The nations of the world vary dramatically in both their use and treatment of employees in their contingent workforce. Contingent workers include temporary workers hired through temporary help agencies, temporary workers hired directly, voluntary and “non-voluntary” part-timers (the non-voluntary would prefer full-time work) and the self-employed. International comparisons are difficult due to differences in the definitions of each of these categories of worker.
Overman (1993) stated that the temporary help industry in Western Europe is about 50% larger than it is in the United States, where about 1% of the workforce is made up of temporary workers. Temporary workers are almost non-existent in Italy and Spain.
While the subgroups of contingent workers vary considerably, the majority of part-time workers in all European countries are women at low salary levels. In the United States, contingent workers also tend to be young, female and members of minority groups. Countries vary considerably in the degree to which they protect contingent workers with laws and regulations covering their working conditions, health and other benefits. The United Kingdom, the United States, Korea, Hong Kong, Mexico and Chile are the least regulated, with France, Germany, Argentina and Japan having fairly rigid requirements (Overman 1993). A new emphasis on providing contingent workers with greater benefits through increased legal and regulatory requirements will help to alleviate occupational stress among those workers. However, those increased regulatory requirements may result in employers’ hiring fewer workers overall due to increased benefit costs.
An alternative to contingent work is “job sharing,” which can take three forms: two employees share the responsibilities for one full-time job; two employees share one full-time position and divide the responsibilities, usually by project or client group; or two employees perform completely separate and unrelated tasks but are matched for purposes of headcount (Mattis 1990). Research has indicated that most job sharing, like contingent work, is done by women. However, unlike contingent work, job sharing positions are often subject to the protection of wage and hour laws and may involve professional and even managerial responsibilities. Within the European Community, job sharing is best known in Britain, where it was first introduced in the public sector (Lewis, Izraeli and Hootsmans 1992). The United States Federal Government, in the early 1990s, implemented a nationwide job sharing programme for its employees; in contrast, many state governments have been establishing job sharing networks since 1983 (Lee 1983). Job sharing is viewed as one way to balance work and family responsibilities.
Flexiplace and Home Work
Many alternative terms are used to denote flexiplace and home work: telecommuting, the alternative worksite, the electronic cottage, location-independent work, the remote workplace and work-at-home. For our purposes, this category of work includes “work performed at one or more ‘predetermined locations’ such as the home or a satellite work space away from the conventional office where at least some of the communications maintained with the employer occur through the use of telecommunications equipment such as computers, telephones and fax machines” (Pitt-Catsouphes and Marchetta 1991).
LINK Resources, Inc., a private-sector firm monitoring worldwide telecommuting activity, has estimated that there were 7.6 million telecommuters in 1993 in the United States out of the over 41.1 million work-at-home households. Of these telecommuters 81% worked part-time for employers with less than 100 employees in a wide array of industries across many geographical locations. Fifty-three% were male, in contrast to figures showing a majority of females in contingent and job-sharing work. Research with fifty US companies also showed that the majority of telecommuters were male with successful flexible work arrangements including supervisory positions (both line and staff), client-centred work and jobs that included travel (Mattis 1990). In 1992, 1.5 million Canadian households had at least one person who operated a business from home.
Lewis, Izraeli and Hootsman(1992) reported that, despite earlier predictions, telecommuting has not taken over Europe. They added that it is best established in the United Kingdom and Germany for professional jobs including computer specialists, accountants and insurance agents.
In contrast, some home-based work in both the United States and Europe pays by the piece and involves short deadlines. Typically, while telecommuters tend to be male, homeworkers in low-paid, piece-work jobs with no benefits tend to be female (Hall 1990).
Recent research has concentrated on identifying; (a) the type of person best suited for home work; (b) the type of work best accomplished at home; (c) procedures to ensure successful home work experiences and (d) reasons for organizational support (Hall 1990; Christensen 1992).
The general approach to social welfare issues and programmes varies throughout the world depending upon the culture and values of the nation studied. Some of the differences in welfare facilities in the United States, Canada and Western Europe are documented by Ferber, O’Farrell and Allen (1991).
