Work/family issues

Introductory note. The importance of facilitating reconciliation of work and family responsibilities for both genders has become a matter of growing interest, both in the public and private sectors, if employers are to attract and retain the highest quality workforce. Only good conditions of work for all employees, which enable women and men to reconcile their occupational and family obligations, will ensure implementation of the principle of equality of treatment. Moreover, studies have shown that, as long as such policies and measures as those governing maternity/family leave, part-time work, flexible working hours, etc., primarily target women, women will be caught in the traditionalist role of assuming the larger share of family responsibilities. When individual issues are treated in detail they will be dealt with under the appropriate chapter and section, e.g., special leave under section 3.4., flexi-time under section 3.6. and spouse employment under section 9.2. The work of Staff Counsellors, which has always been concerned with work/family issues, has previously also been treated under the relevant substantive sections.

(1) At its 78th session (March 1993: ACC/1993/6, paras. 119-122) CCAQ reviewed the report of the fourth meeting of the Staff Counsellors held in Vienna in October 1992, in which they had put forward specific, action-oriented recommendations. CCAQ expressed its appreciation for the work of the Staff Counsellors and endorsed a statement on the role and function of a staff counselling service in a UN system organization, except for the job title as it was not considered suitable for all organizations' environments. The Committee agreed with a proposal to review special leave entitlements for family-related matters and requested its secretariat to study the matter in the overall context of the work/family agenda. The Committee also endorsed the proposals in respect of the provision of counselling services for staff members and their families who were sent on emergency missions or other field assignments. The Committee agreed that the next meeting of Staff Counsellors should take place in 1995.

(2) At its 82nd session (April 1995: ACC/1995/5, paras. 106-123) CCAQ engaged in its first global discussion of work/family issues on the basis of a paper by its secretariat (ACC/1995/PER/R.3) showing why a work/family agenda would help the UN system's business strategy and what were the latest work-family developments outside the UN common system. The discussion was instigated by the decision of ACC that organizations should consider the introduction of measures which would lead to a climate conducive to the equal participation of men and women in the work of the organizations, such as flexible working hours, part-time work, job-sharing schemes, child care and special leave arrangements. The Committee recognized the critical linkage of the issue with the application of the Noblemaire principle and performance management. If organizations were to ensure that their conditions of service were competitive and were to upgrade the efficiency and effectiveness of organizational performance, senior management and Member States had to be made aware of the cost/benefit of policies and programmes designed to allow employees to meet their family responsibilities alongside those arising out of their work, in particular, for expatriate staff. The UN system had to regain its position as a model employer in its human resources policies and practices, as well as with respect to remuneration.

(3) CCAQ considered spouse employment to be a priority area for action, the lack of provisions in this area were increasingly an impediment to the recruitment and retention of quality staff. Action in four areas was considered, increased cooperation among the organizations to facilitate the employment of spouses, contacts with other agencies and organizations and with the private sector to the same end, requests for host governments to facilitate the issuance of work permits and the amendment of policies, where they still existed, barring the appointment of spouses within the same organization.

(4) The Committee, recognizing the growing need to keep abreast of developments outside the United Nations system and to transform the common system workplaces into more family-friendly environments and recognizing also the contribution the Staff Counselors, as an important source of support for personnel and their families faced with family/personal problems, could make to the development of these new social policies and programmes, decided to consider adopting a policy framework putting forward the organizations' commitment to creating and maintaining a family-supportive work environment which each organization would use to develop its organization-specific policies and guidelines with managers held accountable for its implementation.

(5) CCAQ felt that where these measures were not already in place, organizations should consider the introduction of flexible working hours and the enhancement of existing arrangements in order to allow sufficient flexibility to employees to arrange their work day around their family needs (day-care centre hours, etc.) as well as the introduction of greater flexibility in part-time work arrangements, through reduced work schedules ranging from 50 to 90 per cent of the normal work week, on a temporary or more permanent basis. The Committee decided to study a number of related issues, such as flexitime, spouse employment, special and family leave and particularly whether the current policies regulating salaries and allowances and other entitlements were designed in a way that would respond to family needs. The Committee also considered that the development of pertinent work/family programmes would be enhanced by organizations undertaking attitude surveys, designed with specialist advice to the extent required.

(6) At its 82nd session (April 1995: ACC/1995/5, para. 148) the Committee took note of the report of the fifth meeting of the Staff Counsellors (Geneva, March 1995) and confirmed that they should meet every two or three years, depending on their agenda. The Committee requested the Counsellors to concentrate on providing input in respect of the work/family agenda and invited the Staff Counsellors to experiment with teleconferencing to keep more regularly in touch.

