Mini*Midi*Mef (MMM)
Italian Ministry of Economics and Finance

The Problem

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.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
Mini*Midi*Mef (MMM) is a free care and entertainment service aimed at children of employees from four to twelve years operating in a specifically allocated facility at the Ministry Headquarters in Rome. MMM is operational on weekdays during those times of year when school services are interrupted. But, by its very concept, MMM is mainly a prototype model of work-life balance which can be easily replicated in other organizations.
To date, MMM (opened December 22 2011 to coincide with the closure of schools for the Christmas and New Year holidays) has been active approximately sixteen weeks and has welcomed the children of about 200 employees.
The service takes place in two shifts per day, each of 5hrs 45min, and accepts up to 40 users simultaneously. In the morning, before starting work, employees can leave children in care, and collect them at lunch time. If their working hours involve an afternoon, they can also leave them after lunch and collect them in the evening. The care activities are managed by childcare qualified staff. They include, among others, socialization and representation games, art workshops, reading activities and playing. Consistent with the available resources, the administration is also considering the possibility of offering the children a canteen service, which would allow parents to rely on an extended period of uninterrupted entertainment and child care time for their entire working day.
The quantitative analysis was carried out first of all considering the data of the organizational demographics of the users. They are 70% women and are distributed evenly on white-collar workers, officers and managers. The rate of adherence to the service (ratio between users of a certain level and total number of employees of the same level) is homogeneous in the various levels. Furthermore, the rate of user presence (ratio between worked days and working days) during the period of use of the service, compared to the same period of the previous year, shows an increase of 6% on average, for both men and women. The maximum increase was that of women managers, with 11%, then the female white-collars, with 8%.
The effectiveness of the service in terms of implementation of gender equality is confirmed by the fact that the rate of presence of users of MMM is on average higher than that of other employees with children of the same age The users of MMM did not use the service “to fill a gap”, but to increase over average their participation in processes that have a highly perceived value.
The qualitative analysis was carried out through questionnaires to all potential users, and satisfaction questionnaires to the actual ones. They show that for employee mothers, more work-family balance is seen as the most important element to ensure full participation. Often, working mothers have described as "critical" those processes to which they have been able to fully participate thanks to MMM. Just as often, however, they have seen an increase in their organizational welfare resulting from a greater degree of work-life balance.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The original idea of a work-life balance service, such as MMM, has matured within the Managers Equal Opportunities Committee of the Ministry. The need was highlighted by the manager mothers with school-age children, who felt it even more intensely because of their higher working loads compared to other employees.
The Committee has developed all aspects of the initial project and has perfected it, regarding the field of architectural matters, contracts and personnel policies, with the support of the General Administration, Personnel and Services Department (DAG), the MEF support services division.
The project, completed in this way, was submitted to the scrutiny of the political authority of the Ministry who expressed its full support. Over the following months DAG has placed MMM at the center of its range of work-life balance policies for employee parents, it cares for its implementation and evolution and is now its main promoter.
The main stake-holder of the initiative is represented by the same MEF personnel. In fact, the activation of the service was preceded by a two-way communication campaign to raise staff awareness on issues of work-life balance and to collect instances on the subject. The staff, involved in this way, has participated actively in the design of the service to the point of anxiously awaiting the start of its activities. In fact, personnel came to consider the initiative as an item of qualifying work experience, since it was realized it could help to strengthen the perception of MEF as a public employer at the forefront of personnel policies, attentive to the needs of women and committed to enhancing its human resources.
The Presidency of the Council of Ministers – Department for Equal Opportunities, which is the Government body under the Minister of Labor, Social Policies and Equal Opportunities responsible for national policies in this matter, has taken a keen interest in the possibility of replicating the initiative in other administrations and once gained access to all project documentation, it monitors closely the implementation and evolution of its developments.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
In the implementation of the MMM initiative two main strategies were followed. Both were developed within the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Ministry.
