German and Danish examples of father-friendly corporate policies
by Tina Juhl & Eberhard Schaefer, MA
January 17th 2007
last updated January 17th 2007
Reconciling work- and family life is almost always considered women-only issues. Despite the documented benefits, only a fraction of privately owned businesses in Germany have implemented 'family-friendly' measures. In one case 54 and 23 percent of the men interviewed respectively responded that a well functioning family life had a positive/very positive influence on their performance in the workplace.
The way to achieving this balance is more opportunity for flexible working hours and this will again require understanding and acceptance of fatherhood issues on behalf of management. Other ways of achieving this balance is to formulate policies/goals with regard to paternity leave or provide financial incentives in the form of paternity leave with full pay.
This article presents two cases from Germany and two from Denmark, three corporate and one municipal. They are each an example of good practice, and together they provide documentation of the benefits of father-friendly corporate policies – both for employer and employees.
Experiences from Family-oriented Corporate Programmes Targeting Fathers
(Co-authored with Hans-Georg Nelles (see Note*)
»My life has become meaningful to me. Without a family, I would not know why to work.«
Working father at Schlaraffia [see example 2 below]
in response to a question on life before and
Mentioning ”the family” on the label does not necessarily mean that fathers are included
In Germany the reconciliation of work and family life is a neglected field of practice; this applies both to society and politics in general and to corporate businesses in particular. The “Work and Family Audit Certificate” is comparable to the US “Family Friendly Index”.
This is a tool for companies to analyse the performance and potential of measures and programmes aimed at reconciling work and family life. Since 1999 just 127 privately owned businesses have been certified in Germany. Out of tens of thousands of existing private companies less than 50 have actually implemented ”family-friendly” measures in the last eight years. When it comes to targeting working fathers, the picture appears even more dismal. Reconciling work and families is considered almost exclusively an issue concerning women. Hardly any men work part time, whereas a great many women - especially mothers - do so. All-day childcare facilities are scarce, especially in the western part of Germany.
This is the background underlying the two examples of good practice aimed at facilitating the reconciliation of work and family life for fathers presented here.
Examples from Germany
Overview: How and When Father-friendly Corporate Policies Reached Germany:
1981: James Levine´s Fatherhood Project starts operating in the USA
1987: A German study (see Martina Rummel 1987: Familiale Arbeitsteilung, Kriterien partnerschaftlicher Arbeitsteilung aus handlungstheoretischer Perspektive - Families’ Division of Labour; Berlin) states: “Measures targeting women; tools and programmes for reconciling work and family life in the corporate world have now reached their limits. The next step must involve creating a family-friendly corporate world for men.”
1989: The Family Friendly Index is introduced in the USA
1992: First-time media coverage of the “working and caring father”
1997: Launch of the first German project targeting fathers in the corporate world
1999: The German Federal Government launches a media-campaign focusing on active fatherhood
2005 / 2006: The German Federal Government introduces ideas to establish a paid parental-leave system featuring one month of paternity-leave. The ensuing debate indicates that the German public is only now beginning to extensively discuss the role of men as workers and -potential- carers. Corporate world leader Ludwig Georg Braun claims “No company should fear that many men will be taking paid parental leave.” (Suggesting that there will not be significant numbers of fathers taking paternity-leave).
Contrary to this general sentiment, about a dozen companies are pioneering efforts aimed at helping working fathers reconcile working and caring. (See Barbara David, Human Resource Manager at Commerzbank; 18. August, 2006; FAZ ‘Lätzchen statt Krawatte binden’. Role models are urgently needed. For example, working fathers should be able to ask: What did my colleague discuss with the manager about parental leave? What terms did they negotiate about returning to full-time work after the end of the leave-period?
Furthermore, encouraging working fathers to be more active carers also presents a challenge for many women, who are commonly subject to gender-stereotyping: They frequently rate “caring” men (who do housework and look after the children) as “likeable” but do not find them attractive, e.g. consider them potential mates. (For empirical data, see Doege/Volz 2002.)
Two German Corporate Programmes Helping Fathers Reconcile Work and Family Life
VauDe, has been selected as a typical example of good family-friendly German corporate practice. Example 2, Schlaraffia, was selected because they perform family- and father-friendliness on an informal level through participation in the “Fathers and Careers” programme.
