EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Case Study: Awareness Raising – Weleda, Germany


Organisation Size: 
Large (250+)
Private sector
Initiative Types: 
Care-related supportsawareness raisingCo-operation with external agencies

Company / organisation name

Weleda, Schwäbisch-Gmünd

Initiative name

Generations Network

About the company / organisation

The Weleda AG, Schwäbisch-Gmünd is part of a multi-national group which manufactures and distributes in about 50 countries worldwide. The group’s headquarters are in Arlesheim, Switzerland. Weleda produces natural organic cosmetics, nutritional supplements and medicines for anthroposophical therapy. All Weleda body care products are manufactured in Switzerland, France, and at its largest plant, in Schwäbisch-Gmünd. The latter is also the location for many of Weleda’s research and development staff.

The company’s background is in anthroposophy, a spiritually infused philosophy centred on human development. At the core of anthroposophy is the view that humans are an indivisible whole consisting of the physical body, the conscious mind, and the spiritually connected soul. Anthroposophical medicine is based on the belief that not only physical should be taken into account. In addition, mental and spiritual components, including the social context of a patient, must be considered in order to make true healing possible. Weleda as a company subscribes strongly to the principles of anthroposophy, which is also reflected in HR management and its approach to issues of work–family balance.

The initiative

The Generations Network ( Generationennetzwerk) was implemented in 2004 in response to a perceived need to support employees who seek to better reconcile their work with family responsibilities. Those involved in the network are mostly former employees who want to stay involved with the company. The network, under the stewardship of Dr. Isabella Heidinger, has developed a list of clearly defined volunteer services which are offered to any Weleda employee in need. These include help in the home such as ironing, looking after pets, gardening, winter road clearance, shopping, doing errands, chauffeuring, technical help, computer help, and help in emergencies. Childcare is also offered, which can be of help to working carers of the ‘sandwich generation’ – those who have childcare as well as eldercare responsibilities. Remuneration for the service is agreed on an individual basis with the persons concerned.

The network has also arranged for a number of general services to be offered to all Weleda staff. Examples include a groceries order service for organic products and an organic baker who offers his wares on the company premises once a week. Moreover, employees who are close to retirement can obtain advice and counselling from members of the network.

Employees are informed about the services offered by the Generations Network via occasional ‘info cafés’, through presentations given as part of introductory training programmes for new recruits, articles in the house journal and on blackboards.

As these services are provided on a voluntary basis, employees do not have a formal right to receive them.

In its early years, the Generations Network was primarily concerned with helping employees deal with childcare related challenges. More recently, the issue of eldercare has attracted attention. In 2010, a project team called ‘Elder Care’ was set up. It is currently reviewing the extent to which working carers at Weleda require targeted support beyond what is being offered to all employees in terms of flexible working and the Generations Network. In addition to these measures, Weleda offers a range of options for flexible working. Part-time arrangements are offered according to the individual preferences of the employee and the needs of the company. The final decisions about part-time working are reached by the employee and their line manager, who is instructed to seek a solution which addresses the worker’s needs. Flexible working hours are also offered to staff working in teams who no longer electronically record time worked. This is the case for an increasing share of the workforce. In sections where electronic recording of time worked is still in place, employees can make use of working time accounts. These allow them to accumulate up to 120 hours overtime or under-time per year, which will then need to be reduced to zero again at least once per year.

The HR management at Weleda puts a strong focus on effective dialogue, in particular between employees and their managers. For this reason, the implementation process for the company policy on work–family balance placed much importance on communication with and between supervisors.

A range of measures are being used to create awareness of issues related to the reconciliation of work and family. Ongoing training is provided to equip supervisors with the skills to manage employees in a way that reflects the developing company culture. In 2006, new instrument called ‘Diagnosis Conversation’ ( Diagnosegespräch) was introduced. It is used to guide discussions between Weleda’s work–family team, a representative of the works council, and the company’s supervisors. The goal of these conversations is to explore emerging challenges and how to deal with them, including those relating to work–family balance.

In recent years, these dialogue mechanisms have led to the identification of working carers’ need as one of the principal new challenges within the company. In addition, the company’s director approached the ‘Work and Family’ team directly in order to suggest greater exploration of the issue of eldercare.

Rationale and background of the initiative

The teachings of Rudolf Steiner form the basis for Weleda’s approach to HR management. He was the founder of a unique approach to personal health and wellbeing called anthroposophy, in which the Christian value of love of one’s neighbour plays a strong role.

It is not only Weleda’s products that aim to support the ‘inherent healing tendencies of every human being’. All of the company’s operations are guided by the objective of supporting human beings in their needs and capabilities. Naturally, this has far-reaching implications for Weleda’s approach to HR management. Weleda seeks to be known as one of the best employers among Germany’s medium-sized companies. This goal is based on the conviction that ‘every employee should be a creative actor in the organisation’.

In this context, initiatives for supporting better reconciliation between work and private life emerged naturally, rather than being based on a ‘hard’ business case. The first measure, to set up a company nursery, was taken in 1998. In 2003, Weleda received the first certificate of the ‘work and family audit’ (audit berufundfamilie). The audit procedure requires companies to set themselves objectives for the near future. In the process, the responsible persons at Weleda began to consider setting up a network of former employees and partners of current employees. Specifically, it was to involve those who wished to offer their services for employees with children facing emergency situations. A second option, that of procuring family services from an external provider, was also explored. This was discarded when it became obvious that a sufficient number of former employees would welcome the possibility of staying involved in the company and contributing within a community.

