EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Henkel, Germany: Increasing the labour market participation of underrepresented groups – women


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increasing labour market participation of underrepresented groups

In recent years, Henkel has promoted progressive family policies. In 2005, Henkel’s support for balancing family and employment commitments was acknowledged by the ministry for family, senior citizens, women and youth. Henkel’s family policy is marked by an awareness that its ability to remain competitive will depend increasingly on its capacity to offer its workforce exemplary employment terms and conditions.

Organisational background

Based in Düsseldorf, Germany, Henkel is a global producer of detergents, cosmetics, technological products and adhesives. Producing familiar household products, such as Persil and Sellotape, Henkel trades in more than 125 countries and has 51,716 employees worldwide, of whom 25% are women in managerial positions. A Fortune Global 500 company, about 80% of its workforce is currently employed outside Germany, a figure which demonstrates the global character of this 130 year old German company. In terms of turnover, its traditional market, laundry and homecare (32%), remains central to its success. This is closely followed by Henkel technologies and adhesives at 44% and cosmetics at 22%.

In terms of business strategy, Henkel is committed to developing its North American and Asian Pacific interests. In recent years, the North American market has proven more profitable and a major source of potential growth compared to Western Europe. To assist in its global strategy, Henkel is committed to an integrated management system, which aims at combining unified worldwide corporate standards and the nation-specific context.

A traditional German firm, Henkel is committed to social dialogue with its employees. In addition to direct dialogue through individual channels, company questionnaires and an internal newspaper, Henkel also discusses and develops its business strategy in conjunction with works councils and supervisory board members.

Description of the initiative

In 2005, the ministry for family, senior citizens, women and youth commended Henkel for its family-friendly policies. The prestigious prize ‘Erfolgsfaktor Familie’ (family success factor) acknowledged Henkel’s lengthy commitment to trying to balance family and work responsibilities. The company’s employees have had access to childcare support since 1924. Erfolgsfaktor Faktor, however, recognises Henkel’s family friendly-policy developed over the last few years.

A number of factors can be attributed to making family policies a key concern for both Henkel’s management and its works council. Two are of particular interest. First, the firm’s long standing belief that its success is to be attributed to its highly-motivated workforce (‘we are successful due to our employees’ – a key Henkel value). Second, what the company refers to as ‘the necessity to consider and react to certain trends in society’. These include the increase in female employment (double earners), the importance of retaining and hiring talented personnel, the increases in the percentage of female graduates and the general increase in the employment of well qualified employees at Henkel. For example, since the 1990s these developments have been reflected in Henkel’s employment strategy. In 2004 women comprised 43% of newly hired employees, in 1990 the figure stood at a low 4.5%.

A key stage in the recent development of Henkel’s family-friendly policies relates to the signing of an agreement, ‘Family and Employment’, in 2002. The 2002 agreement encompasses a wide range of issues, which include: promotion of part-time work, discussions with employees toward the end of maternity leave, commitment to reemployment after maternity leave, support to keep employees’ professional knowledge up to standard during maternity leave and leaves of absence to take care of elderly parents or family members suffering from illness.

For example, three months before the end of maternity leave, employees are required to inform their department managers of their intentions as to whether they intend to return and whether it will be part or full time. In cases where part-time employment cannot be guaranteed in their former department, the personnel department is required to study employment alternatives in other areas of the company. With regard to an employee’s knowledge, there are a couple of measures designed to keep this up-to-date. These include the opportunity to return to Henkel for a fixed time to cover holiday and sickness periods, plus the possibility to participate in further training courses offered by Henkel. Department heads are also required to discuss with employees the necessary training measures to ease their return to work, six months before the end of maternity leave. Information on part-time work and access to training programmes are supported by intranet provisions.

In addition to the 2002 agreement, there are a number of other notable measures put in place to support employees with family commitments. One of these relates to a contract with Familienservice GmbH, in which parents can seek advice on parenting, support in finding childcare, support in choosing a day carer, childcare in emergency situations and care for the elderly. Henkel also has at its disposal a kindergarten/nursery, Gerda-Henkel-Kindertagesstätte, in which 90 children can be cared for, of which 15 places are reserved for children between the age of four months and three years. In addition Henkel has agreed to part finance, together with the City of Dusseldorf, a nursery for children under three. Due to open in 2008, this new service will be able to accommodate 75 children in five groups.

Another notable development at Henkel concerns the founding of a project group entitled ‘Family and Employment’. This group consists of representatives from leading management, works council, social services, communication department, human resource department and female managers from various departments. The group’s main responsibility is to determine the demand for family and employment policies and new ideas and subsequent recommendations in meeting such requirements.


Irrespective of its long-term commitment to family policies, Henkel is conscious of the business requirement to address the growing issues relating to family commitments. This is especially expressed in the foundation of the family and employment project group, a body whose strength is based on its ability to accommodate all the leading participants within Henkel. Although open to all employees, women remain the main target group.

The family and employment project group also appears to have an important symbolic significance. It represents an acknowledgement on the part of Henkel that family and employment policies do not represent a one-off event. Instead, it is a constant policy issue that needs to keep up with developments in society that have a direct influence on the firm’s ability to remain competitive. Both managerial and employee representatives, however, acknowledge the existence of policy obstacles. In particular, it was argued that middle management’s knowledge and support of family-friendly initiatives needs to be improved. It was noted that the flexible options available to employees, particularly part-time employment, were not always accessible, due to some departmental manager’s opposition or lack of understanding of what is available.

To address such obstacles and to ensure a widespread knowledge among the workforce of the existence of such family policies, Henkel places great emphasis on progressive communication. In addition to the usual channels of disseminating information, internal newspaper, information boards and discussion groups, etc., the Henkel message has become an important part of its training programmes. A key concern here is to demonstrate, especially to middle management, that the company’s family-friendly policies have the support of top management.

Though very supportive of Henkel’s commitment to family-friendly policies, a works council respondent suggested that not all employees benefit from all of the possibilities. The implication being that a lot of the benefits on offer were aimed at highly-qualified and well paid female employees. For example, it was suggested that the salary of a production line worker compared to a laboratory employee meant that the former could not afford to work part time.

Exemplary and contextual factors

The family policies developed by Henkel are marked by an understanding of the need to consider social trends that can affect the competitiveness of a company. Such awareness among top management in particular has been central to making family issues a key agenda issue, with no expiration date.

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