Work-Life Balance in Sweden: Working in a flexible and autonomous manner

Author Name TAKAHASHI Mieko  (Osaka University)
Creation Date/NO. March 2011 11-J-040
Research Project International Comparison of Measures to Improve Work-Life Balance and Consideration of Challenges Facing Japanese Companies
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The main aim of this paper is to study to what extent a work-life balance (WLB) policy has been implemented in Sweden and to analyze the strategy that the country has put into practice, as the country—from a comparative perspective—is considered to be one of the leaders in this context. A review of the process for implementing such policy in Sweden shows that a WLB policy has been promoted from an egalitarian gender ideology for almost four decades.

Comparing a quantitative data set collected from a survey of private companies in five countries, namely, Japan, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Germany, I find that the Swedish WLB policy at the company level is also promoted (based upon the egalitarian gender ideology) to a higher extent compared to the other four countries.

Using case studies on the WLB of employees at private Swedish companies, I examine their "capability" and subjective states of efficacy to make claims for a well-balanced working life. Gender egalitarianism in terms of individuals' roles as workers and parents is legitimated and practiced at the workplace level and societal level. It has resulted in a high level of workplace flexibility and diversity. Therefore, both women and men feel entitled to make claims for a well-balanced life. The Swedish experience explicitly shows a mechanism that enables individuals to have a flexible working and work-life balance. Moreover, throughout the empirical analyses, I find two key concepts characterizing workplace management and working conditions in Sweden, i.e. "autonomy and individual responsibility" and "mutual trust."