SATISFIED employees are more motivated and loyal, which in the end benefits the employer in the form of better results and a better reputation. Much of this can be achieved by providing a work-life balance, which is, simply, enough time for work and enough time for life outside the workplace.
While this may seem like common sense in many western countries, the concept is only now making its mark in Slovakia. Companies active in Slovakia have arrived here from abroad and have brought with them the trend of work-life balance as part of their corporate culture. The so-called Generation Y, which, contrary to previous generations, is not willing to sacrifice their personal life for their career.
“Benefits that the work-life balance concept bring to the employer are employees whose private and work life is in balance and have enough free time to spend it with family or on their hobbies,” Lucia Nacíková, a consultant at Amrop, told The Slovak Spectator. “They are satisfied with their life, they are psychologically. as well as physically healthier. Usually they are more active at work, the work fulfils them and they achieve success.”
All these factors, according to Katarína Bobotová, director of Grafton Recruitment Slovakia, result in more loyal and motivated employees, which help the company to be perceived as a forward-thinking employer and achieve better economic results. Ivana Vačoková, the permanent placement director at Adecco in Slovakia, added that a worker with a balanced life is much more productive and motivated, which positively affects the whole climate and culture in the company as well as the fluctuation rate, which in the end reduces a company’s costs.
Employers that provide a work-life balance also become so-called "employers of choice" or "preferred employers", which means an employer people want to work for, thus helping attract top talent.
“Based on several research projects, the most important factors for employee satisfaction are: the work environment, interpersonal relations, wage and the balance between work and private life,” said Nacíková. “Firms, [that are] looking for new talent and wanting to keep them, will be successful when they are interested in what their employees want and what affects their satisfaction.”
While, according to Bobotová, work-life balance is at many companies in Slovakia only a term from specialised literature, the situation is improving and companies are extending their benefits packages to support work-life balance. Vačoková added that work-life balance is still mainly a topic only at large companies.
Under the headline work-life balance, firms provide large-scale benefits which most often include: flexible work time, home office, shorter working hours, sick-days, sabbaticals, extra paternity leave, various programmes for employees, kindergarten and children centres at work, seminars and workshops on topics like health and healthy living, coping with stress or communication, various education and language courses, tickets for cultural events and book and gift vouchers, financial contributions for medical care, and many others.
According to the biggest job portal in Slovakia, Profesia.sk, the most frequently provided work-life benefit is flexible work time (19 percent), the fourth most common benefit overall. The first three are company events (26 percent), free beverages (22 percent) and education (21 percent).
Other work-life balance benefits are extra holidays (10 percent), home office (10 percent) and sick days (7 percent).
According to Marcela Glevická of Profesia, another common buzzword is work-life integration, emphasising the mutual interference and overlapping of work and private life, which today are often not strictly divided any more.
Slovaks, especially younger ones, are putting greater emphasis on work-life balance and HR experts confirm this trend.
“The reason is the so-called Generation Y, whose lifestyle is not only about work and the amount of hours spent in the office or a different work environment, but contrary to this, they put high emphasis on free-time activities, sports, art, culture and travelling,” said Nacíková. “In spite of the strong will and the pressure to build a career, for current young people, making room for their own interests and social life is equally important.”
Glevická agrees, adding that the younger generation does not have a problem asking for more freedom and independence, which was not so common in the past.
“One should also not forget that today, contrary to the past, we do a lot of things on computers and online, for which we do not need to sit in an office and be at the same place as the rest of our colleagues,” Glevická told The Slovak Spectator.
Bobotová added that Generation Y does not want to spend a fixed 8.5 hours at work every day, and does not need to communicate face-to-face with the boss. Rather, it prefers to communicate via chat or messenger and does not like strict rules.
“This generation wants to clearly divide their private and work life and because of this, companies will have to become more flexible towards such employees, also in Slovakia,” said Bobotová.
Vačoková ascribes this trend to a significant extent to the development of the economic situation, reflecting in values and expectations.
“Information technologies play a large role too, as they enable a broad overview of the market and scope of employment, and thus increase requirements and expectations of employees towards the employer,” said Vačoková.
Viera Filipová, a permanent placement consultant at Adecco in Slovakia, added that people do not want to sacrifice their relationships when their career swallows up their free time.
“I also have candidates at job interviews who tell me that they are not interested in positions in which they would find out after a while that the work does not please them, and then return to an empty apartment where they do not have anybody with whom to enjoy the money they earn.”
Family and work project
The Slovak government says it is aware of the impact of parenthood on the employment of men and women and the gender gap that exists here. The employment of women with children up to six years of age is below 40 percent compared with 83 percent in the case of men. The shortage of available and affordable child care is a leading cause.
“From the viewpoint of flexible forms of work and the harmonisation of family and work life there still exist in Slovakia, in spite of legislative conditions, significant shortcomings,” Michal Stuška, spokesman of the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs, told The Slovak Spectator. “Only a small number of employers use flexible forms of work, and Slovakia ranks in the long term among EU countries with the lowest share of employees working a short time, while flexible work forms are proving to be decisive when harmonising family and work life in the case of parents, especially mothers with pre-school children.”
This is the reason why the ministry began to prepare a national project, Family and Work, which aims to facilitate the harmonisation of family and work life.
“The pilot project should not only help to create innovative forms of services of child care but also to encourage employers to introduce flexible forms of work and employment of parents, especially women with pre-school age children,” said Stuška.
Within the project the ministry has prepared two main activities: support for the creation of various forms of child care via refunding personal costs of nursemaids, and support for flexible work forms such as short-time work contracts, telecommuting or home office, shared work place and others, while those workplaces at which the employer hires a woman with pre-school children or a parent returning from maternity leave will receive support. In this case, a significant portion of labour costs will be covered by the programme.
The project, which will last through December 2015, will get €23 million from EU funds and support employers across Slovakia, except the Bratislava Region, which is excluded from the project. The ministry plans to publish the invitation to join the project in November.
At home and abroad
Many foreign countries directly support the work-life balance concept. Nacíková points to Germany and the Scandinavian countries.
“Working shorter hours for working parents, the possibility to have shorter Fridays or to work from home are already standard,” said Nacíková, adding that it is common to adjust the workplace so that employees can not only work but also relax, shop, entertain, or use the services of a physician, lawyer, psychologist, masseur, and other amenities for better prices or free of charge. Corporate kindergartens, fitness centres and community gardens are also common.
Nacíková includes here also corporate volunteering, or the possibility to work a certain number of hours per month for a civic organisation, foundation, or a senior or children’s centre or hospital.
An interesting choice is also a so-called parallel career, where workers (especially managers) can, during their work time and with the financial contribution of the employer, start a project of a philanthropic nature and high social value.
While western countries are more advanced in implementing a work-life balance, the fact that most companies are international is speeding up the implementation of this concept in Slovakia, especially with respect to flexible work time, the possibility of taking a career break, or using sick days.
“But there are cases when employees abuse this flexibility and thus the existence of mutual trust and respect between the employer and the employee is very important,” said Bobotová.
15. Sep 2014 at 0:00 | Jana Liptáková