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Work and family responsibilities:

What are the problems?
Conditions of Work and Employment Programme

F amilies need the financial resources

that come from work to provide for
members. At the same time, families
and workplace levels can have a
major impact on the extent of the
conflicts and pressures experienced
must ensure that dependents, such by workers and potential workers with
as children or the elderly, are looked family responsibilities. This Information
after during working hours. Recent Sheet provides a brief overview of the
trends in both the labour market and problems resulting from work-family
the family are making it increasingly conflicts in order to highlight the need
difficult for families as they are caught for governments and the social partners
in a “time-money squeeze” between to pay increasing attention to policies
family-caring responsibilities and the and measures to help reduce the
demands of work. conflict and to consider the possibility
of ratifying the Convention on Workers
Measures at the national, community with Family Responsibilities.

The Convention on Workers with Family Responsibilities

(No. 156, 1981)

Article 3, paragraph 1, reads as follows:

With a view to creating effective equality of opportunity and

treatment for men and women workers, each Member [State]
shall make it an aim of national policy to enable persons
with family responsibilities who are engaged or wish to
engage in employment to exercise their right to do so without
being subject to discrimination and, to the extent possible,
without conflict between their employment and family

What are family responsibilities?

Social Protection Sector

I n Convention No. 156, “family

responsibilities” refers specifically
to responsibilities in relation to
given that the notions of “family” and
“family obligations” can take many
forms in different societies and
“dependent children” and “other contexts. But the Convention clearly
members of the immediate family who includes dependent sick or elderly as
clearly need their care”. It is up to well as children. Domestic work in the
each country to define which persons household would be considered as
would be covered by these terms, part of family responsibilities.

Information Sheet No. WF-1 July 2004

A historical perspective
A historical perspective is useful for understanding why the conflict between work
and family responsibilities has become a problem for many families in the second
half of the twentieth century.

Work moves outside the home

H istorically, most societies were

agricultural with both men and
women working near home. With the
work outside the home. Men became
the income earners or “breadwinners”,
while the women concentrated on caring
Industrial Revolution, work moved for dependents and unpaid domestic
outside the home. Initially, men and tasks. With the woman looking after the
women (as well as children) were home, the male breadwinner was not
involved in factory and mine work, but encumbered by family responsibilities
women gradually withdrew as part of and so could work long hours, be
the struggle for a “family wage” and the available for overtime and rarely miss
ideal that women should not need to work because of family problems.

Women’s labour market participation increases

S ince the Second World War,

women’s participation in income
earning outside the home has been
has been the result of factors related
both to women’s and families’ needs
for income and to the demand for
increasing consistently and significantly women’s labour. Increasingly, both
in almost all countries. The increase members of a couple are employed
in women’s labour force participation outside the home.

Percentage of women over 15 years of age who are economically active







Eg .
Fr k
Hu ce

Au ly

Ca lia

st zil

nd a
ne s

Re J ia
Pa rea
Sy Phi tan

Ar nes

ba a
In ela

ut ga


Ve ura

Ho Ric

p. apa

Zi fric

Co ra



So ene





ria ipp





1960 1980 2002

Source: ILO: Estimates and projections databases (LABPROJ) (Geneva, 2004).

Decreasing availability of family support

F or domestic tasks and care of

children and the elderly, many
workers in dual-earner couples or single-
and developing, traditional family
support for care roles and domestic
tasks, while still frequent, is becoming
parent situations have traditionally less available with urbanization, the
been able to count on help from non- increased labour force participation of
working women relatives. However, in women and rural-urban migration.
almost all countries, both developed
Increasing pressures of work

F rom the point of view of enterprises,

they are also under pressure and
facing an increasingly competitive
of quality, costs and strict deadlines.
These pressures may be passed on
to their personnel, resulting in high
business environment, often on a demands in terms of productivity and
global market. Managers are under working time and decreased security
strong pressure to deliver in terms of employment.

HIV/AIDS increases the stress

F or families affected by HIV/AIDS, the situation is often dramatic, as the caring

needs of family members increase at a time when additional income is needed
for medical expenses and to compensate for the eventual loss of the income of the
infected member.

What are the problems?

T he interacting trends in workplaces

and in families can lead to
considerable conflicts and stress for
women workers, who typically continue
to assume responsibility for domestic
tasks and care of dependents. Dealing
workers and their families, as well with family emergencies — such as
as negative consequences for the a sick child or parent — can lead to
workplace and society as a whole. absenteeism, for which pay may be
lost and, in some extreme cases, the
For families: The declining availability result may be dismissal.
of family support for care responsibili-
ties, combined with increasing For work: The problems which work-
pressures in the work environment family conflicts pose for workers
(including insufficient and insecure inevitably impact on the workplace.
incomes), is putting considerable Problems such as turnover and
strain on families. For childcare, difficulties in recruiting appropriate
families may be reduced to less than personnel may be related to the
satisfactory solutions, such as leaving incompatibility of working conditions
children alone at home, taking an with family responsibilities. Absentee-
older child out of school or bringing the ism and tardiness may be the result of
child to work where the environment work-family conflicts which could be
may be unhealthy or dangerous. For avoided. The stress on staff with family
example, in India it is estimated that 7 responsibilities may be affecting their
or 8 million children accompany their concentration and productivity. The
parents (mostly mothers) on building costs of these problems have often
sites. not been assessed in relation to the
costs of adopting more family-friendly
For workers: Workers in many countries arrangements. In fact, research
(both men and women) are feeling suggests that many enterprises are
increasingly stressed by the competing just unaware of the business benefits
demands of work and family for their that can be acquired by adopting a
time and their energy. The pressures more family-friendly stance.
and stress are particularly high for
For societies: Work-family conflicts • Preventing the labour force
can have general effects on society as participation of women and the use
a whole: of their education and skills;

• Perpetuating poverty and the • Contributing to a decline in fertility

inequities within society, since by discouraging parenthood
family responsibilities can constrain (particularly motherhood); and
possibilities for income generation,
particularly for low-income families • Preventing equality of opportunity
who cannot afford paid solutions and treatment for men and women
such as domestic help or day care; in employment, since the constraints
and disadvantages that family
• Creating difficulties for the provision responsibilities bring in the labour
of appropriate care for dependent market fall mainly on women.
children and the elderly;

Moving towards solutions

I n many countries, public and level, through collective bargaining

workplace policies have been slow to agreements and/or management
catch up with the social and economic practices, to make conditions of
realities of work-family conflicts and work more compatible with family
their impact on the lives of both men responsibilities (see Information Sheet
and women. This is understandable, No. WF-3, on the family-friendly
since questions related to family are at workplace).
the core of the organization of society,
are highly emotional and strongly linked To address work-family reconciliation,
to national or local values concerning the solutions can basically be of two
the family. types:

Making the workplace and working • Measures that make family

conditions more family-friendly in a responsibilities (such as childcare
specific cultural context, while ensuring and domestic tasks) more compatible
the competitiveness of enterprises, with work; and
requires tripartite dialogue and
collaboration. It also requires enlarged • Measures that make working
dialogue with the many stakeholders conditions (such as leave, working
and potential partners, such as hours and place) more compatible
religious leaders, women’s NGOs, with family responsibilities.
childcare providers, etc.
The information sheets in this series
While the government sets the provide more details on the issues and
basic legislative and policy context, ways of moving towards solutions.
much can be done at the enterprise

International Labour Office, Tel: +41 22 799 6754

Conditions of Work and Employment Fax: +41 22 799 8451
Programme, E-mail:
4, route des Morillons,
CH-1211 Geneva 22, Switzerland