Dienstag, Juli 08, 2008


Work and family life balance

Today’s young people are the most educated generation ever. However, youth are not only finding it difficult to find jobs, but are finding it even harder to find decent jobs: young people in Europe are more likely to be working long hours, on short-term and informal contracts, with low pay, with little or no social protection, and with no voice in the workplace. In other words, we are amongst the most flexible with the least protection on the labour market. This is definitely not benefiting the reconciliation between private and professional life.

Young people are not afraid of work, we wish to contribute to the society and be part of development. We also strive to establish stable families in a safe environment. In these aspirations we are no different from other people, regardless of age. However, being at the beginning of our professional lives, young people face severe obstacles in entering the work sphere, facing difficulties in our transitions from education to employment; as they often struggle with precarious jobs where salaries are low and social protection conditions are scarce or inexistent.

Work life balance is therefore not really very balanced, and this mismatch needs to be altered.

The European Youth Forum, independently established by youth organisations and made up of 95 National Youth Councils and International Non-Governmental Youth Organisations - themselves, federations of youth organisations - brings together tens of millions of young people from all over Europe, organised in order to represent their common interests. Our working priorities are Education, Employment and Social Affairs, Human Rights, Youth Work Development, Youth Participation and Youth Mainstreaming.

I am not a scientist or a policy maker, as a youth work practitioner I can mainly point out problems and suggest approaches for solutions. One part of the solutions is definitely the involvement of youth organisations. Youth Organisations can breach the gap between the definition of policies and their implementation. Generally it is paramount to have a transversal and multi stakeholder approach to address complex challenges of private and professional life balance.

In order to achieve full work and life balance work I am looking at three levels, the legal, on the cultural and on the individual level. Let me explain what that would mean in practise.

1. We have to work on a legal level – guaranteeing rights, prohibiting and sanctioning discrimination and assuring access to, for example, infrastructure, goods and services.

Health and safety at work – occupations accidents happen much more often to young people and people new in a job;
Social protection – which would mean for young people that Flexicurity must boost our security
Social services such as health, childcare, long term care of other dependants
Ensuring decent and quality work conditions
Employment, Education, Goods and Service provisions must be free of discrimination when it comes to marital of family status

Let me share one example with yout – internships:
There is a rapid numerical increase of internships in Europe, this is linked to the need to combine education and work. The Youth Forum acknowledges that, especially when they are part of education curricula, internships are a positive tool to facilitate young people’s access to employment. But the learning dimension of internships has been reducing significantly with a majority of interns working on issues that will not allow them to progress in their professional development. Additionally, in the degraded economic context that Europe has experienced in the last decades, the reality has been that employers are more and more recruiting graduates as interns unfortunately without offering them any labour law protection and often without any or very limited financial compensation. Their motivation is in fact lacking any educational dimension and it is regrettably often limited to the willingness to reduce their staff costs. Thus we are welcoming commission initiative on a code of conduct for interns, which should be an enhancement of the lives of many young people in Europe. But it is also clear that internships are not really making a work and life balance possible, as this is giving insecurity.

The complexity and diversity of employment contracts offered in the European segmented labour markets call for the development of guidance and legal counselling systems, which are accessible for everyone. Young people and people with lower qualifications have otherwise no chance for enforcing their rights. This has to be combined with easily accessible, optimised and standardised contract forms with text modules to facilitate contractual work arrangements for the employer and employee.

Flexicurity – flexibility for the employee, right to part time work without infringements of social protection, contractual arrangement that allow better for life long learning and for example working and studying parallel. All of these issues would need to be addressed on a legal level.

2. We have to work on a cultural level – raising awareness of problems, changing attitudes and being agents of this change.

Rigid role models make the lives of many people who do not fulfil a given legal norm and make many lives miserable; a prototype of how a good mother has to be that only exists in fairy tale but is still all too present in peoples minds.

Working long hours is not a sign of ambition but is unhealthy and is not reflecting the different responsibilities the people have in life.

Many people depend financially on paid over time which is not allowing any balance between private and professional life.

