Swiss perspectives in 10 languages

“Working full-time is a conversation stopper”

Women at work in the clinic in Flawil Keystone

When mothers meet each other socially in Switzerland, the first thing to be established is where they are placed on the work-home spectrum. The question is not – what do you do for a living? The question is – what percentage do you work?

The norm for mothers of young children is to work part-time, mostly less than 50 per cent. Fewer than one in ten fathers work part-time (see sidebar).

It is rare for women to ramp up to full-time again when their children are older and reap the career benefits. spoke to four mothers in four different situations.

Natalia (38, mother of two)

Works as freelance editor one day a week (children aged five and two)

Before I had children I had a rather conservative model in my head, that as a mother I would look after the children until they got to kindergarten or school age or at most work one day a week.

Sometimes I would like to have a second day of work per week but not really with the kids being looked after elsewhere, more through someone in the family, my husband preferably.

Most mothers I know work more than me. When they work a good bit more they are more likely to question my situation and when they don’t work they find it OK to work one day a week. I don’t worry too much what people think, I do what I think suits me and our family.

I find it a bit hard to understand women who work full-time when it’s not out of necessity. Because I wonder why have children if you are going to give them away five days a week? But it’s not something I comment on because it’s hard enough doing that without being criticised.

Faryal (38, mother of two)

Full-time communications expert (children aged eight and six)

In Switzerland, or at least in Bern, the prevailing mindset seems to be it’s impossible to work 100 per cent with children under the age of 15. When I had kids it was quite clear to me personally that I didn’t want to work full-time when they were so small and I think that was viewed as the normal thing to do by the community we were mixing with. 

Now that the children are a bit older and I was offered this opportunity, I have to say I found trying to juggle things much easier than I thought it would be. I did make it clear from the beginning that I would not get into a culture of working longer hours.

What I do find is that attitude still prevails especially amongst the mothers of children who go to school with my daughter. It’s a bit of a conversation stopper. I have the feeling that people shake their heads in disbelief when I tell them here I am working five days a week with school-going children.

An important factor which makes life and work easier to manage is my husband, who is very hands-on when it comes to family life and very supportive of my career development.

In Bern I think it works, especially as the city has set up a very good system of after-school care and I really applaud them for that.

Nancy (41, mother of three)

Full-time at home (children eight, five and one )

I worked 100 per cent in an office job up until my first child’s birth and I’ve been an at-home Mom, general manager of this house since then. We have a big house and garden and kids, my plate is full. We’re lucky here that my husband works full-time and with his income we can afford me being at home.

As soon as my first daughter was here I thought this is natural and normal for me, I thought this is fine with me. Before I was in two minds, I thought I didn’t want anybody telling me I had to work part-time and at the same time I didn’t want to be forced to go back to work full-time. I just wasn’t sure.

Within the first week or two I knew that I was going to enjoy this and my husband left the decision to me. He’s glad that I’m at home as he’d rather have me looking after the kids than somebody we don’t know.

Maybe when my youngest goes to kindergarten I’d like to go to work but if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen. I take it one year at a time and I don’t think I’m missing out on anything.

Eight years ago it was more of a surprise to people, especially women, that I wasn’t going back to work.  Women my age and older expect you to go back to work and to want to go back, to not be satisfied.

Jacqueline (47, mother of one)

Runs own company (baby five months old)

I’ve owned and run a small advertising agency with a partner for the past 18 years.  We have two employees. It’s always been possible for us to get our work done in 40 hours per week. We are a good team and very efficient.

I wasn’t sure exactly how much I would work after the baby was born. I thought I would see how the child was, how intensive looking after her would be. I was lucky that my business partner was able to take on more at the end of the pregnancy and the first months after the birth. I have a lot of flexibility.

This week I began working properly although I have been doing a little from home all along and staying informed. From now on I will work two days per week at the office while a child minder looks after the baby at home. On the other days I expect to do three to four hours of work from home.

I wouldn’t want to work five days, I find it a pity. But as an older mother I am not typical. My career is already well established and I’m no longer at the stage of building it up like a woman who is 30 or 35.

People say that work and motherhood is a double burden but for me it’s a double pleasure to be able to do both.

Between 1997 and 2010, there was an increase in the total number of hours worked by fathers and mothers in couple households. Mothers are spending somewhat less time doing household and family work, but ever longer hours in paid employment. Fathers are spending as much time in paid employment as before and significantly more time on household and family work.

Approximately 88% of fathers and 16% of mothers with children aged under 25 are employed full-time.

On the other hand, 61% of mothers but only 7.6% of fathers are employed part-time.

Since 1992, the share of mothers who are economically inactive has fallen from approximately 40% to 23%.

Three quarters of women who live with a partner in a household with children under 15 have sole responsibility for the housework.

Only 4% of couple households choose a model in which both partners work part-time.

(Source: Federal Gender Equality Office)

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR