Published: 28. 3. 2008
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Alena Křížková (ed.), Zdeněk Sloboda, Radka Dudová, Hana Maříková: Family Friendly Working Conditions in an International Comparison

This volume, titled ‘Family Friendly Working Conditions in an International Comparison’ is the outcome of research work on a project titled ‘Work-Life Balance from the Perspective of Gender Relations and Social and Employment Policy of the Czech Republic’ (grant no. 403/05/2474 of the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic). In this study the authors look at the problem of work-life balance at the employee level and at the mechanisms for negotiating policies for working parents directly at the workplace. The European trend of emphasising women’s employment and requiring contemporary employers to address the problem of work-life balance motivates this study. A key reference point in the analysis was employment conditions at the national level defined by individual social states, and the authors decided to compare these on a European scale. The research was based mainly on three case studies of engineering companies, comparing the parent companies in Germany, France, and Sweden with their branches in the Czech Republic. The objective was to compare the working conditions of employed parents in different countries and the Czech Republic, where the employer company remains the same but the national context of employee and family policies and the wider historical and social background of the countries differ.

In Chapter One, ‘The Theoretical Background of Research on Family Friendly Policy at the Workplace and Company Practice in the Czech Republic’, Alena Křížková presents a theoretical introduction to the sociology of organisations through the lens of the sociology of gender, and shows how the under-developed research on gender processes at the company level is linked to the survival of organisational structures that emerged alongside modernisation and is based on a rationalised principle of patriarchy. These organisational structures at the outset functioned almost exclusively with male participation and with the outside support of women performing unpaid work and services in the households of the organisations’ workers. Contemporary organisations and companies have only slowly and reluctantly begun to face the fact that their employees – both men and women – have private lives and have begun slowly to realise that it pays off to create a family-friendly working environment. Based on the results of focus group interviews with representatives of Czech companies, and on the results of a sociological survey of parents, Alena Křížková shows that Czech companies have yet to realise the advantage of such conditions, and they continue to operate on the principle of the separate worlds of work and family and on the principle of gender neutrality. The companies studied in the research, which operate in the engineering sector, are moreover guided by a principle of technical rationalism that largely excludes women.

In the next chapter, ‘“No Way, That’s Not Done Anywhere!” – A Comparison of Company Policy towards Parents within the Same Company in the Czech Republic and Germany’, Zdeněk Sloboda presents the results of a case study of an engineering firm operating in Germany and the Czech Republic. The study showed that, although the terms of company policy in Germany and the Czech Republic are similar in some respects, and although this is a study of a single firm, the conditions for parents trying to achieve a work-life balance differ at the Czech and German branches of the company. In particular this partly refers to the organisational culture of the German branch, which respects the principle of gender equality and family friendly policies, and it partly refers to the willingness of human resources departments and unions to deal with and solve these issues. The German branch offers or allows parents alternative forms of work organisation, such as part-time employment or irregular shifts, while at the Czech branch human resources officials deem these alternatives as theoretically possible but impossible in practicable terms. Zdeněk Sloboda also notes the passive approach of Czech employees, who are not used to making demands to help them achieve a work-life balance. The company in the case study essentially conforms to legislative requirements pertaining to parenting and employees, although in the Czech Republic only theoretically in some cases (e.g. an entitlement to part-time employment), while in Germany it additionally offers a very good information service.

In France the needs of employees have traditionally been handled by very active unions, which are capable at various levels of collectively negotiating terms for employees that even exceed the requirements by law. This has resulted in an elaborate family policy that offers parents various options, to which are added a number of advantages offered to parents by employers. Two case studies in this volume look at French and Swedish parent companies that have branches in the Czech Republic and focus on the administrative base and especially the management levels of these companies.

In ‘Accommodating Needs While Meeting Business Targets? A Comparison of Working Conditions and Parenthood in the Czech Branch and the Home Headquarters of One French Company’, Radka Dudová describes the advanced negotiating system and the options offered to parents at the French headquarters of a company. At the Czech branch of the company, which was founded in the 1990s, the conditions for parents are only beginning to be formulated, as the company’s young, childless, and career-oriented employees are beginning to have families. Additionally, one very important finding is how fundamentally different maternal ideologies are in the Czech Republic and France, which set entirely distinct standards of what ‘good mothering’ means in connection with work-life balance and the employment of mothers, which in turn is considerably influenced by the family policy in the given country.

In the chapter titled ‘One Organisation Is Not Just Like Another: A Scandinavian Company at Home and in the Czech Republic’, Hana Maříková analyses the different conditions enjoyed by parents employed at a Swedish firm in Sweden and in the Czech Republic, and reaches the conclusion that not all the practices customary and widespread in Sweden are also implemented in the Czech Republic. The Swedish case is in practice very similar to that of the Czech branch of the French company, in terms of size, the small number of parents among the employees, the lack of interest in creating conditions to facilitate a work-life balance for employees, and even passivity on the part of employees. It is surprising that the company, which is one of the best-known engineering firms in Sweden, where it operates in an environment in which the rights of parents and the rights of children to quality public childcare are required by law and other aspects of family friendly policy are negotiated at the level of the industrial sector or enterprise, does not even have a human resources department at its Czech branch. Such a situation places the onus for negotiating specific terms, and even conditions parents are legal entitled to, at the level of individual departments and employee relations.

In the chapter ‘A Comparison of Family Friendly Working Conditions in Four European Countries’, Alena Křížková summarises the results of the study, and raises parallels between the countries in the study and the dynamics of organisational processes in those countries. The substantial differences between the employee policy of companies in their home countries and in the Czech branches derive partly from the differences in the family and employer policies in different countries, the gender structure of related institutions at various levels in different countries and within the field the enterprise operates in, the differences in the amount of importance accorded to women’s employment and different maternal ideologies, and the institutional infrastructure for childcare provided by the state (or other actors). All this is also influenced by the historical and social development of the country, which has an impact on the contemporary conditions of parenthood and even newly introduced measures, because it is reflected in the way these conditions and instruments are interpreted by individual actors – employers and parents, men and women. Foreign companies that set up branches in the Czech Republic are able to accommodate family policy measures that in practical terms allow for the discrimination of women and take advantage of the passivity of unions with regard to employee demands.

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