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Balancing Work, Life, And Children
How parents manage work/life balance at a leading French company
Andrew Gruen (agruen)     Print Article 
Published 2010-03-16 09:52 (KST)   
When asked what he would do without access to a company provided creche (nursery), Benjamin Behar had a simple response: laughter.

Behar, a merchandising manager for Luxury Products in L'Oreal's Latin American businesses, explained that without access to quality childcare his life would be radically different.

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He used his small, rural hometown as an example. There, he said, government funded creche could only fill 10 percent of the demand.

"So, the only solution is to have someone at home, or someone who works at home," Behar said.

For Behar, who had just returned from Columbia for work, and his wife -- an architect -- a lack of access to childcare would mean an end to one of their careers.

Instead, Behar and his wife make use of spaces at a private creche, just five minutes walk from the gleaming L'Oreal headquarters in Clichy. At the nursery, called Babiliu, L'Oreal reserves places employees.
Benjamin Behar

The costs are split between Behar, L'Oreal, and the state. Behar, who was the first L'Oreal employee to use the company creche scheme, said he paid about 700 Euros per month when he had two children there. For one, he pays about 400 Euros.

Not only was it a convenient way to care for his children, Behar said, but it also let him split childcare duities with his wife. Because the creche was open early, he could drop his daughters off on his way to work, and his wife could pick them up in the afternoon.

The French government incentivizes the creation of these company-supported creche, as a way to increase overall capacity.

Since 2004, the state has given companies a "Family Tax Credit," for implementing family-friendly policies like the creation of day care facilities. The credit is for 25 percent of the amount spent, up to 500,000 Euros, per year.

The kind of direct support for parents with children found at L'Oreal is, however, still relatively uncommon in France. Instead, most companies rely on financial benefits alone.

Cash, not in-kind services, are the norm

For most French companies, the question is not wether they should support parents, but how.

A 2007 Institut National d'Etudes Demographiques (INED) survey found that just about 75 percent of employers believe it is a "duty to help reconcile work and family life."

That same study found that most employers rely on cash, rather than the direct provision of services. Just 2 percent of companies provided daycare services for employees, while 18 percent provided a childcare benefit and 21 percent provided child education benefits.

The largest and most common of these monetary benefits offered by French employers is a supplement to the legally mandated maternity leave.

While the state covers approximately 60 percent of a mother's salary when she is on maternity leave, many companies choose to supplement that government benefit.

L'Oreal, the 31st largest company in France according to Forbes Magazine, is one such company. They supplement the government stipend to bring their employees total income to 100 percent of their full-time salary.

Sophie Meyer, who works for the company's Active Cosmetics division, recently took advantage of her maternity leave.
Sophie Meyer

The chic 32-year-old and mother of four just returned form an 11-month maternity leave, after the birth of triplets.

While away, she said her colleagues helped to make sure work was done, and she kept in touch with the office by phone and Internet.

She was also a bit modest: her work product was clearly exemplary. She was promoted while on maternity leave.

Mothers are not the only ones to take advantage of leave at the birth of their children. At L'Oreal, fathers are offered 11 days off. Last year, some 200 fathers took that time off -- up from about 160 the year before. All at full pay.

Other forms of financial support include bonuses at key family events. According to the INED, more than half of all employers offer a bonus at the birth of a child. Slightly fewer than 40 percent offer a bonus when an employee gets married.

Flexibility, other benefits on the rise

Another benefit designed to help parents care for their offspring is a flexible work schedule.

At L'Oreal, parents may choose to make their work schedule fit their children's school schedule.

For example, many schoolchildren have Wednesdays off. Parents may also take that day away from the office, in order to care for their children.

Of the 11,076 employees at L'Oreal's offices in France, some 350 use the Wednesday vacation, according to Jean-Dominique Tortil, the company's head of communications for Asia.

Nationwide, according to the INED, more than 80 percent of companies provide leave time at least in specific cases. Just over 70 percent offer part-time opportunities to employees, and about 60 percent allow employees to have flexible daily schedules in specific, pre-set circumstances.

Some of the other child services now available in France include paid leave for sick children, help with housing, and holiday-period camps for school-age children.

The next generation

Back at the Babiliu creche, the staff of 14 (which includes medical and psychological specialists), helps to prepare the next generation of French citizens.

Their mothers and fathers are at work. They are learning to socialize with peers.

And they are eating baby-sized wedges of Brie cheese.

Additional Documents:

L'Oreal has made a large commitment to supporting families with children. Their company policies are outlined in three official documents, attached below. All three are in French.

- Parenthood Charter 
- Work/Life Balance Agreement 
- Gender Equality Agreement 

©2010 OhmyNews

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