(7) At the second part of its 83rd session (September 1995: ACC/1995/19, para. 92) CCAQ adopted for ACC's endorsement a work/family agenda policy (ibid., annex IV) putting forward the organizations' commitment to create and maintain a family-supportive work environment. On the basis of this general framework, each organization would consider the best means for developing more specific organizational policies and guidelines. The Committee also took note of a research paper on an alternative work arrangement, the compressed work week (See Section 3.6). ACC adopted the policy.

(8) At its 87th session (July 1997: ACC/1997/13, paras. 12(c) & 19-20) CCAQ agreed on a basic text to be incorporated in each organizations rules or administrative provisions on the use of uncertified sick leave to cover family-related reasons.

(9) At its first meeting (June 2001: ACC/2001/HLCM/7, paras. 31-33) the Human Resources (HR) Network considered the report of the Ad Hoc Meeting on Social Policy Issues in the UN System Workplace which had met in May 2001 in Geneva and had brought together HR specialists, staff counsellors, representatives of the UN Medical Services and UNSECOORD. It was the first such event held under the new working arrangements of the HLCM. The impetus for the meeting had been domestic violence that had led to the death of staff members on at least three occasions. The staff members had been abused for some time and the abuse was common knowledge amongst their colleagues. UN System staff were increasingly having to confront situations that placed greater demands on them and could result in levels of stress becoming intolerable. Stress in the workplace affected not only the professional capacity of individuals but often impaired their ability to function appropriately within their family and community. There was growing recognition by employers throughout the world of the immediate linkages between work, family and well being; employers were therefore much more aware of the significant economic impact that effective employee assistance programmes had on organizational effectiveness.

(10) The report of the ad hoc meeting put forward a series of recommendations related to stress in the workplace, violence in the workplace and domestic violence. A number of initiatives could be taken at the level of individual organizations and at the inter-agency level. In line with the ACC policy statement on work/family, the meeting recognized the fundamental linkages between having a socially responsible workplace which was safe and fair and at the same time having a healthy, productive and creative workforce. The Network expressed appreciation for the outcome of the meeting, which represented an important breakthrough in dealing with these complex issues for the first time in a holistic manner, and recognized (a) the challenges and sensitivities associated with these issues, (b) the linkages between work, family, the well-being of individuals and the productivity of the workforce, (c) the legal ramifications and (d) the need to translate words into a duty to care. It requested the ACC secretariat to constitute a multi-disciplinary task force, comprised of HR and legal specialists and draw upon the knowledge of staff counsellors, security personnel and others, to develop the broad outline of a core policy for adoption by executive heads to deal with verbal, physical and psychological (bullying and mobbing) abuses, sexual harassment, economic abuse and abuse of power. It agreed that whatever policies emerged should aim at zero tolerance with respect to violence in the workplace and commended the work done on competencies for the staff counselling function which eventually could be used as a model by organizations (ibid. annex IV).

(11) At its March 2003 meeting (CEB/2003/HLCM/12, para. 23) the HR Network was informed by WFP that a new spouse employment policy had been developed by UNDG and WFP requested that the item be considered at the next meeting. The Network decided to place the item on the agenda of its next meeting so as to review arrangements across all organizations since not all organizations were part of UNDG. It noted the interest of the UNDG members to implement the policy with the understanding that it could later be adjusted to accommodate other organizations' views. (12) At its 6th session (October 2003: CEB/2003/5, para. 22) HLCM held discussions in the context of system-wide mobility with respect to Dual careers/Access to work permits. HLCM's decisions are reported in section 9.7, para. 29.

(12) At its 14th session (CEB/2007/HR/14, paras.62-64), the HR Network welcomed that the CEB Secretariat had hired a consultant to follow up on a recommendation from the HR Network to deal with common work/life balance issues. The Objective was to create a framework for the oversight and management of programmes and initiatives pertaining to staff well-being and work-life balance.  It would include topics such as HIV in the workplace, dual career and staff mobility, staff benefits such as parental leave, after-service health insurance and flexible working arrangement, as well as gender balance.

The framework would be accompanied by a business plan for coordination and harmonization of good practices and an approach for cost-sharing or extra budgetary funding.  The business plan would also address the required staff to manage this work in the long term, as well as outreach activities and a website. 

(13) At the fifteenth session of the HR Network in Rome (CEB/2008/HLCM/HR/17, paras. 101-102), the Network recognized the value of a good balance between working life and personal/family life of staff members, also in terms of efficiency and effectiveness gains for the organizations.  The Committee strongly encouraged all its members to promote and implement work/life balance within their organizations.  HLCM awaits recommendations by the HR Network on the adoption of best practices in this area.

(14) At its fifteenth session in Rome, 2008 (CEB/2008/3, paras. 88-99), recognizing the value of a good balance between working life and personal/family life of UN system staff, also in terms of efficiency and effectiveness gains for the organizations they belong to, HLCM strongly encouraged all its members to promote and implement work/life balance within their organizations. HLCM would await recommendations by the HR Network on the adoption of best practices in this domain.

