Work-life balance - Lessons from the Netherlands


As an Australian living and working in The Netherlands for 15 years, hardly a day goes by without someone still asking me: “Why are you living here instead of Australia?”

Well there are a number of reasons but to make a long story short, I have a great work-life balance.

The Netherlands is pretty progressive in its labor laws enabling flexibility since 2000 for men and women to work part-time and have the same rights as full-time employees. [if !supportLineBreakNewLine] [endif]

“Het nieuw werken” (the new way of working) is a phrase dating back to 2005 for companies like Microsoft and national Telco KPN, enabling their people to work where and when they want with the focus clearly on results and productivity.

In 2010 the Dutch Government started a nationwide campaign to promote flexibility among employees.

To further stimulate flexible working conditions, the Flexible Working Act (Wwf) came into force on 1 January 2016 with the intent of making it even easier for employees to work from home and carry out their work at times that best suits them.

Under the law today, after six months of employment an employee can request an adjustment to their working hours and, in companies where there are at least 10 employees, they can also request a change of workplace.

Companies maintain the right to refuse the request, but only if there is a demonstrably good reason for it such as it causes problems for business operations or the safety of the employee is believed to be at risk.

For me personally, it was really important that I could still develop my career in combination with raising a family. Living in a country where labor laws were already established and a generally positive part-time culture was in place, meant I had the ability to choose how I combine everything.

I’ve worked for Aquent, an international specialist in Design, Marketing & Digital recruitment, for almost six years. I’m P&L responsible for the Dutch branch and have a team of 11 employees.

Aquent has always had a flexible approach to balancing work and private life while running a structured operation with flexible working arrangements available for all staff working in their European offices.

When the Employment Act changes came into effect in the Netherlands, we embraced it as an opportunity to also offer staggered hours (8.30am-5.30am or 9.30am – 6.30pm) to ensure the team could work to times that both suit our operations and their life outside of work.

Offering flexible working hours and having employment laws in place to safeguard part-time workers does create the opportunity for a balanced household, however culture and mentality plays an equally large role.

A lot of households in the Netherlands already split the logistics of kids and work and Dutch men commonly work four days a week enjoying a “Papa Day” as well.

The big picture view is that by offering flexible working hours to all (parents, students, individuals and so on), is that you have a much larger talent pool which is multi-disciplinary, diverse in life phase and experience, inclusive and engaged because of the balance between work and their private life.

In my experience, when someone can combine their work and private life you have happier and more productive employees, students, parents etc. Given a vast majority of the labor market works part-time, as an employer in the Netherlands it’s a big pool of talent that you don’t want to exclude yourself from.

Running a company on a 36 hour a week contract, I’m in the office four days a week and every Wednesday I’m home.

Of course the reality is that I earn 10 per cent less, work around 45 hours a week and Wednesday is not a “day off” as I’m running a mum’s taxi service.

But at this phase of my life with two children who go to daycare three out of five days a week, I feel pretty good about the balance between work and family. When I’m at work, I’m at work and when I’m with my family, I’m with my family.

I’m able to structure my face-to-face meetings in the office, take care of my admin and reports during my commute on the train and respond to urgent hangout chats or calls on my out-of-office day if need be.

Smartphones, laptops and cloud-based technologies play a crucial role enabling me to connect (or not!) with the business.

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