Solving the work-life imbalance problem
Our current work models and the imbalanced division of household chores promote gender inequity. Germany and Brazil are both countries where those inequalities can be seen. But there is a solution: the 30-hour workweek. This would benefit our entire society in many ways.
Being a mother can be stressful in different ways: Many regret not spending enough time with their children and not being able to be so competitive professionally. In addition, they even sometimes put their own health at risk because of the strenuous workloads they carry. This, of course, is not only a concern for women, but also for all those willing to be conscious and responsible parents, while simultaneously striving to perform at work with excellence – men and women alike.
However, women are, in most cases, still responsible for the bulk of household chores, including caring for their children. As unpaid work increases substantially with parenting, the motherhood gap is seen as the main gender pay gap factor in many countries. According to the Bertelsmann Stiftung, the lifetime earnings of mothers in West Germany is 62% less than the earnings of men, while the gap is 13% for women without children. In East Germany, thanks to the daycare centres system, established at the time of the communist regime, the gap for mothers is at 48%. For comparison: In Brazil, mothers earn up to 40% less than women without children.
Most mothers work part-time
In Germany, according to Destatis, among women who are mothers of minors, in 2017 the percentage of those who work only part-time was 69%. By comparison, the percentage of fathers of young children working part-time was only 6%. Analysing the data from several countries presented in the World Economic Forum 2020, there seems to be an inversely proportional relationship between the percentage of women employed part-time and the percentage of women in leadership positions.
All those statistics hint at the fact that household chores are not equally shared. But assuming they were equally shared, would we then achieve gender equity? Is outsourcing the unpaid work plausible and desirable? In Brazil, especially in large cities, it is common for both spouses to work full-time, leaving little time for family life. Some children, from 4 months old, stay in daycare centres or under the care of babysitters from 7 am to 7 pm. Household chores are alleviated by hiring services. However, this is not always economically viable for everyone.
So, is it possible that the current work models do not favour gender equity? It is hard to accept that the 40-hour workweek model, achieved with great difficulty over a century ago, is still valid today when technological development and urban and social dynamics have been undergoing drastic changes. I endorse the 30-hour workweek model as an alternative that has been suggested to be economically viable, especially when considering indirect, medium and long-term benefits.
Companies have profited from reduced working hours
One of those benefits is a positive effect on the mental health of employees. Currently, the Burnout Syndrome affects 32% of Brazilian workers, the equivalent of 33 million people, according to a survey by the International Stress Management Association (Isma-BR). In Germany, 80% of full-time employees complain that they are constantly under stress and 1 in 5 has experienced burnout.
Some companies have already risked reducing the daily working time – and many have been successful. In November 2017, the company Rheingans Digital Enabler was the first in Germany to apply the 5-hour-a-day model, with no salary reduction and maintaining the other benefits. Since 2002, Toyota's automotive service centre in Gothenburg, Sweden, has had the mechanics' working hours reduced from 8 to 6 hours a day, with full payment. The change generated greater productivity, less failures, less employee turnover, greater satisfaction and a 25% increase in profits. There are also other examples of successful companies in Spain, Australia, Austrian, USA, etc.
The desire of employees for a better work-life balance is in vogue. Employees want more time for their family and for themselves. This new way of valuing time has proved to be appreciated, especially among Millennials, also called Generation Y. For them and others time has become more valuable than money.
It is time for a change
Achieving a better balance between professional and personal life would enable women to return to the labour market. And it could lower the shortage of qualified professionals in several countries, such as Germany. Besides, it would allow both parents to exercise their parenthood in a responsible and conscious manner, and also making a fairer household chores division possible. Furthermore, greater diversity in the job market is also profitable. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would grow by at least 4% if unpaid work were better distributed among men and women.
Putting together all those arguments it becomes clear: It is time to change. The Covid-19 crisis has increased the burden for women. If the ends have not previously been met in an attempt to reconcile work and family, now it has gotten even worse. However, the pandemic gave us many points of reflection. Our values and priorities were put in check. In times of compulsory home office, a window was opened to show us that work is an important part of our life, but not the only one.
Who is Nadiane Smaha Kruk?
Nadiane Smaha Kruk is from Curitiba, Brazil. She graduated in Civil Engineering, with a Master and Doctorate in the Water Resources field. Until 2015, she worked as a Professor at Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica (ITA). Since 2015, she lives in Germany, where she had the opportunity to work at Technische Universität Hamburg (TUHH) as a Research Scientist. With the support of the DAAD, she studied for a year at the TU Berlin and conducted research during her doctoral studies at the University of Leipzig in 2005. She is the author of the book “30 Hours: A game-changing proposal for work-life balance and gender equity“.