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Work and Private Life: A Balancing Act

Press Release No. 24/2010
28 January 2010
Research on the sustainable anchorage of work-life balance in corporate culture

How can a balanced and equable relationship between work and private life be achieved? With working conditions and lifestyles changing, this question gains increasing significance. A wide-ranging research project at Heidelberg University has been instituted aiming to identify the concepts and instruments with which a “work-life balance” can be achieved and sustainably anchored in corporate culture. In this project, the Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology headed by Prof. Dr. Karlheinz Sonntag cooperates with the Daimler company and other organisations from the spheres of industry, public administration, justice and higher education. The project is scheduled to run for 3 ½ years and will receive funding to the tune of approx. 740,000 Euros from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

“It is difficult for an increasing number of working people to reconcile the increasing vocational demands for mobility and flexible time management with their private commitments and family duties,” says Professor Sonntag. “One operative factor is the low care quota for children. This stands in contradiction to changing gender roles and makes a return to work after the initial parenting period doubly difficult.” Employer offerings like teleworking, child care, part-time schemes, health and fitness support or back-to-work programmes are designed to help staff members achieve a balance between work and their private lives. “These strategies and measures must be regarded as part of the corporate culture,” Professor Sonntag urges. “Work-life balance is a crucial contribution to the quality of working life. And we know that it makes good economic sense as well.”

The scientists intend to use the project to find out which factors are operative in bringing about a balanced relation between working life and private life in various target groups. They will also be determining how much concrete demand there is among the working population for supporting measures. In addition, Professor Sonntag and his team will be investigating how existing offerings can be better tailored to the actual needs of employees and how impediments preventing staff members from taking advantage of them can be removed. “Alongside attitudes and role models among the employees we shall also be looking above all at the role played by company leaders,” says Professor Sonntag. “They are crucial for the creation of a corporate culture in which work-life balance is firmly ensconced in active approaches and not just in words and values.”

To this end the industrial and organisational psychologists will be conducting investigations among their partners in this integrated project. Alongside Daimler two further companies are involved, as well as the Municipality of Fellbach, the District Court of Heidelberg and Heidelberg University. The organisations stand to profit from this collaboration as they will be provided with a “tool-kit” for the management of work-life balance measures comprising analysis and description methods, checklists and catalogues of measures indicating various different procedures and approaches. To coordinate the initial work stages, the project participants will be gathering for a so-called “kick-off meeting” in Stuttgart on 29 January 2010. The project funded by the BMBF is part of the research programme “Change-Ability: Balancing Flexibility and Stability”.

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