VauDe is one of Europe´s best-known outdoor- and mountaineering suppliers specializing in the manufacture and distribution of outdoor-equipment for hiking, rock-climbing, skiing, cycling, etc.
Their company headquarters are located near Lake Constance in south-western Germany. Here, the family-owned company, founded in 1974, currently employs 320 employees, 67 percent of whom are female. VauDe employs 1100 people worldwide. We chose VauDe as an example because their family-friendly policy illustrates a company working to implement the best possible family-friendly measures and tools under specific West-German conditions: a shortage of childcare facilities; an ideology which suggests institutional childcare might negatively impact parent-child relations; the implementation of part-time work - primarily for mothers - as a solution to the issue of meeting financial and social family needs.
The family-friendly tools – in the full version described here – are specifically implemented at the German headquarter branch.
VauDe´s mission statement highlights the company’s social and environmental responsibility. Company culture places a high degree of value on the reconciliation of work and family life. VauDe was certified as a “Work and Family Audit” company in 2004.
VauDe has implemented two main tools:
(1) Staff- and recruitment policies
(2) The Kinderhaus or “childrens house” - a corporate kindergarten / childcare facility
(1) Excerpts from VauDe’s staff/recruitment policy:
“Parental leave and part time employment will not obstruct career advancement. Social skills are highly valued when recruiting for executive posts.”
Part of their mission statement reads:
“Male and female members of executive staff actively support a family-friendly company policy, this includes their own good example.”
VauDe employees can set up individual work-schedules and define their weekly and/or annual working hours. Telecommuting (working part of the time from home) is offered. Return from parental leave can be arranged to meet individual needs. At this time (autumn 2006) one father from the VauDe staff is on parental leave. During his leave-period, he continues to work one day a week from home.
37 % of the VauDe workforce works part-time. 10 % of part-time working hours are carried out by fathers. This is a high proportion by German standards.
(2) The VauDe „Kinderhaus“ (a corporate kindergarten/childcare facility). Up to 30 children between the ages of 1 and 10 attend on a daily basis between the hours of 7 am and 5 pm, all year round, full- or part-time. Parents can have lunch with their children. The Kinderhaus offers a range of parent-child activities. This saves parents from transporting their children to and from various activities. One third of parents using the Kinderhaus are fathers, suggesting that fathers’ needs are being specifically and adequately addressed.
Example 2: Schlaraffia
Schlaraffia is a mattress-manufacturing company. Founded in 1909, it was owned by the founder´s family until 1990. It is currently owned by Recticel; a Belgium-based group, operating throughout Europe as well as in Japan and the United States. Recticel has some 100 businesses in 25+ countries and a total of 11,300 employees.
The Schlaraffia manufacturing plant is located in Wattenscheid in the Ruhr area. 140 of the 310 people employed here are male. Mattress manufacture involves a great deal of manual labour and craftsmanship skills are required.
Schlaraffia has no formal, written agreements concerning the reconciliation of work and family life. However, good practice in this field is continuously performed. Schlaraffia participates in the „Väter und Karriere“ – Fathers and Careers - research, counselling and training project mentioned above. The family- and father-friendly measures described here are implemented at the Wattenscheid branch only.
Supervisors and heads of departments at Schlaraffia consistently report company support for staff members (fathers) in difficult family-related situations. For example, the company offers flexible working hours and/or more suitable locations.
- Example 1: One father – a manufacturing worker- whose spouse underwent a long-term stay in hospital was offered flexible support. In order to enable him to take care of his children, he was permitted extra leave, paid and unpaid. After the leave period, he was able to adapt his working hours according to his needs.
- Example 2: A male head of department whose baby was born prematurely was given the complete freedom to adapt working hours and -locations to meet his needs.
A survey on the work/family needs among male staff members (fathers and non-fathers) was carried out at Schlaraffia as part of the “Fathers and Careers” project. Amongst other things results indicated that:
- 54 % of the men interviewed claimed family life to have a “positive influence” on their working performance; 23 % even claimed a “very positive“ influence”.
- Conversely, 8 % of the men interviewed feel “continuously overstrained” by the demands of combining work with family needs; 15 % feel overstrained “most of the time”; 31 % do so “sometimes”.
- Executives/managers are seen as players of vital importance when addressing these issues: All the men who claimed „no overstrain“ in coping with work/family demands also stated that their managers were open-minded about discussing these issues.