Shortly after the Generations Network was implemented, Weleda received strong interest from the media and from policy-makers. This occurred in 2005, when the then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder presented the company with the German Innovation Award. The network enables Weleda to derive synergies by combining two goals. One is that it provides hands-on support to employees who have care responsibilities. The other is that it allows retired former employees to stay included in society by giving them the opportunity to actively contribute to society.

Weleda actively liaises with other stakeholders in the region, mainly through the Regional Alliance for the Family (Regionale Bündnis für Familie Ostwürttemberg). The Alliance was initiated in 2004 by Weleda; today a large number of local institutions and companies are involved in it, with the aim of making the region more attractive for workers who seek to reconcile their job with family responsibilities. The Alliance is developing a set of information tools, such as guides on existing eldercare services and providers. Working together can lead to great synergy between the participating bodies. Moreover, they each contribute to improving the region’s external image as an attractive location to live as a family.

Results and assessment

As mentioned above, the management of Weleda did not feel there was a need for a ‘hard’ business justification to invest in efforts to support working carers. This is because such activities derive naturally from the company’s approach to HR management.

For this reason, there was early agreement that no cost-benefit analysis, in the traditional sense of the term, would be conducted. There is, however, an understanding among the decision-makers concerned that efforts to support reconciliation between work and family responsibilities would be beneficial for the company in a number of ways. Firstly, as a supplier of organic and sustainable products for health and body care, it can only contribute to Weleda’s appeal with its customers if it is known as a ‘good employer’. Secondly, and for similar reasons, Weleda finds it comparatively easy to find new recruits even regarding jobs for which qualified personnel are scarce. Thirdly, the company invests in the psycho-social health of its staff, which contributes to low rates of sick leave and fosters workability.

With regard to the issue of working carers, a survey of line managers was conducted in 2009 to assess the number of Weleda employees with private eldercare responsibilities. It turned out that among respondents, who represented approximately half of the total staff, six employees cared for someone who required nursing care (according to the German regulation). A further 22 employees were identified as caring for an elderly or disabled person who is not yet classified as requiring nursing care. This suggests that about 8% of the Weleda workforce face a situation of having to reconcile work and care-giving to an elderly or disabled family member.

Issues, challenges and lessons learned

During the planning phase of the Generations Network, the question was raised as to whether volunteers needed insurance against liability and other potential risks. The decision was taken, however, to avoid red tape wherever possible as this would complicate the initiative, which in turn could dampen the enthusiasm of those involved. In general, it was found that exclusion of liability could be established by choosing a suitable legal structure for the network. Other employers who seek to emulate Weleda’s experience are recommended to keep their initiative as simple and straight-forward as possible.

Experience with the network has highlighted substantial volunteer willingness to provide temporary support in cases of emergency. On the other hand, however, volunteers are less enthusiastic about providing ongoing support over a longer period of time. Feedback from discussions suggested that the retired persons who make up the network are not interested in a situation which resembles an employee role. While – they want to help when and where help is needed and no-one else is available to assist, they do not want to become committed to a long-term assignment.

A major lesson from Weleda’s experience is that employers should not approach measures to support working carers as a means of saving money. This initiative is embedded in a holistic approach to HR management which values employees as human beings with distinct interests in the three spheres of paid work, family work and private life. This framework enables the setting up of a support infrastructure for working carers which is quite inexpensive, as in the case of Weleda.

Another lesson is that effective procedures need to be established on shop-floor level, in order to support supervisors and their teams. This would address any issues arising should a critical number of team members be on leave due to childcare or eldercare responsibilities. Procedures also need to be complemented by consistent and extensive activities for raising awareness. At Weleda, the issue of work–family reconciliation is being addressed in almost all management training programmes.

In addition to all of this, companies should note that it takes a lot of time for a newly introduced company policy on working carers to become firmly established in the every-day operations of a large organisation. With regard to the issue of eldercare, Weleda has only recently begun to take action. Their ambition is to achieve, within the next 10 years, the same kind of awareness and understanding of the issue as is currently the case for the subject of work and childcare. A lot still needs to be done. For example, eldercare still suffers from negative connotations in society, which is one reason why employees are often reluctant to discuss it with co-workers, in particular their manager.

Finally, the individual discussions (‘Diagnosis Conversations’) between Weleda’s work–family team, a representative of the works council, and each of the company’s supervisors have proven highly valuable. This is the case not only for creating awareness about issues related to work–family reconciliation. It is also a useful means of learning about the manifold ways in which everyday challenges have been successfully addressed within different parts of the company. The implication is that learning from good practice can be very successfully applied within the company as well as between different organisations.


Case study author:

  • Karsten Gareis, empirica

Interviewees (30 April, 2010):

  • Dr Isabella Heidinger, project leader of ‘Work and Family’ and ‘Generation Network’, conducted on 30 April 2010.

Online sources:

Written material not available online:

• Weleda. Bericht zur Vereinbarkeit von Beruf und Familie. 2005. Schwäbisch-Gmünd: Weleda AG.

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