EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Case Study: Leave-related Measures – Weleda NL, the Netherlands


Organisation Size: 
Small or medium (<250)
Private sector
Initiative Types: 
Leave-relatedHours reductionWork adjustmentsCare-related supports

Company / organisation name

Weleda NL

Initiative name

Conscious life employee policies

About the company / organisation

Weleda Netherlands is part of a multinational group which manufactures and distributes in over 51 countries worldwide. The group’s headquarters are in Arlesheim, Switzerland, and its main products are natural cosmetics and body-care, nutritional supplements and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.

The company’s background is in anthroposophy, a spiritually-infused philosophy centred on human development. At the core of anthroposophy is the view of humans as an indivisible whole, consisting of the physical body, the conscious mind, and the spiritually connected soul. Anthroposophical medicine is based on the belief that true healing addresses more than physical health; it also takes mental and spiritual well-being into account. Weleda as a company subscribes strongly to the principles of anthroposophy, which is reflected in its HR management and its approach to issues of work–family balance. This is also the case for Weleda Netherlands in Zoetermeer. As of January 2005, Weleda Belgium is a subsidiary of Weleda Netherlands NV.

The initiative

At Weleda, a working carer is primarily defined as an employee who takes care of others within the context of the (extended) family, as well as other contexts. In fact, the company’s definition of working carer sets no limit regarding the beneficiary of the care, or how much is provided. Doing so would contradict the company’s approach to work–family balance, which is to facilitate and provide room for employees to engage in any kind of social responsibility.

Weleda’s HR policy is considered an ongoing process. It comprises several elements, outlined below.

Weleda complies with all national legislation on ‘work and care’. The company also offers additional arrangements that go beyond what is required by national legislation (Weleda NL is not covered by a sectoral labour agreement).

Before the end of each year, Weleda’s employees can indicate that they want to participate in the levensloop’ savings plan for the coming year. The aim of the scheme is to finance leave of absence (prior to retirement). Employees can save some of their income during one working year, so that they can receive an income during a period of ‘unpaid leave’ in the future. Saving plans of this kind benefit from a tax incentive offered by the Dutch government. In practice, the leave arrangements need to be negotiated between employee and their supervisor.

A range of options for part-time work are available.

Working carers can buy extra leave hours (holidays), up to a maximum of 37.5 hours per year (for full-time employees).

Senior hours: Employees aged 50-54 years are entitled to an additional 7.5 hours paid leave per year. For those aged 55-59 years, this rises to 15 hours, while those aged 60 years or older benefit from an extra 22.5 hours of paid leave.

Flexible retirement (60+ arrangement): under this scheme, full-time employees (1 FTE) are entitled to flexibly reduce their working hours when they have reached 60 years. The contractual working hours are reduced as follows: 1 FTE to 0.9 or 0.8 FTE; 0.9 FTE to 0.8 or 0.7 FTE; and 0.8 FTE to 0.7 or 0.6 FTE. The measure is jointly financed by both employer and employee. Pension benefits remain based on the previous (full) salary. If an employee opts for the 60+ arrangement, they lose their entitlement to care leave.

Additional care leave: under certain conditions, each employee is entitled to five extra care leave days (fully paid) per year on top of the national regulations. This applies if one of the following situations arises: admission to hospital of own children up to 16 years; sickness of (young) children at home who cannot be looked after by others; care-giving for close family members (palliative or acute care for bedridden persons who clearly depend on the care of the employee). Additional care leave is not granted if the employee was on sick leave for more than 10 days within the same year. Moreover, part-time employees need to demonstrate that they cannot swap their shifts for other days before being granted care leave.

In practice, tailored solutions are sought that take account of the personal situation of the employee. In urgent cases, more than five days care leave can be agreed upon. There is also the option of the employee and Weleda sharing the cost of extra care days.

Occasional telework / working at home: employees can request their supervisor to allow them to work from home in certain situations. For example, this could be allowed if care responsibilities make it difficult to commute to the central office. If employees work at home, this is communicated to co-workers by an announcement on the intranet.

Swap days: this arrangement allows part-time workers to request a swap day – to exchange a working day for a non-working day and vice versa, if the need arises. If the request is granted by the supervisor, this is also announced through intranet.

Financial support: in cases where an employee can demonstrate the need for financial support to deal with an emergency, such as having to arrange for professional care of a family member, the end-of year bonus can be provided earlier during the year. Home loans can also be offered.

Rationale and background of the initiative

The 60+ arrangement and the additional care leave arrangements were agreed by general management, HR management and the works council under the label of ‘levensfasebewust personeelsbeleid’. They were implemented in early 2009.

The background of these initiatives is to be found in the anthroposophical principles which underlie Weleda’s operations. The company’s HR policy seeks to apply the anthroposophical concept of human development to the work situation. The point of departure is the individual’s capacity to make a healthy and autonomous contribution to the goals of the whole organisation. The focus should be on the balance between the life spheres and the capacities of individuals.

