Learning from the German workplace revolution

I confess, I was surprised to read that there is a workplace revolution for men starting in — of all places — Germany, where traditional roles for men and women have historically been very strong. But a recent Spiegel article shows that is changing very quickly:

Susanne Amann and Simone Salden, Corporate Wake-Up Call: German Dads Demand Family Time

German engineering and electronics giant Robert Bosch GmbH demonstrates one way this [rethinking work] might play out. Under the rubric “flexible work models,” the company offers its employees not only “flexitime” and part-time models, but also expressly encourages them to work from other locations. Executives are even allowed to organize their working hours as they choose, as long as they are producing results. Internal networks such as [email protected] help with the exchange of information, and a pilot project has an initial group of 100 executives working from home or employed part time.

Bosch isn’t the only major corporation trying in this way to make it easier for employees to combine career and family. German insurer ERGO, for example, offers its managers seminars on “family conscious leadership,” sensitizing them to their subordinates’ needs. The company has also launched a “part-time leadership” project and allows fathers to partially or entirely convert vacation pay or Christmas bonuses into additional vacation days, making it possible for employees to take up to 42 additional vacation days per year without it resulting in a cut to their monthly salary.

Compared to the norm in the US, Germany’s efforts — at least at the most freethinking and foresighted companies — seem way ahead. However, 85% of German men think that companies workplace flexibility policies are too oriented toward mothers of young children.

More and more German companies — like Lufthansa — have advocated part-time work as a means to spend more time with family, and even at smaller firms, there are unintended benefits when key employees take parental leave. When a key role is opened in this way, others in the firm can step into the role for a short period of time, and develop new skills.

Clearly, there is a great deal that we in the US can learn from the Germans in this area.