Flexicurity from the Individual's Work/Life Balance Perspective
-Coping with the flaws in European Child- and Elder Care Provision
Paper by Trine P. Larsen
Flexicurity has become an extremely popular concept in recent years due to its ability to unite often incompatible interests and concerns in the labour market (Bredgaard, 2007). It describes different combinations of flexibility and security in the labour market, where focus mainly is on various forms of numerical flexibility, income support and active labour market and educational policy. Indeed, flexicurity studies often neglect other forms of flexibility and security, which appears crucial for individual employees, mainly women's, work/life balance, although Wilthagen and colleagues stress the importance of such parameters in their matrix for different forms and combinations of flexibility and security (Wilthagen and Tros, 2004: 171). For example, the role of the public sector tends to be excluded, unless social security concerns income support, active labour market or educational policy. Hence, the public sector is of great importance to employees, particularly women's, reconciliation of work and family life across Europe. A well-developed child- and elder care infrastructure enable women and men to enter paid work as they are released from their caring responsibilities. The opening hours of such care services also seems crucial for the type of flexibility employees can offer. Likewise, the importance of leave schemes often fails to be systematically analysed in flexicurity studies. Thus, this type of policy can facilitate a quick return to paid work or have a negative impact on the flexibility of individuals, depending on the generosity of national leave schemes. Also the role of the family, particularly employees' care responsibilities, are seldom part of the flexicurity debate, although such responsibilities often restrict employees' flexibility and availability in the labour market (Muffels et al., 2008:14).
This paper calls for a more nuanced concept of flexicurity, which takes the individual's work/life balance perspective into consideration. It will argue that the constraints employees' face in their daily lives due to caring responsibilities have significant implications for their flexibility and employability in the labour market. It is particularly employees combining paid work with elder care rather than working parents who find it hard to combine work and care, although also a relatively large group of working parents struggle to reconcile work and childrearing across Europe. In line with much work/life balance literature, this paper argues that inadequate workplace policies and in particular insufficient child- and elder care services often account for employees' work/life balance problems and in some instances force them to reduce their weekly working hours, seek new employment or prevent them from improving their skills. However, informal care provided by relatives or friends, structural factors (such as earnings, educational attainment and social class) and cultural elements (gender and individual preferences) also affect employee's combine work/life balance. Indeed, the effects of different forms of flexibility and security vary from one family to another, where some forms are perceived as a resource by some employees whilst constituting a constraint for another. Therefore, the complex nature and demands of individual employees' work and care arrangements calls for flexible and adequate welfare services and workplace policies which are able to accommodate employees' individual needs to ease their reconciliation of work and caring responsibilities as well as enable them to meet employers' rising demands for a flexible and highly skilled workforce.
In this paper, we will discuss and analyse the work and care situations of working parents and carers for older people in Denmark, Finland, Portugal and the UK to identify how the different forms of flexibility and security influence employees' work/life balance. The paper is based on 158 interviews with British, Finnish and Portuguese working parents and carers for older people as well as secondary data on Danish families' work/life balance. We will first briefly discuss contemporary theory on flexicurity and work/life balance, the methodology and data-set used before reviewing the main characteristics of European welfare states and the combination of flexicurity in the four countries. We then examine how different combinations of flexibility and security seem to influence the work and care strategies chosen by employees in the selected countries, as they represent four distinct welfare states with a different constellation of flexicurity and breadwinner models (Orloff, 2002: 13-4; Muffels et al, 2004: 6).
Paper for the 15th IIRA World Congress, 24-27 August 2009, Sydney.