Changes in demographics and labor market policy have brought the issue of work-family balance to the forefront of politics, science and business. Demographic change is resulting in a continual decline in the number of people available to work and, as a result, a deficit in qualified staff. As a result, more and more companies face the challenge of retaining workers in the long term while at the same time acquiring new ones. Companies are primarily turning to people who, for various reasons, are either unemployed or are working less than they would like to. This includes people with family obligations. Of course, HR policies that place an emphasis on families can by no means be taken for granted in business as a means of helping employees reconcile their work and family life. To gauge the situation in Austria, the Steinbeis Research Center for Family-Friendly Employee Policy (FFP) at the SVI Endowed Chair of Marketing and Dialog Marketing at Steinbeis University Berlin carried out a representative business survey. The study was conducted on behalf of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Economy, Family and Youth.
“The survey had two aims,” says Prof. Dr. Dr. Helmut Schneider, director of the FFP and professor of the foundation chair. “First, we investigated the current state of family-friendliness among Austrian businesses. Based on this information, we examined the commercial impacts of family-friendly business policies”. A representative sample of 411 HR managers from businesses of all sizes and fields were surveyed at the beginning of the year.
With the help of the Austrian Career and Family Index (Berufundfamilie- Index Österreich), the researchers were able to measure family-friendliness. The index, a measurement tool already used successfully in Germany and Switzerland, consists of 21 questions on a 7-point scale. It factors in not only family-friendly business practices, but also business information and communications processes, as well as company culture. For each business, answers were aggregated into a business-specific value ranging from 0 (not family-friendly) to 100 (very family-friendly). The results reveal an average index value of 66.7 points among Austrian businesses – a relatively positive score. Despite that, striking differences exist from business to business. Businesses classified as “very familyfriendly” (the 25% with the highest index values, coined “High 25%”) received, on average, scores of 86. This contrasts with less familyfriendly businesses (the 25% with the lowest index values, coined “Low 25%”), which came out with an average score of 44.1.
Using the Career and Family Index, the research team also analyzed the effects of family-friendliness on commercial issues. This was based on the hypothesis that family-friendliness could have an impact on internal business processes which in turn may have certain implications on a business in general. These effects can be captured in a target system, broken down into 11 target areas with an impact on employees. Within these 11 target areas, a total of 19 variables were tested to measure the extent to which targets were achieved.
The study confirms that family-friendliness is worthwhile for businesses. For 15 of the 19 tested variables, there was a statistically significant positive impact of family-friendliness, strongly suggesting that familyfriendly employee policies work across the board. High levels of familyfriendliness in a business serve not only to reduce employee turnover rates and the level of absenteeism due to sickness, they also improve the family-friendly image of a business, raise employee motivation and make employees more loyal to the business.
For example, less family-friendly businesses report 19% more sick days than the average business, whereas very family-friendly businesses report 23% fewer sick days. The gap is similar with staff turnover rates and the length of maternity/paternity leave. Overall, very family-friendly businesses fare between 2 and 23% better than the average. Less family-friendly businesses, however, perform between 3% and 21% percent worse in these areas.
The website of the Career and Family Index is available as a tool for all Austrian businesses to determine their respective level of family-friendliness as well as their ranking among other businesses included in the study.