Learning webinar: Work-life integration: Successful workplace practices in the “new normal”

On 16 December 2020, the International Labour Organization and the International Training Centre (ILOITC), in cooperation with the WorkLife HUB held a learning webinar entitled Work-life integration: Successful workplace practices in the “new normal” as part of the EU-funded WE EMPOWER G7 project to promote women’s economic empowerment at work. The learning webinar aimed to showcase workplace practices implemented during the pandemic to support workers to balance their work and family responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The learning webinar was opened by representatives of the European Commission and the ILO. It was followed by practical examples of workplaces promoting work-life integration by the Boston College Center for Work & Family, Stanford University and the WorkLife HUB.

The full webinar recording is available here:

Key take-aways:

1. The pandemic has further exposed the existing challenges to balancing paid work, personal lives and care responsibilities
  • Even before the pandemic women were performing 3/4 of all unpaid care work, and as a result, experiencing motherhood penalties (in employment, pay, and leadership) in the world of work. The current crisis is magnifying and accelerating these pre-existing gender inequalities.
  • Many of the sectors hardly hit by the pandemic have a majority female workforce, including the healthcare, childcare, hospitality and retail sectors. This situation has resulted in either massive job-losses for women or taking bigger health risks working on the front lines, all the while having to care for their family members.
  • Compared to the pre-COVID-19 situation, men have slightly increased their participation in unpaid care work, but it is not enough to compensate for the increased care burden faced by women, especially due to the closing of schools and childcare.
  • Single parents, workers in insecure jobs, migrant workers, women in small enterprises, or those living with disabilities are suffering the worst impact of the crisis.
  • The crisis has also increased parents’ mental health burdens and lowered their wellbeing, especially for women with young children. This is why achieving a better work-life balance and enabling an equal sharing of family responsibilities are crucial.
2. The pandemic has further highlighted the importance of transformative policies, social dialogue and a more rigorous policy implementation
  • The existing ILO labour standards on maternity protection, workers with family responsibilities, part-time work, as well as the Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration) provide a strong foundation and guidance for the design and implementation, monitoring and evaluation of effective work-life balance policies, both public and private.
  • EU-wide instruments, such as the EU Work-Life Balance Directive, support EU Member States to narrow the gender employment gaps and ensure adequate protections to pregnant workers, working parents and carers. These instruments are even more important in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many more workers are struggling to balance their paid work and family responsibilities.
  • The need for collaboration, consultation and cooperation among governments, workers and employers and their representatives are fundamental to bring about effective and sustainable solutions.
3. Workplace policies and practices can support employees managing their work and care responsibilities
  • Good practices tend to respond to the actual needs of workers and take into consideration the individualized circumstances of workers and their specific challenges. Successful employers regularly surveyed and reached out to workers and their representatives.
  • The organizations that were most successful in pivoting to full-time remote work were the ones who already had some established guidelines about how to work remotely and how performance could be measured based on results.
  • The Boston College Center for Work & Family (see presentation) shared the summary of their corporate roundtable benchmarking survey results. It categorized the support employers offered to working parents in their workforce as it follows: working flexibility, well-being and mental health, leadership and culture, access to care support, financial support and community support.
  • Workplace solutions and support can range from low-cost or very cost-effective solutions to services that require a larger financial investment by the employer. It shows that even employers with limited resources can offer support to the working parents and carers in their workforce.
  • Empathy and understanding by leadership about the challenges faced by workers during the pandemic and beyond is a key component in creating an enabling and supportive workplace.
  • Workplace policies and services need to be built and sustained on trust. An organisational culture that supports care as a normal fact of business life and managerial and leadership practices that are conducive to balancing work and family responsibilities are essential in ensuring that workers feel comfortable in using available services and supports.
  • Stanford University (see presentation) has been reinforcing a culture of care for decades. It offers the largest corporate childcare (900 children under normal circumstances) in higher education in the United States. The centre had to grapple with the impact of the pandemic and managed to maintain care primarily for children of healthcare and other first responders (400 children).
  • Preliminary research showed that workload has not changed during the pandemic, in many cases it has even increased. A key challenge for both managers and employees has been how to maintain previous levels of performance while the workplace became inaccessible and children and other dependents had to be cared for at home.
  • Stanford and other employers have been delivering management training and workshops to support teams with skills and tools to re-distribute the work and ensure that expectations were clear and could be met by the workers.
4. Key considerations to ensure that post-pandemic we return to a better normal
  • Work-life integration, including leave polices, care services, flexible working, teleworking and an enterprise culture for caring workplaces need to be built into the post-pandemic recovery plans.
  • ILO research shows that gender diversity in an enterprise culture that kindles work-life balance for both women and men is a smart business strategy.
  • Knowledge and lessons learned during the crisis can guide workplace policies and practices for the post-COVID world.
  • WorkLife HUB suggests (see presentation) that the pandemic may mean the end for the “ideal worker norm”, namely a care-free worker, who prioritizes work over all other aspects of life. Many of the effective workplace practices build on compassion, creativity, and empathy while taking into consideration the diversity of workers, their individual care needs and caregiving responsibilities and normalising the conversation around care.
  • Tools and resources are available for organizations to develop skills and understanding of these issues. The online Empowering Women at Work Capacity Development Platform offers open-access learning tools and modules in different languages.
  • Employers that build their policies and services on a foundation of trust and a culture that normalises caregiving create inclusive and safe workplaces that can attract a diversity of talent, fosters creativity and innovation and enhance business benefits.
The learning webinar attracted 462 registered participants and 131 attendees (82 per cent women). Among the participants, 95 per cent reported being very or somewhat satisfied with the event, while 83 per cent indicated being well informed or informed after the webinar.

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