Nearly four months after general elections were held in Spain, my country still is without a government! There is a high chance of having to repeat the elections in June and some journalists are already talking about the next term (whenever it officially begins) as the one defined by “improving work-life balance”.
All Spanish political parties have recognized that a better balance of work and personal life is not only a fair aspiration of millions of families but also a requisite to address the dramatic challenges of our rapidly aging Western-European societies. That unifying thought, in a country, where political powers can’t even agree on state borders or the desired form of government is per se quite amazing.
As a Spanish citizen who has been living in Germany for a number of years, I have often complained about how difficult it is in Germany to pursue a “career” –whatever that means for each one of us- while also fulfilling the very demanding role of mother and wife. The realities, in terms of expectations, involvement of the extended family (mainly grandparents) in the kids’ education as well as other more prosaic family chores, availability of day-care infrastructure for babies and toddlers, affordability of in-house help, maternity leave rights etc. etc. could hardy be more different in both countries, and nevertheless, the (titanic) challenge remains comparable.
Here are some of the facts and figures published in an article in El Pais on April 11, referring to that topic in Spain:
• Spaniards are working annually 1,689 hours on average, much more than Germans (1,371 hours) and Swedish citizens (1,609 Hours).
• Nevertheless, the productivity per worked hour amounted to just 32.1€ in Spain versus €42.8 in Germany and €45.5 in Sweden.
• Employees are 19% more productive in Companies offering flexible and rational working schedules.
• 8 out of 10 women recognize to have difficulties to conciliate their jobs and families.
• 30% of the women working as freelancers choose that regime because of the related work schedule flexibility.
Interestingly enough, the discussion in both nations always revolves around the question what the state is obliged to do. In Spain for instance, the coalition agreement forged by PSOE (socialist party) and Ciudadanos (center party) - this coalition currently seems highly unlikely to come into power - foresees increasing the “maternity leave” from 16 to 26 weeks (8 weeks compulsory for each parent). Other Parties, advocate for different solutions, ranging from adding 10 extra days leave for disabled parents or parents with a disabled child to equally distribution maternity / paternity leave; as of those first days and weeks were really defining of a “project” – raising and educating children- which, at least officially, takes 18 years.
In Spain, where working to 8:00 PM or later is the norm in many industries, and staying longer than your boss seems a requisite for the next promotion, the debate at its core revolves inevitably around the necessity to shorten in general and rationalize in particular working schedules. Although such a discussion is more than welcome, sometimes I have the feeling that we simply expect the government to solve all those issues via legislation.
In my opinion, women and men alike should strive to incorporate in the discussion notions like long-term commitment -of both parents- to thrive together in the endeavor of raising happy kids, like determination, resolution and flexibility to face daily problems or like women empowerment to pursue their professional life. Despite all, the real challenge remains to enjoy those years, because, so exhausting as they are, they really go by very fast.