Research and Family – Another Award for Personnel Policies

The Hertie Foundation’s “career and family” (“berufundfamilie”) non-profit initiative has honoured the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht (HZG) the third time in a row for its progressive human resources policies. The prestigious “career and family audit” certificate, which was also awarded to the HZG in 2008 and 2011, was granted in recognition of its employee services. Read the interview with Elina Valli, the Equal Opportunity Officer who coordinated the audit process for the HZG.


Representatives of the HZG are thrilled about the audit renewal (from left to right): Juan-David Fernandez, Elina Valli und Christiane Hoffmann.

Could you explain the “career and family audit”?

The “career and family audit” is a continuous process: upon completion of the audit, a certificate is then awarded for having developed concrete goals and measures toward a family-conscious personnel policy. The certificate is re-issued every three years after a re-auditing procedure in which the foundation assesses current progress. A strategy group comprised of HZG employees is set up in parallel to determine further goals, which then results in a concrete written agreement concerning objectives.

Frau Valli: What are the objectives of the current audit?

Zertifikat audit berufundfamilie seit 2008

The Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht has been certified since 2008.

We decided that “more women in scientific management positions” would be our meta-goal for the next three years. We also plan, for example, to develop a “talent management” initiative to focus on personnel development and to help individuals re-enter executive positions after parental leave by offering them temporary part-time employment and the opportunity to telecommute. Furthermore, we want to promote and expand the dual-career approach, which is intended to support the partners of newly hired employees. The HZG has also opted for a quality-based support scheme for employees in the future. In order to promote even better child care, we wish to provide additional services for school children. Such initiatives would include, for example, perhaps creating “learning rooms” as well as our cooperation within a network of schools that can help quickly integrate children who speak different native languages. We also wish to further develop our telecommuting possibilities at the HZG. After the works council approval, we would additionally like to offer more flexible working hours within the 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. time-frame and to provide improved “work time accounts” that take the needs of the employees into consideration.

When did the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht begin to take measures in reconciling family and professional life?


Award ceremony for the “work and family audit,” granted to the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht for the third time. Christiane Hoffmann (rear left) accepts the certificate on behalf of the HZG.

The HZG began building its progressive family initiatives years ago and had already introduced flexible working hours back in 1999. We are, in comparison to other Helmholtz centres, one of the pioneers. We opened the “Einsteinchen” kindergarten in 2007. It is so popular that we’re planning to expand the facility in a few weeks. In addition, the HZG offers emergency care, which extends beyond the long 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. opening hours. The opportunity to telecommute was introduced in 2002. Twenty-two women and nineteen men telecommuted during 2013. These numbers are quite low in my opinion, but employees at some research institutions are still fighting for the introduction of such flexibility. In that respect, we’re clearly a step ahead.

Telecommuting is clearly still underutilised. Have you any idea how more employees could profit from it?

There are employees who really don’t want to telecommute because they want a clear separation between work and private life. For others, it might be difficult to reconcile this choice with the demands of the job. Telecommuting is currently only allowed for employees with children under the age of fourteen. We have engaged in fervent discussions with the administration for some time about expanding the scope of this possibility. Fortunately, Mr. Ganß has again opened the subject for discussion as the “mobile-commuting” option within the target agreements.

What is the main difference between telecommuting and mobile-commuting?

The term “mobile-commuting” is broader than telecommuting, which is performed during appointed times. This new form of working would grant employees greater freedom. This way they could carry out a portion of their work obligations as they see fit, working flexibly from home or while traveling on a business trip. Even if a family member suddenly falls ill, mobile-commuting alleviates private distress in the short term. The challenge involved is to ensure the working framework meets the needs as much as possible and as closely as necessary to satisfy both the establishment and its employees. Mobile work is always based on mutual trust!

Do you have other objectives for the future?

We wish to formulate management guidelines for the HZG and establish a uniformly tolerant management culture, with the specific aim of ensuring that supervisors are sensitive to issues of equal opportunity and to career and family. I have noticed that, overall, the centre’s administration has recently been paying increasing attention to issues concerning career and family as well as to work-life-balance.

Where do you notice this change?

With the third successful audit, the subject has been included as part of human resources management and not just as an extension of equal opportunity. The implementation, therefore, will become one of the central objectives for the administration and for human resources. As the Equal Opportunity Officer, I will support them with ideas and constructive criticism. In order to win over supervisors on the topic of career and family, the centre’s administrators want to take an active role in achieving this goal: for example, to provide workshops for institute heads in order to help convince them of the importance of such measures. The topic is also to be integrated into the existing professional development program. Based on Mr. Kaysser’s initiative, we will introduce an award for the most family-friendly supervisor.

How do you explain these changing priorities?

Elina Valli

Elina Valli, Equality Opportunity Officer at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht

The competition for bright minds has become fiercer in recent years. Only those who offer the most favourable conditions can win the race. For employees with families, it is often not just about income, but also about the individual scope of opportunities that contribute to a balanced professional and personal life. The Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht can only compensate for the disadvantage of its location and for the size of the centre by offering above-average benefits in the realm of family and work-life-balance! And only by taking the individual needs of the employees into consideration within a participative working culture can we ensure a sustained positive working environment.

Interview conducted by Vanessa Barth

2014 “career and family” certificate awarded to the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht 2014 “career and family audit”: The Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, A Brief Overview