Family life and career
Work-life balance: A future-oriented issue
A happy family life and a successful career — what’s the best way to have both? Many women in industrialized nations are asking themselves this question today. This has also been documented by a survey of women’s health and well-being commissioned by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. In the future, not only the personal well-being of women but also the well-being of companies and societies will increasingly depend on achieving a good work-life balance.
The work-life balance of Steffi Buchli, a sports reporter in Zurich, Switzerland, was recently the topic of a heated debate in newspaper readers’ online comments. Buchli had returned to the studio in April 2016 after a maternity leave of three and a half months. Some readers now made their own “remote diagnoses” and concluded that she was neglecting her baby. Buchli’s cool response was that she had wished from the very start to reconcile her challenging job with caring for her young family. “If the parents are happy, that logically has an effect on the child. And I’m the kind of woman who is happy if she can work,” she wrote, adding that every woman should be free to decide for herself what her work-life balance will look like. Buchli was referring to something that women in modern industrialized societies regard as an achievement that has become part of everyday life: the freedom to choose their own way of life and set their own priorities, including those regarding their work-life balance.
Uta Kemmerich-Keil is CEO of the Consumer Health business at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany
© Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany
Carlotta Balestra is an analyst at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an association of 34 nations. She is one of the experts who participated in a major study of women’s health and well-being
that was commissioned by the Consumer Health business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. The study was conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and was published in the spring of 2016. Balestra and her colleagues regularly investigate the social security and healthcare systems in OECD countries, as well as the life satisfaction of their inhabitants. “Today there is hardly any difference between the self-assessments of men and women,” she explains. “However, women put greater emphasis on the work-life balance and their personal sense of security.”
Work-life balance and corporate success
In recent years, ensuring a good work-life balance
for employees has become even more important, particularly for innovative companies. For highly qualified job applicants, a company’s family-friendliness and emphasis on flexible working hours are key criteria for choosing an employer. In the life sciences, the proportion of female university graduates is especially high and rising. In the market for talented employees, companies that have this in mind have a clear competitive advantage. As Uta Kemmerich-Keil, CEO of Consumer Health business at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, explains, “Today the proportion of female employees in this field is already close to 50%, and within our pharmaceutical research and development, we exceeded that figure long ago — there, most of our employees are women.”
Kemmerich-Keil is convinced that the general social developments related to women’s health and well-being are highly relevant to her area of business as well. It’s principally women who are making sure that their families stay healthy. “We live in an era in which women all over the world are taking big steps to improve their lives and become healthier so that they can live a longer and better life,” Kemmerich-Keil says, adding that women are doing this not only for themselves but also for their families. Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, which will be celebrating its 350th anniversary in 2018, would like to make a key contribution to this development.
In 2011 the company set itself the strategic goal of increasing the proportion of women in managerial positions from 25% to 30% by 2016. It had already reached this goal by 2013. Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, is also a major sponsor of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, which promotes the personal development of women in the field of healthcare. It also offers coaching and networking in-house for its female employees. Through targeted measures, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, is also promoting the growing diversity
of its workforce. In addition, it has launched the widely respected and successful working time model “mywork@merck
,” which is reinforcing home-based and mobile work and making individual planning of the work-life balance more flexible.
Hilke Brockmann is a professor of sociology at Jacobs University Bremen
© Jacobs University Bremen
There’s still a lot to do
Hilke Brockmann, who is a professor of sociology in Bremen, Germany and a leading expert in the field of women’s well-being, made a contribution to the Economist Intelligence Unit study that was commissioned by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. Brockmann emphasizes the importance of having a good work-life balance. However, she also points out that many steps still have to be taken before a good balance is established between the rapidly changing world of work and working people’s lives in families and partnerships. Cultural prejudices such as those experienced by the Swiss reporter Steffi Buchli are still making an impact — even though the polemics against “unnatural” working mothers don’t seem justified by any research findings concerning children’s well-being. Moreover, as Brockmann points out, “It’s difficult for 25-year-olds to imagine how they will feel when they are 38. It’s not easy to imagine the huge demands that living with small children places on your time, unless you’ve experienced it yourself.”
“Research has shown that women consider time per se more valuable than men do.“
Jacobs University Bremen, Germany
For this reason, many people still feel surprised and overwhelmed when they find out how much time they have to spend coordinating their schedules after they have started a family. In order to further reinforce a good work-life balance for employees and thus also strengthen the diversity of lifestyles within a company, Brockmann recommends that companies pay more attention to the needs of their female employees. “Research has shown that women consider time per se more valuable than men do,” she says. “So it makes sense to give them more control over the time they have at their disposal. In order to make our world more flexible, we also have to make sure that there are well-structured options for returning to work from parental leave or after a career break.”
The potential offered by talented female employees is being increasingly recognized by businesses as a valuable resource. The well-being of female employees is also being enhanced by “soft” measures such as providing them with intense support from experienced coaches. Another boost for female employees is coming from women in middle and top management positions, who are making sure that more attention is being paid to the work-life balance, equal career opportunities, and diversity. Not only Uta Kemmerich-Keil, but also Belén Garijo, who has been a member of the Executive Board of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, and CEO Healthcare since 2015, have been active participants in the debate about the newly published study and its conclusions. And they intend to make sure this discussion continues.