Before the initiative, the only work-life balance service offered by the Ministry of economy and finance (MEF) was aimed at families of employees with young children (3 months to 3 years) and was represented by the company nursery operating in a facility detached from the Ministry Headquarters. Once the children were over three years, the families of employees with both parents working, and particularly mothers – on whom typically most family commitments fall – found themselves alone as regards their private life outside work and, in particular, in providing child-care during periods of disruption of school activities.
In fact, in Italy, the education services (kindergarten, primary and secondary levels) aimed at children aged three years and over, already pursuing a primarily educational purpose, do not meet many of the extracurricular needs of the family, and, in particular, they completely neglect the aspect of balancing the work and private life of the parents. These services – which, at best for kindergarten and primary school, cover the period from 08.00 AM to 04.00 PM – are characterized by interruptions for rather long holidays (reaching a peak of more than ninety days in summer) during which no service is offered, not even alternative educational activities to support the families.
The selection of a care and entertainment service aimed at school-age children, in fact, has not yet been provided by national law. The gap in the provision of services to cope with the work-life balance left by the school and by other institutions is filled, in the Italian context, mainly with the aid of the extended family (grandparents and other relatives), if available, or by the use of paid services, if affordable.
During these periods, employees with children, mainly women, are forced to take leave using vacation time, or opting for one of the possible ways of working part-time, in order to provide child care. This often leads to an increase in absenteeism. More often, during the school holidays, many employees with no better alternatives have to bring their children to the office, sharing with them their working day. This situation, as well as representing a suboptimal solution for children – especially if carried out on a continuous basis during the summer months – causes a worsening in the quality of parents’ participation in working procedures, or even the need for them to be absent from work for long periods.
The problem, common in many workplaces, was particularly felt at MEF, as the periods of school services interruption were to coincide with critical deadlines in the calendar of the economic and financial administration, linked to the path of enactment of financial and budget laws. In fact, during the months of July, September and the Christmas period, an extra working effort is requested of all the ministry personnel.