’s not that I don’t love them. I love my children more than anything in this world. But, for me, working is a break. There is no whining, crying, fighting, or drama. If any mother is going to say motherhood is blissful and wonderful all the time, I would like some of your happy pills.”

As already said on this blog, the idea of putting on your own oxygen mask first very much applies to finding balance, says Vicki Salemi, careers expert. “Women who seemed to achieve that golden work-life balance -or at least the vision of it- seemed to be ones who were less harried and had more of a sense of calmness because they focused on the foundation: themselves”, she explains. “They implemented self-care rituals like morning yoga classes. They were women on a mission, women with a plan, and that plan involved cutting themselves slack. This inner sense of peace and focus was able to carry through”.

Working moms are usually the focus when we talk about work-life balance, but not surprisingly, single women and those without children also struggle to find balance. Sociologist Amy Blackstone, says that, as a childfree person, one thing she never realized is that most people assume that the “life” part of work-life balance means “children”. “The idea that the childfree deserve balance just as much as their parent counterparts is overlooked by workplaces, policy makers, and, more generally, by most segments of our society”, she says. Those without children may also have additional “life” circumstances needing their attention.

“I always thought because I did not have kids I would never have to deal with work-life balance at all” , says Paige Arnof-Fenn, 49. “But the truth is, you still have the aging parents issue and chances are, like for my husband and me, you’ll take on the majority of that if your siblings did have kids. Also, in my case at least, I took on more responsibility at work and in the community, which leaves me less free time”.

The importance of setting boundaries. Vannessa Wade, 34, caretaker to her nieces and nephews, explains, “I bought into the myth that as a business owner I have to be on-call 24/7, when in reality I can set the standard on what works best for me and my situation. I’ve become more vocal about what works for me rather than always appeasing the masses, and you know what? It works”.

Read the full article “9 Things No One Tells You About Work-Life Balance” on

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Update on the Maternity Leave Directive

newsmay2015-mldby Ana Pérez

After 7 years from the proposal from the European Commission and 5 years after the vote in the European Parliament, we are still at the same point: the Council does not express its position and blocks the co-decision process, i.e. the legislative procedure that the EU uses to create or update legislation. It is not a difference of view points or a difficulty in finding a compromise, but it is a total disregard of European democracy!

COFACE, together with other NGOs has been denouncing this unfair procedure and called repeatedly to start talks and move forward, especially in these last months, since the European Commission has threatened to withdraw the initial proposal as it may fall under the so-called “refit” process because if its stagnation. The European Court of Justice has however recently ruled specifically about how and when the Commission can withdraw a proposal and when refit can be applied.

In its last plenary session, the European Parliament has voted a Resolution asking to the Council to start talks, renewing its commitment to safeguard rights and promote health of pregnant and breastfeeding women, and calling to the Commission to put forward a new legislative initiative in case this current proposal would be withdrawn.

Read more:
Maternity leave: MEPs urge Council to restart talks (Press release, EP, 20/05/2015)
MEPs call for breakthrough on maternity leave (Article, EP, 19/05/2015)

Posted in ERP, Gender equality, Maternity Leave Directive, Women, Work/Life Balance, Working parents | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

European Reconciliation Package: Annexes on Structural Funds available!

newsmay2015-annexesWhat can the EU do for you? Did you know that each EU country has an agency promoting local projects aimed at supporting employment and training through the European Social Fund?

To answer these and other questions, and to show that even if indirectly the EU has been doing some concrete actions to support reconciliation of work and family life, through its funding, we have published an Annex to our European Reconciliation Package, listing examples of funded project in the EU and gathering contact details where more information and guidance can be asked directly from citizens on current and future activities in their country.

The European Social Fund has been used to support inclusion of women in the labour maket and reconciliation measures through training or counselling for young mothers, or support to families with disabled children or professional training for childcare teachers. The European Regional Development Fund, has also been used to promote and support women’s employment or entrepreneurship.

More about the European Reconciliation Package

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European Reconciliation Package available in 4 languages!


As you know, COFACE launched on March 2015 the European Reconciliation Package, a unique policy document applying a systemic approach to the complex issue of work-life balance, to both its related challenges and possible solutions all over Europe.

This package highlights different policies and practices developed at local and national level that can support families in reconciling their work, family and care responsibilities. It reflects on the challenges and opportunities and presents recommendations of what needs to be done at EU and national level to empower families, and ultimately contributingto gender and pay equality, increased employment, improved childcare and care infrastructure and better wellbeing overall.

The publication is now available in English, Français, Español, Italiano. Choose your language and download it here!


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COFACE delegation meeting with Commissioner Thyssen

On the 20th April we were received by Commissioner Marianne Thyssen, her cabinet member Jonathan Stabenow and Stefan Olsson, Head of Unit in DG EMPL. We really appreciate, that Commissioner Thyssen took time out of her busy schedule to meet with us, and we were able to give her in person a copy of the European Reconciliation Package, which we published in March 2015, following a year-long campaign and collaboration on the issue of reconciling work and family life in Europe.

Commissioner Thyssen confirmed how important families are for society, and that policies aiming at supporting families, especially those in a vulnerable situation, like single parents, parents who have both little children and ageing relatives, working parents and carers are very important for Europe. Many of the issues we at COFACE are active on are at the heart of the new Commission’s policies.