The first one was to set, from the very early stages of the project, a two-way communication relationship with the staff. This strategy was necessary in view of the novelty of the service (both for MEF that had to dispense it, and for the personnel who had to benefit from it). Given the limited amount of information available before the start of the activities, dialogue with the staff appeared to be the only way to reconcile the realization constraints faced by the administration and user needs. Then, the communication campaign has raised awareness of the equal opportunities issue, an issue that never before had occurred in MEF in such an easily appreciable and concrete way. As such, MMM has been the new image of a more friendly administration, one that is more attentive to the problems and needs of personnel, willing to undertake new initiatives to enhance its human resources. As it was clear that, at least in its early stages, the service would have the connotation of an experimental initiative, it has been designed to be as flexible and modifiable as possible during operations. On the other hand, the steady feedback coming from users made it possible to operate a continuous fine-tuning of the service that allowed the evolution of its details as it was carried out in different periods of the year, each one always characterized by slightly different user needs.
The second main implementation strategy was to expect from the very beginning that the exportability of the initiative had to constitute a characteristic feature of the project. If the financial constraints faced were a limit to the impact of the initiative within MEF, its exportability would have been able to overcome them by broadening its purpose and scope across the entire Italian public administration. For this very reason, innovative ways of financing were provided to facilitate the economic sustainability of the proposed solutions in actualities other than MEF. Moreover, an open source architecture for the booking system was chosen and the project and the service operations documentation was drawn up so as to be easily reused, with minimal changes, by other administrations.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
The initiative was conceived within the Managers Equal Opportunities Committee of the Ministry in the summer of 2010 as a draft document concerning the feasibility study of a work-life balance service. The Committee subsequently proposed it to DAG for implementation.
The final document was then submitted to the evaluation of the political authority in early 2011 and, in order to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Unity of Italy (1861-2011), a logo with the colors of the Italian Flag was chosen for the initiative.
In the spring of that year a questionnaire was submitted to personnel, in order to verify the actual compliance of the future service to real needs. The results made it possible to refine its design in terms of schedules, periods of operation, age range accepted and recreational activities performed.
As the initiative received ample positive feedback, renovation work of the premises started in June and lasted two months.
In August, in order to obtain funding for the project, DAG participated in a competition held by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers – Department for Equal Opportunities, aimed at rewarding the sharing of success stories in the field of equal opportunities within the public administrations.
In October, the public tender to award the recreation and care service contract began.
In November a sponsorship request, addressed to private bodies, was issued in full respect of Italian laws and another one inviting employees to offer materials as well. Both have achieved a good result, as most of the furniture and equipment needed was collected.
In December, the public tender was concluded and the Regulation of the service was issued. Furthermore, in the same month the MMM project was one of the winners in the competition mentioned above. On December 22 2011, the service was launched and continued to function throughout the period of the Christmas and New Year holidays.
In March, a satisfaction questionnaire was submitted to users and the service regulation was modified on the basis of the first experience.
In April, the service started to work again during the school break for the Easter holidays.
In May, another questionnaire was issued, this time to verify the level of satisfaction regarding the broadening of services offered in the summer, consisting of, among other things, outdoor activities, the latter at a small cost. The development of the online booking application began and was completed for the start of the summer operation.
In June, the project was presented at a conference organized by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and by Armida, the association of the female senior management of the public administration.
In the same month, the summer cycle of operation was started, which, after a pause of less than 20 days in August, continued until September. MMM worked the long weekend on November 1 2012.
During December, the delivery of an informative questionnaire to personnel of another MEF facility in Rome is expected, in order to verify their need for new MMM premises to be opened there.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
The first obstacle faced was the need to fill a gap not only in services provided by MEF, but also in those provided nationally. This made it necessary to develop a new business model for a service that did not exist before in Italy.
