[Excerpt] The reconciliation of work and life responsibilities has become an increasingly relevant policy topic in recent decades. It has an implicit societal value linked to gender equality and quality of life. It also has an economic dimension, with poor work–life balance clearly hampering participation in the labour market, the latter having been defined as a key objective of the European growth strategy. The female employment rate (20-64 years) is lower than that of men across the European Union (65.3% versus 76.9% in 2016), the gap between men’s and women’s employment rates ranging from 27.6 percentage points in Malta and 20.1 percentage points in Italy at one end to Lithuania and Latvia at the other (where the difference lies at only 1.9 and 2.9 percentage points respectively). The overall cost of this gender employment gap is estimated by Eurofound to represent 2.8% of GDP (Eurofound, 2016b).
Work–life balance covers several aspects of social life and the range of relevant policy fields is exceptionally broad. It includes taxation, not least as regards second family members and various social services, particularly those related to childcare and long-term care. The proposals in the Initiative to support work–life balance for working parents and carers, set out in the Commission Communication of April 2017, were mainly concerned with the relationship between work and care and outlined legislative and non-legislative measures for parents, fathers and carers (European Commission, 2017). It also had proposals to enhance opportunities for flexible work arrangements and this is the focus of the present note.
While flexible working arrangements do not involve any direct additional cost to public budgets in Member States, it may be that if successfully implemented throughout workplaces in the EU they could be a very effective stimulus to work–life balance. While shorter working time and more flexible working arrangements may, in some cases, entail costs for companies, they can also have positive effects on productivity. There are many actors who can actively contribute to achieving more flexible working arrangements. The potential role of the social partners is obvious. But even employers and employees on the ground in the millions of workplaces throughout Europe should be encouraged to examine practical solutions to enhance work–life balance that would suit the specificities of their particular workplace.
Care is a highly gendered issue in terms of care for both children and dependent relatives. Data from the European Working Conditions Survey 2015 (EWCS) show that in every Member State women still have the main caring responsibility (Eurofound, 2016c). They also reveal that the involvement of men in care varies quite considerably across Member States.