- The overstrained men stated that their managers were either “only partly” open-minded about discussing work-family problems (33 %) or “not at all” disposed to do so (25 %).
- Schlaraffia’s male staff-members were also asked "What kind of tools and/or programmes should the company implement to encourage or foster active fatherhood?“ Answers showed that staff-members wanted open-mindedness and support from managers and executives. Examples of good practice were seen as helpful and potentially encouraging models.
- Moreover, interviewees favoured a transition to flexible working hours in order to meet individual needs, part time work close to full-time hours.
- Furthermore, the staff members welcomed individual face-to-face counselling concerning their hours/location of work as well as the option of communication with fellow-fathers.
(Note: These findings correspond to those of another survey carried out among German executives in 2005. [For findings, in German, see http://www.vaeter-und-karriere.de/53506396e70e43210/53506396e70e4a316/index.php] )
In order to accommodate these responses, the “Fathers and Careers” project will arrange training events for executives/supervisors at Schlaraffia. Fathers will be invited to participate in a “Fathers Forum” which will also serve as a means to elicit more knowledge about fathers` needs when it comes to reconciling work and family life. These additional steps will provide the basis for the development of new father-friendly tools.
Examples from Denmark
City of Copenhagen - Best practice as a hope for the future
The City of Copenhagen hopes to encourage more of its male workers to take paternity-leave by offering them 10 weeks of leave with full pay. This was decided in August 2006. This initiative is underpinned by plans for an information campaign targeting male workers and encouraging them to take paternity-leave. Furthermore there will be a more general information-campaign for all employees at the City of Copenhagen.
The goal for this new policy is:
- That new fathers will take an average of 50 days of paternity-leave by 2009
- To reach a 40 % share of fathers taking all 10 weeks of paid paternity by 2009
Current Danish legislation allows parents a minimum of 52 weeks of leave after the birth of a child. 2 weeks are reserved for the father, 14 for the mother. Despite the fact that many companies have more generous programmes, with some even offering full pay for the entire leave period, men now only take an average of 18 days’ leave after the birth of their child. Women take 257.
By making it more financially feasible for men to take leave, the city hopes to serve as a model for private companies. The city itself, however, was inspired by the nation's largest
telecommunications company, TDC.
TDC is a Danish Telecommunications Company Supporting Paternity-leave
The company recently began offering an additional 10 weeks' leave to their male employees. After a slow start, men at TDC are beginning to accept leave as a natural part of their career. In 2005, male employees averaged nearly eight weeks of leave. Part of the reason for this increase has been TDC’s ability to integrate paternity-leave into the company culture.
TDC launched their campaign for fathers and paternity-leave in December of 2004. This campaign makes fathers aware of their option of up to 10 weeks of paternity-leave with full pay. This leave is an addition to the two weeks’ paid leave to which every new father in Denmark is legally entitled, making a possible total of 12 weeks.
More good practice in this field should be generated, and with it more knowledge about what family-friendly company policy for fathers entails. As we have tried to show by giving examples from good practice, we believe this would benefit both employee-fathers and their employers.
David, Barbara 2006 [Commerzbank Human Resource Manager] Lätzchen statt Krawatte binden (Tying Bibs instead of Ties); FAZ; 18 August 2006
Doege, Peter; Volz, R. 2002, Wollen Frauen den neuen Mann? Traditionelle Geschlechterbilder als Blockaden von Geschlechterpolitik (Do Women really want the New Man? How Traditional Gender-views Block Gender Policy) http://www.kas.de/publikationen/2002/1088_dokument.html
Rummel, Martina 1987: Familiale Arbeitsteilung, Kriterien partnerschaftlicher Arbeitsteilung aus handlungstheoretischer Perspektive (Families’ Division of Labour); Berlin
Hans-Georg Nelles is Social Scientist and Systemic Counsellor in Duesseldorf, Germany. Since 1997 Hans-Georg Nelles has been Project Manager on several projects in the field of ‘Reconciliation of work and family life’ at IMBSE e.V.; since 2005 he has been in charge of the project Väter & Karriere (Fathers and Careers) ( www.vaeter-und-karriere.de ) He is also a board-member of the “German Experts Network on Fathering” (www.vend-ev.de)