EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Case Study: Care-related Supports – Ford-Werke, Germany


Organisation Size: 
Large (250+)
Private sector
Initiative Types: 
Care-related supportsawareness raising

Company / organisation name

Ford-Werke, Cologne

Initiative name

Employee Work and Care Group

About the company / organisation

Ford-Werke GmbH in Cologne has been the headquarters of the US-based Ford Motor Company in Germany since 1931. Since 1998 it has been the headquarters of ‘Ford of Europe’. In March 2010, 17,300 employees were working at this location, more than 50% of whom worked in production. Each year 800,000 cars are produced at Ford-Werke GmbH.

In November 2003, an employee group named ‘Work and Care’ (Arbeiten und Pflegen) was founded at Ford in Cologne. The group deals with care and support for stroke patients, children and older people as well as with related insurance fund services. It is open to all employees at Ford in Cologne. The core group comprises six people, including the internal communications manager. This comprises a significant aspect of the group member’s workload, in addition to their other duties.

The initiative

The Employee Work and Care Group provides information and consultation services, and organises events for working carers. Information is provided through an ‘emergency plan’ leaflet that gives basic information on what to do in the initial days and weeks of a relative needing care. This was the group’s first output. It is available in the German and Turkish language because people with Turkish origin constitute a considerable proportion of Ford’s workforce. Information is also provided by a comprehensive collection of internet links on the company’s intranet relating to self-help groups and organisations dealing with care and care-related issues, including home care services. Furthermore, the ‘Ford report’, a newsletter for all employees, provides regular information on the group’s activities. The Employee Work and Care Group feels it is important for information to be available in paper format. This is because production workers do not have access to e-mail or the intranet.

Consulting may take place by e-mail, by telephone or in person. It goes beyond the simple provision of information, by supporting employees to cope with care-related physical and emotional strain.

The Work and Care Employee Group regularly presents its activities at internal Ford events. Normally, they are presented alongside other groups representing the company’s diversity of employees. Throughout 2009 there were eight such events, each lasting from one to several hours. The events are deliberately timed so that production workers can attend them, or at least pick up information material, before or after their work-shift. The largest event in 2010 was to be a ‘Diversity Market Place’, which was to take place in a marquis outside Ford’s principal building and to involve approximately 20 exhibitors.

Work and care has also become the subject of further education within the company, as part of a training module on dignity at work. Further education in diversity-related matters takes one day for managers and a half day for employees. As of March 2009, approximately 90% of managers had undergone this training. The company seeks to provide such training to all managers and employees.

With regard to working time arrangements, Ford does not currently offer flexible working hours to employees. Moreover, the company does not offer tailor-made work time arrangements for working carers. However, individual arrangements can be agreed in specific cases, insofar as is possible. According to Elisabeth Pohl, founder of the Employee Work and Care Group, managers are prepared to cooperate with employees to find solutions, if the need arises.

The group has four operative objectives. Firstly, it aims to help working carers by providing information and support. Secondly, it aims to increase sensitivity among managers and employees regarding this issue, to ensure that the issues faced by working carers are acknowledged. The third objective is to increase understanding of the issue among managers from other countries where different family models may be the norm. A final objective is to arrange contacts with Pronova, the company health insurance fund, and other social organisations.

The founder of the Work and Care Employee Group believes that it is necessary to increase understanding of this issue, because it cannot be assumed that care for older or disabled people finds the same acceptance as childcare, for example. This is an ongoing task because of occasional changes of personnel. Increasing understanding may require greater effort in a company where the majority of workers are male, as is the case with Ford, because carers are typically perceived to be women.

The Work and Care group has both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ strategic objectives. The most important ‘hard’ objective is to reduce care-related absence from work. While the actual number of caring employees at Ford is unknown, the challenge is very real. The Employee Work and Care Group estimates that 12.5% of Ford’s employees care for relatives; this comprises more than 2,000 employees. The ‘soft’ objectives are to strengthen social cooperation at the workplace, to increase employees’ identification with the company, and to make the company an attractive employer.