The discussion turned to the issue of closing the existing gaps, between employed and unemployed people, between the employed and unemployed young people, which is a chronic problem now, but will also become a crisis for the future. Our Vice-President Antonia Torrens gave a first-hand account to the Commissioner about the experience of Greek families, where parents, sometimes already retired, are financially supporting their adult, unemployed children. We agreed, that investing in quality early childhood programmes are one of the crucial pillars in tackling this problem.

The COFACE delegation also presented the Commissioner the #FamiliesVOTE 2014 campaign and publication, with which we were aiming to inform our 30 million member families about the different political programmes of the Main European Parliamentary groups. As a former MEP herself, Commissioner Thyssen knows well the stakes at the EP and its composition. In terms of progressive, non-discriminatory family organisation, sometimes our job is simply to swim against the tide, and offer all families an alternative voice towards the European decision makers.

We also touched upon the review of the Europe 2020 strategy and objectives (COFACE and members participated at the open consultation) as well as the European Semester (we mentioned our Capacity building seminar). We agreed, that the European Semester policy coordination process is more social, than before, and that many of the country specific recommendations refer to family policy related issues. We also stated, that Member States also have to find their own solutions that fits within their own context, and there needs to be a more nuanced approach from the Commission towards individual member states.

The discussion also turned to the issue of families being concerned by different policies both at national and EU levels, and the communication and coordination challenges between the different DGs of the Commission and ministerial departments in the Member States. This concerns particularly the issue of leaves, allowances, and service provision, where families are sometimes totally left to fend for themselves, without adequate financial support, of accessible, affordable and quality services. This issue concerns in particular families with a disabled child, or other dependent family member, or families in a particularly vulnerable situation, be it financial, geographic disadvantage or due to other circumstance.

In closing we explored how we can use the UN ECOSOC consultative status of COFACE for more work on an intergovernmental level, also in relation to EU member states, and exchange of experience with 3rd countries.

The excellent meeting finished with a photo of the COFACE delegation handing over the European Reconciliation Package to Commissioner Thyssen, and mutual reassurances of the continued engagement and support to the objectives that unite both COFACE and the Commission.

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The final push! One last hope to save the European Maternity Leave Directive from being scrapped

matleaveWe finally have some news about the EU Maternity Leave Directive – and it’s pretty desperate. But let us quickly recap what happened until now:

– the EU Maternity leave Directive was originally adopted in 1992, introducing measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers, and workers who recently gave birth or are breastfeeding.

– There was a revision of this Directive, and as any Directive (aka binding legislation at EU level), it has to go through the co-decision procedure, which means, that the European Commission initiates, it goes for a 1st reading to the European Parliament, then to the Council (member states), and comes back for a 2nd reading to the European Parliament, after which it goes back to the Council for the final adoption.

Under normal circumstances this is a lengthy, but thorough process, and takes about a year. After all, now 28 EU Member States have to agree on a common law, which will set minimum standards in their countries.

The revised Maternity Leave Directive has been initiated by the Commission in 2008, the revised directive was adopted by a large majority in the European Parliament on 20 October 2010. As described above, then it went to the Council, who has been sitting on it since, without passing it back to the European Parliament for the 2nd reading. 10 Member States have been, and are still fervently blocking this piece of legislation, that would set important minimum standards for women about to give birth, and with new-born babies.

10 countries’ (1) ministers and heads of State have been sweeping this important directive under the EU policy making carpet for 5 years! In any democratic context, this is unacceptable.

Why this resistance you wonder? Well, it is, because the Directive sets a very high standard for pregnant women, namely, that once they give birth, they should be entitled to 100% of the salary they earned before for the 6 first weeks, (=full pay), without any ceilings or  exceptions. Is this really too much to ask for?

Do we really so desperately undervalue motherhood and childbearing? Could this happen to a Directive, if it was serving the interest of industry or banks? I seriously doubt it. They can get away with it, because they think they can.

This is the last chance, the 25th hour to act. Before the 25th May, we need you to help us give the final push, to put pressure on Commission Vice-President Timmermans to take out the Maternity leave Directive from the bin, and demand the Council to send it back to the European Parliament, who under the leadership of MEP Maria Arena are ready to modernise the Directive and grant women in Europe the rights they deserve!

We will join forces with the European Women’s Lobby, and urge you to sign this petition, and spread it to as many of your friends and family as you can, to show EU decision makers, that women’s rights, and maternal rights do matter and deserve action!

Steps to take:

– Please sign the petition
– Share it with your friends on Facebook, ask them to sign
– Tweet about it, using the hashtag #DeliverNow and if you like also #theFinalPush
– Tweet to your Ministers, MPs and anybody of influence, especially in those 10 countries mentioned above.

Thank you! Together, we can make a statement and make a difference!

(1) Germany, the Netherlands, Latvia, Hungary, Denmark, Cyprus, Sweden, Slovakia, Slovenia, UK

Posted in #wlbpackage, European Parliament, Maternity Leave Directive, Women, Work/Life Balance, Working parents | Tagged , | 1 Comment