Results of Nationwide Survey Reveal Irish Attitudes to Work-Life Balance

Posted on: 01 February 2006

Government initiatives that facilitate re-entry of people with mental illness to the work force must be further developed, recommends a report launched on 24 January.

The results of a Survey on Mental Health and the Workplace and a separate Nationwide Survey of Work-Life Balance with particular focus on flexible working, social inclusion in the workplace and work-life balance issues of working parents, carers, older people and people with mental health problems were also presented at the conference ‘Flexibility@Work, Promoting Work-Life Balance and Social Inclusion’.

The findings are the outcome of the National Flexi-Work Partnership/Work-Life Balance Project, involving Trinity College’s Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies, IBEC, ICTU, FAS, Age Action Ireland and Aware.

The highest rates of unemployment are among people with mental health difficulties. One in fourteen Irish people (300,000) suffer from depression, making it one of the most prevalent forms of mental illness in the country. 

Unlike other forms of disability, disclosure is problematic for people with mental health difficulties because of the risk of discrimination. Many employees and potential employees fear that disclosure will have negative consequences: 73% felt that ‘people think worse of you if you tell them that you have suffered from mental health problems’ and 80% felt that it was ‘not in an employee’s best interest to discuss or disclose mental health problems in the workplace’. 

Yet this is what they would like to feel safe to be able to do.  Almost all the respondents said that people should be able to be more open in the workplace about mental health issues.

This study highlights the critical role of flexible working arrangements in helping this group remain in employment. Another important factor to emerge is that company policies and practices should be more explicit on what supports are available to employees.

Company ethos is critical, according to the study.  If the overall culture of the company includes a positive and accepting attitude towards mental health problems, all the rest falls into place.  The report recommends awareness training for all staff not just HR personnel and the full integration of mental health into the Diversity Agenda.

The aim of the Nationwide Survey of Work-Life Balance and Social Inclusion was to learn more about the work experiences and attitudes of various groups in the population and see how they relate to people’s work-life balance and well-being.

Working Parents
There was very strong support expressed by the population for a statutory period of paternity leave, with most believing that at least some of this should be paid.  Most favoured a period of 1-4 weeks.  There was also strong support for paid parental leave.  Respondents favoured tri-partite support for childcare, coming from Government, parents and employers.  At the same time a very large majority (over 90%) expressed the view that there should be a national programme of child care facilities for pre-school aged children, as well as tax concessions for child care costs.

“A majority of respondents felt that if men worked part-time or job shared they would be seen as less serious about their careers, whereas a majority did not feel this way if women worked part-time or job shared.  These kinds of attitudes need to be addressed if greater work-life balance for both men and women is to be attained, according to the authors.  In spite of this a large majority felt that men can be as likely to enjoy caring for children as women are,” stated Project Director Dr Margret Fine-Davis, Senior Research Fellow at TCD’s Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies.   

Older Workers
This research has shown that older workers are viewed in a positive light by younger workers, who feel they should be encouraged to stay in the workforce because they have valuable skills and experience. Almost two thirds of all workers agreed that older workers were as capable of learning new technology and ideas as other workers.

The study found that almost 40% of all older workers do not wish to retire at the mandatory age but would prefer an earlier or later date. Almost 70% favoured a phased retirement. Some 42% would like to retire more gradually if their pension entitlements were not affected.

Ireland’s ageing population and workforce will present major issues as increasing numbers of active older people will demand new social structures and opportunities. Innovative and inclusive practices need to be created based on the principle of equality in relation to the retention of older workers in the workplace, according to the report.