(15) At its seventeenth session (CEB/2009/HLCM/HR/27, para.6), the HR Network appreciated the Commission’s interest in this area; Took note of the update regarding the meeting of Geneva-based organizations, which will be looking at Geneva-specific issues and communication to staff and managers; Welcomed the initiative to continue with further meetings of the New York-based organizations and other European-based organizations and noted that IFAD agreed to host the next meeting in Rome; Further noted the request from the staff representatives bodies to develop a booklet for staff containing information on Work Life Balance Issues and to participate in further meetings on this issue; Agreed that Work Life Balance issues should be linked to the work of the Working Groups on Appendix “D” and Review of Field Duty Stations; Confirmed that the CEB Secretariat would present the document to the Commission for information.
The Commission noted that the report of the CEB/HR Network encapsulated the practices of the common system, and lent its support to the crafting of policies, which meet the needs of the modern working environment. It encouraged the CEB to continue its work in that area, and to keep the Commission informed of further developments. The Commission further noted that some of the work/life balance measures mentioned in the CEB report fell under the purview of the Commission, while others were subject to the authority of Executive Heads. The Commission requested that any proposals the HR Network might have in regard to work/life balance measures, which were under the purview of the Commission, should be brought to the Commission for its consideration and review.

(16) At its seventeenth session (CEB/2009/HLCM/HR/27, paras.24-25), the HR Network was briefed by Ms. Duda Suzic-Kofi of UNHCR on the Term of Reference of the Staff and Stress Counsellor’s Group, these had been revised with input from UNDSS.   A briefing on the Group’s last meeting in October and activities was also provided. The Network requested that the Minutes of the Counsellors’ Group be circulated to the HR Network rapidly as there was an impact on the Work Plan especially in relation to the Security issues being discussed; Noted  that  the  roles  between  the  SSCG  and CISMU were clarified through CISMU’s participation in the SSCG annual meeting, revision of the  groups  TORs  as  well  as  through the Critical Incident Stress Working Group reporting to IASMN: while the SSCG will be dealing with staff  well-being issues  at large, the well-being issues related to security will be referred to CISMU and CISWG. The Network also suggested that the TORs be renamed into the Mandate of the SSCG, edited to incorporate the feedback and re-distributed to the HR Network members by email for their adoption and presentation to the HLCM together with the proposal for formalization of the SSCG under the HR Network.

(17) At its eighteenth session (CEB/2009/HLCM/HR/46/Rev.1, paras.41-42), the HR Network requested that the Terms of Reference be further clarified and fine-tuned, detailing the lines of accountability and formalising the working relationships with the CEB Secretariat and the Staff Wellbeing Working Group, ensuring that they were in line with general HR Network working modalities. The Network also requested that the Staff Counsellors Special Interest Group developed a Work Plan and circulate it to the Network.  The Work Plan will be reviewed by the HR Network every two years.

(18) At its eighteenth session (CEB/2009/HLCM/HR/46/Rev.1, paras.73-74), the HR Network supported to re-name the working group from Work/Life Balance to Staff Wellbeing, so that it could incorporate work/life balance, staff mobility and staff counselling. The Network requested that the two proposed standards be refined differentiating between entitlements and good practices, and separating normal provisions from those implemented in a crisis situation and further requested that UNFPA shares its framework with the CEB Secretariat. Revision was to be completed by the end of July 2009.

(19) At its nineteenth session (CEB/2010/HLCM/HR/18, paras.96-97), the HR Network endorsed the Report from the Staff Stress Counsellor’s Group.  Suggestions were made to review the confidentiality issue and to start reviewing methodologies concerning the need for confidentiality between the staff stress counselors group and the organizations; Fully supports the integration of the Staff Stress Counsellors Group as part of the HR Network.  In this context requested that the Group share once again their Mandate (Annex 2).  

(20) At its twentieth session (CEB/2010/HLCM/HR/35, paras.110-111), the HR Network thanked the representative from the Staff Stress Counsellors for taking this work forward and endorsed the Confidentiality Guidelines for UN System Stress Counsellors.

(21) At its twentieth session (CEB/2010/5, paras.122-130), HLCM endorsed the principle of a “Common Approach” (CA) to spouse/partner work permit negotiations, and the launch of pilots of the CA in Italy and Malaysia under the terms of a draft Joint Negotiating Position (JNP).

(22) At its videoconference of 18 November 2010 (CEB/2010/HLCM/HR/41, para.11), HLCM endorsed the principle of a “Common Approach to spouse/partner work permit negotiations”, and the launch of pilots in Italy and Malaysia under the terms of a draft Joint Negotiating Position (see CEB/2010/HLCM/HR/40). 

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