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Atypical Employment in Hungary Still Lagging Behind Western Europe

Non-typical employment in Hungary is still uncommon, despite rising demand, and is well below levels in Western Europe. Its spread seems unavoidable, however, given the lack of workforce.

Companies have been struggling to hire or to keep talent amid a growing labor shortage over the past three-to-four years. One way to attract new employees or hang on to existing ones is to be flexible in terms of working hours or location wherever possible, while experts agree that atypical employment could also be boosted by government initiatives.

What is atypical employment? Anything but full-time. The range of choices is very wide, and certain ways have been present in Hungary for decades, Zsófia Németh, co-founder of Y2Y Coaching and an HR expert tells the Budapest Business Journal.  

“Fixed-term contracts, part time employment, remote work, temporary work contracts are all atypical ways of employment; these have all been available in Hungary. Job sharing or job-rotation are another story,” Németh says.

Zsófia Németh.

Hungarian companies have room to develop compared to those in Western Europe. In 2016, the share of part-time workers was highest in the Netherlands at 47%, followed by Austria, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Denmark, latest Eurostat data shows. In the meantime, part-time employment was relatively rare in Central and Eastern Europe, with Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia, Czech Republic and Slovakia standing at between 2% and 6%.

Culture to Blame?

What is behind the low ratio in Hungary? Culture, for one. “We are an uncertainty-avoiding culture, so having a clear picture of potential next steps may seem essential,” Dorottya Nagy-Józsa associate certified coach, founder and chief executive of Y2Y Coaching tells the BBJ. “However, as we gain trust in our own abilities and understand that we are part of a global labor market, this may change.”

Dorottya Nagy-Józsa.

Another factor is state regulation. While wages are proportional to working hours, part-time workers are entitled to the same number of holidays as full-time employees, which may make CEOs raise an eyebrow.

The European Union has initiated a tender to support convergence members in introducing flexible forms of employment at companies, but the ministry responsible for labor issues had not replied to the BBJ’s questions by the time we went to press.

By gender, it is women who are more commonly employed in part-time positions. In Hungary, postpartum homestay is very generous, allowing moms to remain with their babies for three years altogether. Within this, however, the allowance gradually decreases: it is a little less than the original wage in their first, half-year period, then decreases further in the next one and a half years, while mom gets very little compared to the original amount in the last year of maternity leave.

In line with the Labor Code, companies must offer parents with children under three-years-old the possibility to return to their previous post under a part-time option. But most of the time, when opting for the 6 hour version of their previous job, mothers end up covering the usual eight-hour workload, and then have to leave in a hurry to pick up the kids. “This is a good deal for the companies, but it doesn’t sound fair, right?” Németh said.

Organization and Flexibility

Lívia, the mother of a two-year-old girl, chose to go back to her previous workplace, an engineering office, in a six-hour position. Quizzed at the playground, she tells the BBJ about the positives and negatives of the part-time job compared to a full-time position.

“At this company, I work 30 hours a week rather than six hours per day. This implies a lot of organization and flexibility from the rest of the family, since I also have to be there, say, for ten hours in the busy parts of a project,” Lívia said.  

“Moreover, I can’t travel to the countryside, and if there’s a meeting I’m completely disregarded. For instance, the meeting is at 3 p.m. and I have to leave at 3:15 p.m.” she adds. “Also, working from home once a week isn’t an option, although it would technically be possible.”

Coaches recommend talking to managers about home office options. Designing an effective meeting structure and holding people accountable in a way that they feel part of the team even if they work remotely is an existing option, Németh insists. “Beyond corporate policies, this mostly depends on the line manager.” At many companies, the home office option is dependent on the manager rather than the CEO. “There are teams where it is allowed, and teams where it is strictly forbidden. This is even worse than the overall prohibition,” Nagy-Józsa says.

Not Just Moms

Increasingly, men want to take part in home duties and raising a child. Amid the rise of entrepreneurship, practically any employee can pursue goals where they would benefit from being employed in a flexible way.

It’s time we leave the notion of only new moms opting for atypical employment, Németh stresses. “It would be time to think about atypical options as a natural part of how we work, not only a working-mom-thing. Men, Gen Ys and Xs, grandparents, wannabe-entrepreneurs are all eager to try this option,” she says.

Job hopping is a common habit of the younger generations, but one must be careful with rash generalization, Németh says. “We had no option to see Generation X or the Baby Boomers on a labor market without unemployment.” In other words, it is not surprising that Gen Y/Z employees can’t be forced to stay in an unsatisfying job when there are thousands of open opportunities on the market.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, the coaches agree. The labor shortage is so critical that the situation of employees is improving almost day by day. A lot of companies are struggling with recruitment: atypical employment is normally one of the first forms of reaction to this changed landscape, Németh and Nagy-Józsa say.