Skip to main content

The work/family issue and the organisation mediation between institutional pressures and practice: companies attitudes with regard to paternity leave

Final Activity Report Summary - PATERMEDIAORG (The work/family issue and the organisation mediation between institutional pressures and practice: companies attitudes with regard to paternity leave)

In Belgium, the work / family issue is on the political agenda and various measures aiming at facilitating the combination of a working life with a family life have been instituted. These are, for example, maternity leave, paternity leave, parental leave, adoption leave, palliative care leave, prophylactic removal and time-credit, although the latter is part of a broader issue. Of course, this should not lead to believe that passing legislation on the matter is sufficient to ensure the take up of such leaves. Numerous variables, in a macro, meso- and micro-level, have an impact on the choice of mothers and fathers to take up a leave or not to. This research project focuses on the workplaces, which are somewhat of a mediation between institutional framework and individual behaviours.

This is the first study of the kind in Wallonia, starting from the hypothesis that there is a differentiated organisational attitude towards legal and extra-legal supports that can favour a better working life and family life articulation. A questionnaire was set up for the survey in the organisations. It concerns leave policies, the extra-legal measures and the opinions on theses ones, as well as descriptors of the organisations. In a first time, 48 questionnaires filled out by personnel managers of medium or large organisations could be exploited: 13 from the care and health sector and 35 from the manufacturing sector. After analysis, there is no fundamental difference between the two sectors in terms of organisational attitude. Potential differences could be explained by the size and morphology of the labour force, larger and more female in the care and health sector, smaller and mostly male in the manufacturing sector, as well as by specificities of the sectors, such as the importance of prophylactic removal in the first sector (in a large number of hospitals).

All organisations of our sample are concerned by the issue. Some measures, quasi-systematically used, are strongly institutionalised. This is the case for maternity and paternity leaves. However, in some organisations, the latter is not always taken.

Next to institutional measures, organisations can spontaneously offer extra-legal measures. Indeed, if these ones can be found, they are not numerous, especially if they have a direct financial cost (for example a child care centre, complementary benefits) or an organisational cost (for example teleworking or job-sharing). On the contrary, some measures that use flexible working hours are found (flexitime N = 16, or hour capitalisation N = 29). Information, contact, support, and baby presents are relatively frequent, and show the recognition of family life by a great number of employers.

We have to note that the opinion of personnel managers concerning the whole of family-friendly policies is unsure (many did not answer or have no opinion) and rather half-hearted. Obviously, the advantages are not massively and clearly seen. At the same time, we noted that the organisations most concerned by the use of legal supports and the setup of extra-legal measures are also those where the repliers gave a positive opinion. Should we deduce that the more an organisation is open to the measures, the more it perceives the advantages?

Although the great majority of organisations could be called simply legalist, the statistical analysis showed two other organisational attitudes: a reluctant attitude towards the measures, or on the contrary a pro-active one. We still have to confirm and explain these differences. Firstly, in order to increase our sample, we launched a second wave of questionnaires at the end of 2005 to a new population of 150 medium / large business companies in Wallonia. Secondly, we are carrying out case studies aiming at understanding the role of organisational culture, especially towards legal supports. For instance, in a pro-active hospital these are seen and describe as legal rights accessible to all workers whatever the status and whatever the work circumstances are. In a reluctant hospital, it consists in a case by case need analysis supported by a specific professional and duty ethic.