Rationale and background of the initiative

The Employee Work and Care Group was initiated in autumn 2003 by Elisabeth Pohl, Manager of Internal Communications, Communications and Public Affairs. She had a personal interest in identifying fellow working carers in order to exchange opinions and experiences. The founding team comprised five people, including a representative of the health and care insurance fund of Ford in Cologne. Right from the start, the motivation was not only to form a self-help group but also an interest group to raise awareness of care-related themes within the company. Dr Wolfgang Schneider, Vice President, Legal, Governmental and Environmental Affairs of Ford of Europe, agreed to take over the patronage of the group. In June 2005 the group was formally acknowledged as an ‘employee resource group’ ‘at Ford and allocated a budget.

In 1996, motivated by the US headquarters, Ford Germany introduced ‘diversity management’. As of March 2010, other employee groups included: Parent Network; GLOBE (Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual Employees); Turkish Resource Group; Women’s Engineering Panel; Women in Human Resources; Women in Information Technology; and Women’s Product Panel. The employee groups are not intended as ‘deficit programmes’ to promote disadvantaged employees; rather, their role is to use the resources and competences of employees with specific social and cultural characteristics.

The bottom-up approach is considered a specific feature and asset of employees’ groups at Ford. Employee groups are founded and maintained by employees, and the groups deal with the specific interests of their members.

Results and assessment

There is a high level of awareness of the Employee Work and Care Group among Ford employees. At various events, up to 100 employees are informed of the group’s activities. Every year, two to three dozen employees seek concrete information and consultation from the group. This is quite a large number considering that care, as Mrs Pohl says, is not a popular subject – people think about it only when it becomes necessary to do so.

The group has received several formal acknowledgements. In 2005, Ford in Cologne received the basic certificate for the ‘work and family audit’ (audit berufundfamilie) from the Hertie Foundation, Germany. In September 2006 the group received the Chairman’s Leadership Award for Diversity in Ford of Europe. And in 2006, the group received the US Global Diversity and Worklife Summit Award.

The Employee Work and Care Group of Ford in Cologne has spawned a similar initiative in a British subsidiary, the ‘Ford Carers Network’ in Dunton, Essex. This group was founded in early 2006 following a presentation made by Ms Pohl. Ms Pohl believes that Ford’s approach is generally transferable to other companies because the issues of work and care are the same in any company.

Backed by these results, the group will continue its work and adopt new ideas to address needs as they arise.

Issues, challenges and lessons learned

Several issues arise regarding the Employee Work and Care Group. One is that finding active members is difficult because carers have little or no time to commit themselves to additional activities beyond their employment and private care obligations.

Furthermore, the group has received little interest from employees with different cultural backgrounds. For example, care can be a very private issue for Turkish people, and the group has perceived that Turkish employees would normally not ask for help of any kind at the workplace.

One challenge faced by the diversity programme is that of ensuring that all employees regard the company’s special interest groups as an asset for the whole company. In a survey among Ford workers in the United Kingdom, some employees noted that they feel somewhat excluded because they do not belong to any group with a specific social or cultural background.

The law on developing and improving long-term care (Pflegeweiterentwicklungsgesetz) of 2008 did not influence the activities of the Employee Work and Care Group. However, the group does feel that this legislation validates their work. They feel it is important that the issue of work and care continues to be discussed across society. ‘My vision’, says Elisabeth Pohl, ‘is that care for older and disabled people has the same acceptance as childcare’.


Case study author:

  • Dr Stefan Lilischkis, empirica.

• Interviewees: Elisabeth Pohl, Manager, Internal Communications; Communications and Public Affairs; Ford-Werke GmbH, Cologne, conducted on 30 March 2010.

• Andrea Puschmann, Diversity Manager, Ford of Europe / Ford of Germany, Ford-Werke GmbH, Cologne, conducted on 30 March 2010.

Online sources:

• Ford. Diversity. Vielfalt als Stärke. Brochure; (p. 11 on work and care). [accessed at]

Written material not available online:

• Pohl, Elisabeth; Dittebrand, Christel; Neborg, Kai. ‘Eine Chance für Arbeitgeber und Arbeitnehmer: Die Mitarbeiter-Interessengruppe Arbeiten & Pflegen der Ford-Werke GmbH in Köln.’ In: Esslinger, Adelheid Susanne; Schobert, Deniz B. (Eds.): Erfolgreiche Umsetzung von Work-Life Balance in Organisationen. Strategien, Konzepte, Maßnahmen. Wiesbaden: Deutscher Universitäts-Verlag. 2007 pp. 321 – 333.

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