The supply of a service of "after-school" care is not recognized in the Italian law system, which still does not appear to appreciate its social value as a work-life balance service. On the other hand, in the Italian public administration, a widespread culture of corporate organizational welfare services providing, does not even exist. Instead, gender equality policies have always been traditionally implemented by only granting leave of various duration. These policies are mainly aimed at giving parents (especially the mother) the possibility to be absent from work rather than allowing their active participation in the working life of their administration. In other words, the protection offered is more static-conservative than dynamic-participatory.
The innovative feature of the initiative has made the implementation of the project difficult, since no reference, that could provide useful guidance to the design of the operative aspects of the service, was available. Nonetheless, the regulatory gap in this matter has left a high degree of autonomy in the definition of MMM procedures, thus allowing the development of solutions that could be as much as possible targeted to the needs of the personnel of a public administration.
The organizational solution implemented is somewhere between the two models of service recognized under Italian law: crèche and “ludoteca” (roughly translatable to “playschool”), which does not allow custody and requires the sharing with parents of educational playing activities. Unlike both services, characterized by free access throughout the day, MMM works in shifts and by reservation. The two-shift operation, in addition to being necessary due to the large number of potential users (500+) avoids a negative impact on employees' work procedures. In fact, operation times were established so that the shifts begin and end roughly together with the parents’ working hours, so that parents do not have to interrupt their activities to leave and collect their children.
The design of the reservation system operation was the second main obstacle to overcome. The system had to combine the guarantee of fair access (based on household income and on the needs arising from its composition and its specific conditions) with the offer of a flexible and differentiated service. It had to be able to continue its operation despite several tardy cancellations and, at the same time, had to be able to meet the equally numerous requests for access without reservation. During the summer, the service has also faced unexpected and significant operational difficulties, caused by a constant and considerable overbooking. An online self-service application, accessible from the extranet of the Ministry, was finally implemented. Also thanks to this, in accordance with the fair access criteria ruled by the Regulation, the opportunity to use the service due to an unexpected (and therefore potentially critical) need has always been granted.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
From the beginning, the MMM project envisaged that part of the resources necessary for its startup and operation were acquired through ways not economically burdensome for the Ministry. Therefore, an invitation to participate through a competitive sponsorship was published. Furthermore, the opportunity to contribute to the project has been given to employees, by donating books, toys and teaching materials, either new or in good condition. Thanks to the competition cited above, the project will also benefit from funding by the Department for Equal Opportunities corresponding to about 10,000 EUR/13,000USD (change to 11-30-2012).
For the entire first year of service the total volume budgeted for expenditure (mainly to finance the external provision of the care and entertainment services) today amounts to about 38,000EUR/49,000USD, while the initial investment for restructuring the premises and for purchasing the furniture and the equipment is estimated at approximately 80,000EUR/105,000USD. Not being currently available in the Ministry’s budget a specific outlay to cover the costs of gender equality facilitation services, the initiative was financed with funds for personnel welfare.
From the point of view of human resources used, they approximately correspond to 0.75 FTE of administrative staffing to manage daily booking lists and activities during operations. An additional 0.10 FTE of administrative staffing and of 0.15 FTE of officer staffing per day must be added throughout the year, for a total of about 85 man-days of administrative staffing and 45 man-days of officer staffing used since the start of the service to date.
With regard to the benefits achieved, the main one was to enable, at all levels of responsibility, a greater involvement of women in work activities in those times of year when these become more critical and when such involvement is made more difficult by the task of parenting. The initiative, being received with enthusiasm by all the staff, improved general organizational welfare too, in this way increasing motivation, the sense of belonging and the degree of affection for the Administration. Finally, it has helped to establish the image of MEF as an employer sensitive to the needs and rights of women, increasing its ability to attract the best resources in the job market, particularly female.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
From the outset, the project was intended as a package easily replicable in other organizational contexts, and consequently, it shows a high degree of sustainability and exportability within Italian public administrations.
