Case Study: Leave-related Measures, T-Mobile, Austria
Company / organisation name
Various measures for supporting working carers
About the company / organisation
T-Mobile Austria is a wireless service provider owned by Deutsche Telekom. Deutsche Telekom is one of the world’s leading integrated telecommunications companies with around 129 million mobile customers, approximately 36 million fixed-network lines and more than 16 million broadband lines (as of December 31, 2010). It provides products and services for the fixed network, mobile communications, the internet and IPTV for consumers, and ICT solutions for business customers and corporate customers. Deutsche Telekom is present in over 50 countries and has around 247,000 employees worldwide. Up to 2000 the company, then known under the brand name of max.mobil, had been a start-up business owned by a consortium of Austrian and German shareholders, which included the German T-Mobile. In 2001, T-Mobile acquired 100% of the company and subsequently integrated it in its international T-Mobile network
Today, T-Mobile Austria has over 1,400 employees. The company views its employees as its greatest asset. This means that offering employees tailored and attractive working conditions is seen as an essential aspect of its competitiveness and business performance. Reconciliation of career and family responsibilities is therefore a key concern for the company. Traditionally, this has been reflected in a range of measures that offer employees a large degree of flexibility and provides them with targeted support for addressing work–life balance related challenges. In recent years, it has emerged that the caring responsibilities of employees, both for those with children and those with older or disabled dependents, require attention.
T-Mobile Austria offers its staff a range of measures that aim to enable them to combine work with informal caring responsibilities. The company’s approach is based on the assumption that each case requires its own solution. Challenges are treated individually, resulting in a wide range of arrangements being agreed upon. It is important to T-Mobile Austria that employees are facilitated to effectively address their challenges themselves, rather than be offered readymade solutions. Experience in recent years suggests that the measures outlined below have proven useful for working carers.
Temporary reduction of working hours under this measure, employees can switch to a part-time working arrangement for a certain period of time. Employees can choose their preferred model in consultation with their supervisor, with options ranging from 15 to 35 hours per week The company operates a strict policy of making as many positions as possible available on a part-time basis. In practice this means that every time a job becomes vacant, it is formally assessed as to whether or not it may facilitate part-time employment (including the option of job sharing). T-Mobile Austria also has a strategy that aims to enable more men to work part-time. This requires overcoming cultural barriers that can lead, for example, to a reluctance among men to request longer periods of parental or care leave.
Job sharing employees are free to suggest job sharing positions to their supervisors. This measure is not organised by the company, but rather has to be planned for and initiated by the employees themselves. Experience indicates that job sharing can be a powerful means of transferring knowledge between positions. The company can strongly benefit from this, as can employees because it can further their career. Mobile work / telework there is the possibility to telework from remote locations, such as from home. Home-based telework is already being practised informally by many employees, many of whom do so to increase personal flexibility in combining work with private responsibilities. A formal ‘Mobile Working’ scheme will be launched in March 2011. This will include the provision of an information package to all line managers, alongside a number of events to introduce the scheme. In the medium term, the plan is to assess all job positions as to their general suitability for mobile working. Flexitime models: a range of flexitime models are offered. Under them, employees can benefit from the flexibility of ‘glide time’ during the morning and late afternoon hours.
Special leave for palliative care (Hospizkarenz): the company encourages employees to make use of palliative care leave, which is a statutory right defined by Austrian federal legislation.
Commissioner for work–life balance and leave management: in 2010, the company implemented a part-time role with responsibility for ‘leave and reintegration’. This person is responsible for all issues concerning work–care reconciliation, and provides expert advice to any stakeholder within the company. They are also responsible for representing the interests of employees who are on leave.
Counselling: a framework contract has been signed with an external provider of employee counselling services. The contractor offers the services of a range of experts, most of whom have qualifications in either psychology or coaching and mediation. They provide individual advice and counselling to T-Mobile employees. Enquiries frequently deal with issues concerning work-life balance and how to overcome situations of family crisis. The service is free for T-Mobile employees and also their families. It operates anonymously; the contractor does not ask for the name of the enquirer, and any information provided to T-Mobile is done so on a strictly anonymous basis.
In relation to the company measures discussed above, T-Mobile Austria also puts special emphasis on managing the reintegration of employees following a period of leave. At the moment, written guidelines are being drafted to support the process. The guidelines will include recommendations for line managers, such as suggestions on how the temporary absence of a member of staff can be managed effectively. Options include job rotation and further training for other staff within the same unit. The company also seeks to maintain contact with persons on leave as much as possible. Supervisors are recommended to ask employees whether they would like to use the period of leave for further education, and to what extent they would like to be informed about what is happening in their unit. Regular meetings can also be held with employees during their leave, in order to keep them in contact with the company and to enable the exchange of experiences among those in a similar situation.
Rationale and background of the initiative
While most of the existing measures have been developed with carers of young children in mind, more recently the specific needs of working carers have also been assessed. It emerged that many of the measures that were already available were also relevant to the needs of working carers. However, it was found that more can be done to improve awareness within the company regarding the challenges facing employees who seek to combine their job with informal care-giving to elderly or disabled family members.
The company has implemented a quota for the share of women in management. In order to achieve the quota targets, the company considers it essential that managers can work part-time, and that both women and men feel free to choose parental or care leave. The company is actively engaged in the public debate in Austria about how to improve work–life balance and how to further promote equal opportunities for women.
Results and assessment
The measures implemented for supporting employees to reconcile work and private responsibilities have not been formerly evaluated via a cost–benefit analysis. Nonetheless, the company’s management has always given full support to initiatives in this field.
A major positive impact of these measures is that T-Mobile Austria has been able to attract scarce skills on the labour market. In 2010, the company was ranked among the 10 ‘best places to work in Austria’ (in the category of companies with more than 250 employees) by the ‘Great Places to Work Institute’.
The company regularly conducts interview-based surveys, which can address issues such as the visibility of the work–care reconciliation issue and addressing related challenges. In addition, HR management regularly invites line managers to workshops to discuss specific issues, and to obtain feedback about the way in which work–life balance issues are addressed in the day-to-day management of employees at operative level.
In addition to the interview-based surveys, T-Mobile Austria also carries out employee surveys at regular intervals. Rates of job satisfaction indicate that employees strongly appreciate the support provided by the company to help them reconcile working and private life.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
T-Mobile grew rapidly over a short period of time, mainly in the 1990s, and because of this its workforce is dominated by people in their twenties and thirties. This means that, up to now, informal care-giving not been much of an issue for the large majority of its employees. The company is aware, however, that this is bound to change in the coming years. It therefore wants to prepare itself for a future in which more and more employees seek reconciliation between work and informal care responsibilities.
Experience so far with work-family balance initiatives at T-Mobile Austria suggests that particular attention needs to placed on obtaining support from line managers. In the case of the written guidelines for leave management, which are currently being finalised (see above), line managers have been invited to provide critical feedback and suggestions on a draft version. Once finished, the guidelines document will be presented and discussed with managers via a number of small workshops. Seeking the active involvement of line managers comprises an important step in fostering a company culture that is fully committed to supporting employees in reconciling their job with family responsibilities.
Case study author:
- Karsten Gareis, empirica GmbH, Bonn
- Interviewee: Mag. Agnes Schubert, Diversity Manager, Human Resources, T-Mobile Austria GmbH, conducted on 13 December 2010.
- Website of T Mobile Austria [accessed at http://www.t-mobile.at/unternehmen/karriere/benefits/index.html].