Recent proposals for welfare reform in the United States suggest overhauling traditional public assistance in order to make recipients work for their benefits. Cost estimates for welfare reform range from US$15 billion to $20 billion over the next five years, with considerable cost savings projected for the long term. Welfare administration costs in the United States for such programmes as food stamps, Medicaid and Aid to Families with Dependent Children have risen 19% from 1987 to 1991, the same percentage as the increase in the number of beneficiaries.
Canada has instituted a “work sharing” programme as an alternative to layoffs and welfare. The Canada Employment and Immigration Commission (CEIC) programme enables employers to face cutbacks by shortening the work week by one to three days and paying reduced wages accordingly. For the days not worked, the CEIC arranges for the workers to draw normal unemployment insurance benefits, an arrangement that helps to compensate them for the lower wages received from their employer and to relieve the hardships of being laid off. The duration of the programme is 26 weeks, with a 12-week extension. Workers can use work-sharing days for training and the federal Canadian government may reimburse the employer for a major portion of the direct training costs through the “Canadian Jobs Strategy”.
The degree of child-care support is dependent upon the sociological underpinnings of the nation’s culture (Scharlach, Lowe and Schneider 1991). Cultures that:
- support the full participation of women in the workplace
- view child care as a public responsibility rather than a concern of individual families
- value child care as an extension of the educational system, and
- view early childhood experiences as important and formative
will devote greater resources to supporting those programmes. Thus, international comparisons are complicated by these four factors and “high quality care” may be dependent on the needs of children and families in specific cultures.
Within the European Community, France provides the most comprehensive child-care programme. The Netherlands and the United Kingdom were late in addressing this issue. Only 3% of British employers provided some form of child care in 1989. Lamb et al. (1992) present nonparental child-care case studies from Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Israel, Japan, the People’s Republic of China, Cameroon, East Africa and Brazil. In the United States, approximately 3,500 private companies of the 17 million firms nationwide offer some type of child-care assistance to their employees. Of those firms, approximately 1,100 offer flexible spending accounts, 1,000 offer information and referral services and fewer than 350 have onsite or near-site child-care centres (Bureau of National Affairs 1991).
In a research study in the United States, 44% of men and 76% of women with children under six missed work in the previous three months for a family-related reason. The researchers estimated that the organizations they studied paid over $4 million in salary and benefits to employees who were absent because of child-care problems (see study by Galinsky and Hughes in Fernandez 1990). A study by the United States General Accounting Office in 1981 showed that American companies lose over $700 million a year because of inadequate parental leave policies.
It will take only 30 years (from the time of this writing, 1994) for the proportion of elderly in Japan to climb from 7% to 14%, while in France it took over 115 years and in Sweden 90 years. Before the end of the century, one out of every four persons in many member States of the Commission of the European Communities will be over 60 years old. Yet, until recently in Japan, there were few institutions for the elderly and the issue of eldercare has found scant attention in Britain and other European countries (Lewis, Izraeli and Hootsmans 1992). In America, there are approximately five million older Americans who require assistance with day-to-day tasks in order to remain in the community, and 30 million who are currently age 65 or older. Family members provide more than 80% of the assistance that these elderly people need (Scharlach, Lowe and Schneider 1991).
Research has shown that those employees who have elder-care responsibilities report significantly greater overall job stress than do other employees (Scharlach, Lowe and Schneider 1991). These caretakers often experience emotional stress and physical and financial strain. Fortunately, global corporations have begun to recognize that difficult family situations can result in absenteeism, decreased productivity and lower morale, and they are beginning to provide an array of “cafeteria benefits” to assist their employees. (The name “cafeteria” is intended to suggest that employees may select the benefits that would be most helpful to them from an array of benefits.) Benefits might include flexible work hours, paid “family illness” hours, referral services for family assistance, or a dependent-care salary-reduction account that allows employees to pay for elder care or day care with pre-tax dollars.
The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Charles Anderson of the Personnel Resources and Development Center of the United States Office of Personnel Management, Tony Kiers of the C.A.L.L. Canadian Work and Family Service, and Ellen Bankert and Bradley Googins of the Center on Work and Family of Boston University in acquiring and researching many of the references cited in this article.