From the sustainability point of view, the most important for the project is the financial one, and this does not represent a criticality for MMM. Any administration with the possibility to use the premises in its headquarters in a non-expensive way would be able to maintain the volume of resources at the same low level of the one experienced by MEF (also because of the alternative methods of financing used and proposed) and therefore reasonably within its budget. The project has also shown a good organizational sustainability. At the start the staff, who was in some cases puzzled about the opportunity to offer a service for a such circumscribed typology of users, having thereafter fully understood its scope and purpose, finally appreciated and supported it.
From the point of view of the exportability of the initiative, if it were to be implemented in an administration located in another Italian region or city, the absence of specific regional or local legislation would exclude the occurrence of new restrictions or additional costs. Moreover, the reservation system application has been designed in order to use open source codes, and therefore to be reusable with minor costs by other administrations. The exportability of MMM has already found a first confirmation by the funding won in the competition already mentioned, and it continues to find more of it by the frequent requests to access project documents coming from other central administrations, such as the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, of Health, of Infrastructures and Transport , and the High Chamber of the Italian Parliament, the Senate of the Republic.
It may be appropriate to highlight that the use of the service by male employees does not diminish its scope in terms of implementation of gender equality, as it generates positive externalities that can determine also a decrease in absenteeism of the mothers, albeit employed outside the Ministry. Such externalities can have a direct impact on public administration in the not uncommon occurrence that both members of the household are employed there. A network of public administrations, providing a similar MMM service on national territory, would help to fill, to a somewhat limited but significant degree, the current gap in the overall provision of work-life balance and family welfare services of the State, affecting, in particular, the condition of working mothers.
The initiative can be exported, among other things, by compiling a start-up operating manual to be made available to all administrations.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
After a year of MMM, the lesson is that a work-life balance service can be even more effective, in terms of facilitating equal gender opportunities, than a regulatory intervention introducing provisions for compliance on how employees should work.
In fact, policies of the latter kind are at first often met with little enthusiasm by those presumed to be protected by them, namely women. These policies, introducing somewhat "artificially" favorable conditions for female employees, such as minimum quotas of participation in processes, may be perceived as factors that diminish the dignity of working women, who are not interested in more favorable – compared to men – conditions, but rather on an equal footing with the opposite sex.
Furthermore, the provision of a work-life balance service requires for its implementation less legislative autonomy than that necessary to affect the implementation of equal opportunities by intervening on remuneration, rewards and hiring policies of female staff. As a matter of fact, in public administration the principles and methods of implementation of these policies are regulated by national law and individual administrations cannot modify it independently, except to a limited extent.
Finally, these rules, in order to be respected and thus become effective, need time to find their own position within the organizational culture recognized and endorsed by employees. Until then, they need control and enforcement mechanisms not generally easy to implement.
Otherwise, the utility generated by the provision of a service tends to be perceived by staff as more "tangible" than an organizational rule, so better understood and more easily accepted. In particular, the gender policies implemented through MMM do not change the rules of the game between men and women, but put the women in a position to play with the same rules on equal terms with men.
Thanks to MMM, they can now participate in the work processes like their male colleagues all year round, without the fear of being late for a meeting due to accompanying children to some private care facility, if available on territory and sufficiently affordable, or the fear of not being able to participate in an activity in the afternoon due to having to leave early to collect them.
To sum up and conclude, we could say that, today, multitasking working women have more need of a friendly and compliant working environment where to fully express their capabilities and attitudes, than a legislative context of permissions "to play the second fiddle": with the words of a popular Italian song of the 70s, "libertà è partecipazione” – freedom is participation.
And, finally, as unanimously recognized by organizational literature and facts, the more an organization opens itself to women's full participation, thanks to their different way of thinking, prioritizing and solving problems – not better or worst than men, just different – the more that organization is able to increase its performance.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Italian Ministry of Economics and Finance
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Valeria Vaccaro
Title:   Director General  
Telephone/ Fax:   +390647613541/+390647614491
Institution's / Project's Website:
Address:   via XX Settembre, 97
Postal Code:   00187
City:   Rome
State/Province:   Rome
Country:   Italy

          Go Back

Print friendly Page