This is clearly very complex, as attitudes change very slow. Unfortunately it is still women who do the main share of the unpaid work, which has effects on their pay check and on their careers in the paid world of work.

Life long learning is often more of a luxury then anything else, especially when having dependants to take care of. Not to talk about quality leisure time – art, culture and sports or civic engagement – which all has long term consequences for example on health.

3. We have to work on the level of individual support – enabling and empowering the marginalised and discriminated to make choice possible.

Some people face more struggles like others, they need specific and tailored support. It is unfortunately the case that many people seem to be stuck in a lifetime of disadvantage; the problems they face are multiple, entrenched and often passed down across generations. To break such enduring cycles of adversity, urgent action is needed, allowing every person to realise his or her aspirations and potential. Such action implies the genuine extension of opportunities to the most marginalised in society.
How could one be expected to get children in such a situation? Or to invest in a business start-up?

The importance of professional guidance and systematic advices in career planning becomes evident. Especially when thinking about multiple discrimination.

A work - life balance is relevant for everyone:
Not only a problem of women even though an urgent change of culture is needed here.
Not only a problem of parents and potential parents – childlessness must not be punished.
Quality of life in such a rich society must be there for everyone; is basis for healthy aging, it must be guaranteed for people with or without children, for people with other dependant people; issues such as long term care for people with disabilities or older people is integral to achieve this aim.

When the Green Paper “Modernising labour law to meet the challenges of the 21st century” states that “the original purpose of labour law was to offset the inherent economic and social inequality within the employment relationship” it seems to suggest that this is not any longer a valid role for labour law. The European Youth Forum on the contrary believes that this still needs to be considered as an important role for labour law, which is especially relevant for young people and even more for the low skilled work force to guarantee a private and professional life balance.

Given the risk that young people get trapped in a succession of short-term, low quality jobs with inadequate social protection leaving them in a vulnerable position. There is indeed a very small number of people who do indeed benefit from the flexibility of a precarious work situation, but it is mainly the highly educated ones. The majority of young people entering the labour market on the margin just prolong their transition from childhood and dependence on the family to adulthood. This continuous lack of autonomy prevents us from making plans or investments in our own life such as family planning.

When my mum had me more then 25 years ago- the kindergarden was only opened from 8am -12 noon every day and was closed during over 12 weeks of school holidays during the year this has fortunately changed by now, but is still far from mirroring working hours; further progress is definitely needed.

Today we have all over Europe smaller families with nuclear family living, lower parental control, higher youth autonomy, more responsibilities, older age at marriage and childbearing, high levels of fertility control including childlessness, or higher women's status and independence.
At the same time we have less fixed contract jobs, increasing rent and property prices, little or no care facilities for smaller babies and not enough long term care support.

Autonomy signifies that young people have the necessary support, resources and opportunities to choose to live independently; enjoy the possibility of full social and political participation in all sectors of everyday life; and be able to take independent decisions. Employment and education are important prerequisites for young people in achieving autonomy. In addition, a wider range of services and policies need to considered in order to support the independence and well-being of young people that is needed in transition towards adulthood.

In order to be inclusive, fair and reliable, a European Social Model must encompass and ensure autonomy of young people through access to quality basic services (such as healthcare and transport), housing, social protection as well as safe and healthy living environment. In the challenging context of demographic change, migration and changes in economies, it must be ensured that these social systems that play key role in supporting young people’s autonomy are reformed and exist in favour of intergenerational solidarity.

If a good reconciliation between private and work life is not possible in one of the richest regions of the world, then we do some things wrong.

Cool article. I agree, it is more difficult for young people to find worthwhile jobs. I've considered becoming an entrepreneur. I'd like to buy a small business instead starting one from scratch. I have looked around, but I have not found any that I like. Do you have any suggestions? thanks
Jane -- Check out BizTrader.com. It's on online global marketplace where you can buy, sell, and invest in a small business. There's a wide selection, and it's a great place to find a small business on the Internet. Check it out and good luck!
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