Swiss men shun part-time option

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin (left) believes more men should consider part-time work Keystone

Swiss men say they are more willing than ever to work part-time, whether it's to raise a family, study or simply escape the daily grind.

This content was published on March 24, 2003 - 20:26

However, a government report released on Monday shows that while men may want to work less, few actually do.

Speaking at the launch of a campaign to encourage more men into part-time jobs, Patricia Schulz, director of the Federal Office for Equal Opportunities, said many still worry about the cost to their careers of taking time out.

"Many men are still afraid of being stuck in the so-called 'daddy-track'," Schulz told swissinfo.

"The man who asks to work part-time may be considered by his colleagues or superiors not to be serious about his work."

Shorter hours

Part-time work remains a fact of life in Switzerland, and more and more people are opting for scale back their working hours.

Whereas ten years ago only one in four Swiss was employed part-time, in 2001 it was closer to one in three.

Women make up the majority of part-time workers. Of the 1.25 million people working less than the standard working week, only 250,000 (or 20 per cent) are men.

Swiss policy-makers now want to target the 290,000 employed men who say they would work less if they could.

But Schulz says many social and economic barriers discourage men from taking the plunge.

And with unemployment on the rise, along with widespread economic uncertainty, men may be less inclined to jeopardise their career by asking their bosses for part-time work.

Career choice

Called "fairplay-at-work", the government's information campaign details ways for men to negotiate part-time status. Schulz says it is all about reminding men that they have a choice.

"From what we see of young people, a lot of young men don't want to invest all of their time and energy in their career," she said.

"I think we'll see important developments in the coming years, because young people want a much more balanced life."

Schulz says part-time work is increasingly being seen as a way of linking family commitments with a meaningful career.

However, while more men say they want to work less, only eight per cent of those currently working part-time do so for family reasons.

The government's latest research shows that most men work part-time in order to pursue further education, take a second job or for other career-related reasons.

Family values

Silvia Strub, the study's author, told swissinfo that many men still had problems with using the family as an excuse for working less.

"I think, for men, it takes a lot courage," she said.

"They have to make it clear that if they spend more time with their family, they will still be very effective at work, or maybe even more effective for [their companies]."

Officially, the Swiss government supports policies that encourage part-time work, even though the country has fewer men working part-time than most of its neighbours.

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin is one of those who believes more men and women are keen to enjoy their private lives.

"They have families and children who require attention and participation," he said.

Economic benefits

Schulz says companies are increasingly seeing the economic benefits of allowing workers to spend more time at home, citing improved loyalty and motivation.

Many of Switzerland's biggest employers, including major banks, insurers, drug companies and key state enterprises, such as the Swiss Federal Railways, have part-time work policies.

"They are not doing it out of charity," Schulz said. "They are doing it out of the sound economic calculation that this will attract better people and that it's the smart thing to do".

swissinfo, Jacob Greber

Key facts

1.25 million Swiss, or 33 per cent of all employed people, worked part-time in 2001.
Of those, around one million, or 80 per cent, were women.
A recent study found that one in three full-time female workers (190,000) and one in six full-time male workers (290,000) would opt for part-time work if they could.
53 per cent of women give family reasons for working part-time.
Only eight per cent of men cite family reasons for working part-time. Most embark on further study or a second job.
Part-time work is more common in Switzerland among teachers, media professionals, health care and social workers.

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