Three basic principles underline the company’s HR policy. Firstly, every person is seen as unique and responsible for understanding their changing needs across the different life stages. Weleda aims to contribute to this process by providing favourable working conditions and by integrating personal needs into the work context as much as possible. The second principle is that every individual is responsible for and accountable for his or her work–life balance. Weleda can contribute to this goal by offering practical options for support. If an employee’s work suffers from imbalance, the employer is responsible for acting on this, as well as the employee. The third principle is that a balanced relationship between contract and effort is important, both business-wise and psychologically. Weleda strives to offer market conforming benefits. Employees are considered co-entrepreneurs and are expected to be committed rather than compliant.

Weleda’s HR policy is undergoing a step-by-step process towards enabling increased levels of flexibility. Each step needs to be evaluated with regard to feasibility and desirability, from the viewpoint of both the company and the employees.

Supports for working carers are introduced to improve work–life integration. Weleda wants all employees to have opportunities to reconcile work and private responsibilities, without sacrificing their ability to recover during rest days (holidays).

Two factors underline the rationale for the implementation of the arrangements for employees reaching retirement. Firstly, they provide employees with flexibility regarding the retirement process, allowing a gradual introduction to having more spare time. Secondly, it gives these employees more time for care obligations, which are increasingly becoming the norm for older persons.

The initiatives were prompted by a number of developments in recent years. For example, it was realised that more and more Weleda employees negotiate their own personal working arrangements with the employer. This is because the relative number of working mothers among the staff has increased. Moreover, older employees are growing increasingly likely to face private care responsibilities for their ageing parents or other relatives. By the end of 2007, the company felt that the time was ripe to bring together the various arrangements that were already being practised.

Another relevant factor was an increase in absenteeism due to sick leave. This was partly attributable to mothers with children who stayed at home when their children were unwell. In addition, the works council had begun to signal that Weleda’s holiday provisions compared unfavourably with other SMEs.

As a response to these challenges, in early 2009 new provisions were implemented under the heading of ‘leeftijdsbewust personeelsbeleid’. Weleda’s challenge was to keep employees satisfied and to meet their high expectations without endangering the company’s competitiveness. In order to do this, the company decided not to grant more holidays to all employees, but to introduce the new care leave arrangements instead.

Results and assessment

Implementation of the new arrangement went according to plan.

The most recent study of employee satisfaction was conducted in 2006. The company planned to carry out a new survey in 2010, which will evaluate the new provisions on care. From then on, this survey will be repeated every second year.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that employees do feel positively about the new care provisions. This is because they feel that they will be able to deal with care obligations if and when this issue arises for them.

Feedback from staff shows that the entitlements provided by national legislation are rarely used by working carers. This may be due to the fact that this care leave provision is not fully paid. Moreover, many employees with private care responsibilities work part-time, which allows them to arrange care obligations outside office hours.

In 2009, a total of 278 hours were registered as additional care leave hours. This number is expected to rise in the future. In practice, employees are very reluctant to use the additional leave days, as they prefer to use their holiday leave or swap their shifts. The range of flexible arrangements on offer means that alternatives to care leave can usually be found straightaway. This is particularly relevant to those working in the marketing unit, while those in production and logistics are more dependent on leave provisions.

Home-based telework is used quite often, but no data are available about the use of this work option by working carers.

Issues, challenges and lessons learned

Weleda wishes to extend the arrangements available to working carers in the near future. This might involve paying more attention to individual arrangements and broadening eligibility for additional care leave; for example, employees could be allowed to use it for voluntary work as well.

The company is likely to continue increasing the flexibility offered to staff via the various work arrangements available to them. Moreover, Weleda NL plans to soon meet with other Weleda subsidiaries to discuss the work–care theme and other HR related topics. There are plans to exchange best practices and to develop a group-wide, international policy, which would then be implemented locally in order to account for different national contexts.

The responsible employees at Weleda make recommendations to other companies who are exploring options for supporting working carers. Firstly, they suggest starting with the universal values that lie behind an employee’s commitment to their employer. Employees should be valued as human beings who need to integrate different social activities. Only if the employer enables workers to de-segment their life spheres will it be possible to make them fully committed to their job.

Weleda NL also recommends that a company policy on working carers needs to carefully define the target group and to set applicable preconditions in order to prevent misuse. For this purpose, a written policy is required. At the same time, employees should be made aware that the policy does not disallow the development of customised solutions, if such a need arises. Finally, they suggest developing the policy step by step, and carefully assessing what is possible within the boundaries of the business.

In the case of Weleda, the initiative developed in a bottom-up manner. The next step will be to assess best practices internationally, and to learn from these.


Case study author:

  • Dr Pascale Peters, Assistant Professor, Radboud University Nijmegen


  • Mr. Nijnens, General manager of Weleda, initiator of the policy.
  • Helene Verkaar, HR manager of Weleda, involved in the further development of the policy.
  • Marcel van Landeghem, senior pharmacy employee, works council member.

Written material not available online:

  • Weleda. Annual Report 2009. April 2010
  • Weleda. Employee manual. January 2009.

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