The Malta Independent 19 October 2018, Friday

Why work-life balance matters

Sunday, 23 September 2018, 08:02 Last update: about 26 days ago

Marianne Thyssen

When I ask young Europeans about their hopes and concerns for their future career, a good work-life balance and flexibility are top of the list. Young people, both men and women, favour jobs in which their employer allows them to spend time with their family and to address this need, we proposed a new European Directive to improve work-life balance.

It is an essential deliverable of the European Pillar of Social Rights, our social compass for the future. Women should be treated on an equal footing with men in the world of work, not only because this is fair but also because it is the smart thing to do in times of a growing skills shortage. The economic cost of the gender employment gap is estimated at a staggering €370 billion a year – 2.8 per cent of the EU GDP!

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Malta has seen a remarkable increase in the number of women in employment – from close to 40 per cent to almost 60 per cent over the last 10 years. Younger generations of Maltese women are among the most active in the EU. However, it seems that, after the age of 35, the number of females participating in work plunges, while men’s participation rises or remains stable. A look behind the numbers shows that this is, in part, linked to an unequal sharing of caring responsibilities.

Our work-life balance proposal makes family-related leave more attractive and promotes flexible working arrangements and a quality formal care service. This way, we are giving real choices to both men and women regarding how they want to shape their working lives. I strongly hope that EU Member States and the European Parliament will maintain the level of ambition of our proposal in our ongoing negotiations. I believe that we owe this to the parents of the future.

Of course, other policies also play an important role, such as the free childcare scheme that was put in place a few years ago. This type of support, together with other reconciliation measures,  may increase the number of female entrepreneurs or improve women’s access to private-sector leadership positions.  

While work-life balance and flexibility ranks highly on the priority list of young people, pensions are generally the last thing on their minds – and who can blame them? They are busy defining their career path, learning new skills or starting a family. Even though identical careers for men and women will lead to similar pensions, the gap between women’s and men’s pensions is among the highest in Europe. Too many women do not receive a pension and more than one in four older women are at risk of poverty. Our work-life balance proposal also helps to redress this situation by promoting more equal opportunities to acquire pension rights.

Europe is doing more to promote the equal participation of men and women in employment. With the European Social Fund, we supported a Maltese project that awarded companies demonstrating commitment towards gender equality. This certification is a great tool for companies to boost their attractiveness towards young people. The project is now finished, but the certification process continues, with more than 80 Maltese companies having received an award to date.

When we give a people a choice in how they want to balance their work and family lives, everybody wins. Not only families but also businesses profit – more specifically from a wider talent pool and a more diverse, motivated and productive staff.

 

Marianne Thyssen, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility.

 

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