EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Case Study: Awareness Raising – Vodafone D2, Germany

About

Country: 
Germany
Organisation Size: 
Large (250+)
Sectors: 
Private sector
Initiative Types: 
Leave-relatedHours reductionWork adjustmentsCare-related supportsawareness raisingCo-operation with external agencies


Company / organisation name

Vodafone D2

Initiative name

Project LiVFe Art and other measures supporting working carers

About the company / organisation

Vodafone Group is a major mobile telecommunications company, with presence in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the United States. The company was founded 1984 in Newbury, UK and is, with around 66,000 employees, one of the largest technology companies worldwide.

Vodafone D2 GmbH is the German subsidiary of the Vodafone Group and offers mobile as well as fixed-line communication services. It was founded in 1990 as Mannesmann Mobilfunk GmbH and was integrated into the Vodafone Group in 2000. With its headquarters in Düsseldorf, Vodafone D2 GmbH has subsidiaries in Berlin, Dortmund, Radebeul, Ratingen, Frankfurt, Langenhagen, Munich and Stuttgart. A total of 15,000 employees work for Vodafone D2.

One of the most important aims of Vodafone’s HR management as well as the company’s works council is to support work–life balance within the company. Several initiatives and measures have been initiated since 1997, following the finalisation of a company agreement on work–life balance, which was last updated in 2005.

The initiative

One of the most innovative measures to support work–life balance at Vodafone is probably the project LiVFe Art, which was initiated in 2009. It aims to raise awareness among employees and managers of work–life issues and to further mainstream a family-friendly culture at Vodafone.

The idea behind LiVFe Art was to approach the topic of work–life balance in an innovative manner. It uses the fine arts in order to make the views, emotions, thoughts and different life situations of employees visible and understandable for others. The overall aim was to increase understanding among employees and managers on the topic and to further mainstream a family-friendly culture at Vodafone.

LiVFe Art started with a number of art workshops in 2009. At various occasions throughout 2009, Vodafone’s employees, particularly staff with managerial responsibility, were invited to participate in workshops. At these events, they were guided by a number of renowned artists to express their opinions and feelings using the tools of visual arts.

Participants were asked to approach the topic of work–life balance from various different angles. For example, they could express their emotions and thoughts on the subject in painting or handicraft workshops. At the end of the project, the results were presented to other employees of Vodafone at a major event, which also featured a speech by the Minister for Intergenerational Affairs, Family, Women and Integration of Nordrhein-Westfalen. Afterwards, the art pieces were displayed in the entrance hall of Vodafone offices in Düsseldorf.

The exhibition did not mark the end of the activities conducted within the LiVFe Art project. A range of follow-up workshop and seminars were planned in order to build upon the public attention created by the project. The first such activity was the so-called Family Week in early 2010. In this case, interested employees from across all Vodafone’s major locations in Germany were invited to listen to presentations, participate in workshops, and ask for concrete advice.

The number of employees who were working carers was much higher than expected. In response to a perceived need for support for this group, the issue of eldercare has received much attention over the last two years. One of the main objectives of the Family Week was to spread information among Vodafone employees about available services and supports in case they need to care for an older or disabled relative. A further set of seminars were organised in late 2010, focussing specifically on the topic of eldercare.

The company has entered into collaboration with the Workers Welfare Organisation (Arbeiterwohlfahrt, AWO), a major provider of local welfare services in Germany. Representatives from AWO were invited to the Family Week to provide inform on services offered locally to Vodafone’s employees and their relatives. They also provided information on the general support structures that exist in the German long-term care system.

The AWO run the programmes SeniorenService and ElternService, which provide advice and support for working carers, as well as arrange care services. This includes, for example, an advisory service on the benefits of long-term care insurance, legal advice, and support in finding the best care arrangements in each individual case. All employees have access to this service and can use it anonymously.

Working carers also benefit from the following provisions:

  • six weeks of leave (since 2005) in order to arrange care for a relative, which is more than the 10 days stipulated in legislation regarding such leave;
  • temporary reduction of working hours;
  • two days paid leave per year for care-giving to dependents within the family.

The ‘HR portal’ provides a wide range of information on different topics concerning work–life balance. Amongst other things, employees can find information on long-term care and the legal rights of working carers. The portal also gives information on particular measures provided by Vodafone for working carers.

In addition, working carers can avail of the provisions offered to all Vodafone employees. These include part-time working arrangements tailored to individual preferences, and home-based teleworking (‘flexible office’). Of relevance for those caring for children and older dependents (‘sandwich carers’), childcare programmes are provided during the holiday seasons, and employees can also avail of one of the five Vodafone day nurseries in Germany.

Supervisors receive training about how to support employees’ work–life balance during the leadership seminars. They also receive written information sources on specific topics, namely the reintegration of employees after maternity leave, and care leave or longer periods of illness.

