Employee Attitudes towards Employer-Sponsored Child Care: Evidence from France

Article excerpt

Introduction

The task of balancing work and personal life is arguably becoming more challenging in many countries as a result of the changing nature of work precipitated by factors including workplace reorganizations, technological develop-ments, and an expansion of spaces and times pertaining to where and when paid work can occur (Lewis et al. 2007). Such challenges are increasingly evident when placed in the context of increasing number of women in labour markets, the rise of dual career couples, higher divorce statistics, the prevalence of single-parent families, and an ageing population. These broader societal trends oblige many employees to seek new solutions for combining work with their personal and family lives. In addition, business firms can also develop proposals intended to help their employees better balance their work and personal lives (Davis & Kalleberg 2006), even if some employers might view them as disruptive (den Dulk & de Ruijter 2008). These employer-based proposals, which to date have generally come under the term of 'family-friendly' practices, may be grouped according to three categories: flexible work policies, paid holidays or vacations, and assistance with child care and family health care.

It is with the last category of practices, specifically the provision of employer-sponsored child care services, that this paper seeks to engage. There might be a number of factors which motivate employers to promote such services including strengthening the image and communication of corporate values, along with the desire to mitigate absenteeism, encourage employee involvement and loyalty, and facilitate future recruitment. Nonetheless, the real impact of company and human resource initiatives in this area is less than evident. Some studies have observed a reduction in turnover and turnover intentions (Milkovich & Gomez 1976, Grover & Crooker 1995) or an increase in satisfaction (Kossek & Nichol 1992, Ezra & Deckman 1996), whereas other researchers did not observe these effects (Miller 1984, Goff et al. 1990). What is even less well known is how employees regard the provision of child care arrangements by their organizations. Because of the ostensible benefits they provide in helping to reduce work-family conflicts, it might be generally assumed that child care is universally desirable and welcomed from an employee perspective. However, this claim has not always been evaluated in empirical terms (for an exception, see Haar & Spell 2004). Therefore, the major contribution of the paper is to investigate the views of employees towards the provision of employer-sponsored child care arrangements.

This study poses the following two major questions. First, is there a relationship between work-family conflict and a positive view of employer-driven child care initiatives? A related question is: what role do organizational and personal situations play in explaining this conflict and do the sources of work-family conflict affect employees' attitudes? Second, what other variables, independent of the work-family conflict, help to inform employees' views of employer-sponsored child care?

In order to better understand the reactions of employees during the development of a work-life balance programme, a survey was conducted at a large shopping centre (involving many different small businesses) in France that had introduced a proposal for the joint financing of a child care centre. The national setting is one of established state legitimacy and intervention in work regulations, including state infrastructure and support for child care and the 35 hour working week. However, such public interventions do not necessarily mean that work-life conflicts are eliminated as the traditional domestic division of labour in France remains strong (Windebank 2001, Crompton & Lyonette 2006) and the situation of fewer work hours is not always improved for those who might work 'unsocial or flexible hours of work in exchange of a reduction of their working time' (Fagnani & Letablier 2004: 551). …