I'm an American living in Switzerland. This means every year I place an order for Thanksgiving food from an American food importer in Geneva so that I can make pies properly. (Shortening, canned pumpkin, Karo Syrup, and cherry pie filling, if you must know. Also Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, which aren't really a Thanksgiving food but rather a year-round necessity.) Last year, I was feeling organized and placed my order in early October.
I've ordered from this company numerous times (re: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups), and usually my order shows up in two or three days. This time, however, after three weeks nothing had arrived. I emailed the company and got an apologetic reply from the owner which stated, in part:
I am obliged to give holidays to employees with kids, some Swiss some French and they have both different holidays date so we were under the water this is why we [had so many] delays.
I did get my order a couple days later and kind of blew it off as an excuse. However, speaking with Dave Holm, a small-business owner in Basel, Switzerland, confirmed what she said. Holm plans his business around school holidays: "Parents are allowed to request vacation time, if they have it, when their kids are free."
In Switzerland, when school is not in session, an employee with children must be granted vacation time if he or she asks. School vacation and public holidays both qualify.
Talk about a worker's paradise! An owner's paradise? Not so much. I'm sure I was not the only customer to complain about slow service from a company that is normally extremely responsive.
Sesil Pir, an industrial and organizational (I/O) psychologist and HR and organizational development consultant who also owns her own small business, says that this is a huge problem for people like her. Her administrative assistant
has to take time off every other month for two weeks at minimum. She needed to be out for eight weeks over summer. I had to manage my calendar, client work, the team, the social media, Whirling Chief, all of it--it nearly killed me.
We now agreed she will try to work remotely when she needs to be away past a traditional vacation time. I feel terrible asking an employee to make a choice between our biz priorities and their kids. Of course, their kids should come first!
Before Pir started her own consulting business, she worked for a multinational pharmaceutical company, and while staffing wasn't a problem (at a multinational company, some country is always working), it became a fairness problem at the Swiss sites. She says,
It did, however, bother single employees and/or employees with no kids to see their colleagues needing to take time off (and with no complications) often. I had one employee, a high performing, high potential HR Business Partner, who kept saying she was always in the office when people came and left. And she was right. People with children came a little later because they had to drop off kids and left a little earlier because they had to pick up kids and they had to be away for holidays.
What do you think? Could your business prosper under a law like this? The Swiss economy hums along at a great rate, with unemployment at 3.2 percent in August, compared with 4.9 percent in the United States. Does it place a burden on employers? Yes. Does it give parents the reassurance that they can put their children first? Yes. Is that a worthwhile tradeoff? What do you think?