Rationale and background of the initiative

Generally, the topic of work–life balance has always been high on the internal agenda at Vodafone. However, as the average age of Vodafone D2 employees is rather low (around 38 years), measures supporting work–life balance have, up to now, mainly focused on employees with caring responsibilities for children.

In addition to the company agreement on work–life balance, Vodafone has been a member of the government-supported national initiative, ‘Success Factor Family’ (Erfolgsfaktor Familie) since 2007. On joining the initiative Vodafone has, amongst other things, made a declaration that it will made special efforts to establish a family-friendly culture and will develop concrete measures to support the reconciliation of work and family life.

In addition to the activities mentioned above, Vodafone has participated in the ‘work and family audit’ (berufundfamilie), an instrument set up by the charitable Hertie trust. The company received the certificate for the first time in 2008, and this is to be renewed in the future. Activities in the area of work–life balance are regularly measured via a dedicated index that supports Vodafone (and other companies) to further improve its activities in this field. According to the results of the last measurement, Vodafone received excellent results in the ‘dialogue’ category and very good results in the ‘performance’ category. The audit also showed that there was some room for improvements in the ‘culture’ category.

The latter finding was one of the main reasons behind the initiation and implementation of the project LiVFe Art, described above. LiveFe Art was developed as a project idea and submitted to a competition for innovative projects to foster reconciliation between work and family, called familie@unternehmen NRW. This competition was initiated by the Ministry for Intergenerational Affairs, Family, Women and Integration of Nordrhein-Westfalen. LiveFe Art was selected as one of the eight most innovative project ideas, which gave the stimulus to implement it in 2009 and 2010.

The major impetus for looking closer into the particular needs of working carers came in 2009, when research for a master thesis was conducted using Vodafone as the subject of analysis. The research revealed an unexpectedly high percentage (11%) of employees who have to care for an older or disabled family member.

This made Vodafone seek a new partner for providing work–family support services. This partner was AWO, a well-established provider of eldercare services at local level and throughout Germany.

Results and assessment

One of the most innovative aspects of the Vodafone approach is the dual emphasis on implementing concrete measures – such as flexible working schemes, care leave or telework – and establishing a family-friendly company culture. This is reflected by the project LiVFe Art, which turned out to be very successful in raising awareness amongst employees, particularly managers.

This has made made it much easier for employees to talk openly about their caring responsibilities (for both children and older relatives) and its impact on their working life. More than 400 employees participated actively in LiVFe Art.

Vodafone conducts an annual survey of its employees. One standard questionnaire is used for the whole Vodafone Group, complemented by six questions especially developed for the German Vodafone subsidiaries. The questionnaire was to be revised; topics to be considered for inclusion included: work–life balance, inclusion and diversity. In addition, the use of AWO services is being assessed once a year via an anonymous survey.

Vodafone predicts that, in the future, a growing share of its employees will have caring responsibilities for older or disabled relatives. This is based on an expected increase in the average age of its workforce. This will lead to changing employee needs and preferences regarding work–life services. One planned step towards meeting these needs was an in-depth analysis of the age structure at Vodafone D2 GmbH, which was to be conducted towards the end of 2010. Issues, challenges and lessons learned

Four main lessons emerge from Vodafone’s experience with regard to working carers. Firstly, there is a need to continually adjust the company policy on work–life balance, as the average age of employees is increasing. This means it is becoming increasingly important to address the needs and preferences of older workers. Against this background, it is clear that care-giving to elderly relatives, sometimes in parallel to childcare, will become more and more widespread among employees.

Secondly, only after the results of an extensive survey became available did the company identify an unexpectedly high number of working carers among its workforce. Other employers should take action in order to better know the needs of their employees. Without the use of appropriate measures, needs can remain hidden. Thirdly, in order to make a real difference to working carers, it is essential to establish a family-friendly culture within the company. This clearly requires much more time than that simply establishing a range of individual measures.

Finally, in addition to a family-friendly company culture, employees need individual, tailored provisions, as requirements vary enormously from case to case. Supervisors will only provide this support if they are fully committed to the issue of work–family balance will they provide such support. This means that activities for raising awareness among managers are of vital importance.

Sources

Case study author:

  • Sonja Müller, empirica.

Interviewees:

  • Gerda Köster, Referent Work & Life Services, Vodafone D2 GmbH.

Online sources:

Written material not available online:

  • Vodafone, Work-Life-Balance bei Vodafone. 2009. Düsseldorf: Vodafone D2 GmbH.
  • Vodafone, LIVFe Art –Aktionsprogramm für Mitarbeiter & Führungskräfte. 2009. Düsseldorf: Vodafone D2 GmbH.
  • Köster, G. Work & Life Services – Die familienbewusste Personalpolitik der Vodafone D2 GmbH. 2010. Slide presentation.

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