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Family Affairs Minister von der Leyen designates BfR a family-friendly employer

13/2009, 17.06.2009

Federal Institute issued "Work and Family Life" certificate

Today, the Federal Family Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen presented the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) with the berufundfamilie (Work and Family Life) certificate for the steps it has introduced to reconcile work and family life. Prior to the issuing of the certificate BfR had been audited by berufundfamilie gGmbH which identified the opportunities for balancing work and family life available to BfR staff now and planned for the future. In scientific circles, in particularly, it is difficult to reconcile a family and a career. This explains why it is normally women who interrupt or abandon their careers to start a family. At BfR efforts are made to find family-friendly solutions. "The majority of our scientific staff are women. Our family-friendly personnel policy makes us especially attractive to scientists wishing to start a family or return to work after taking parental leave," says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel who takes the balancing of work and family life very seriously. With its measures the Institute has demonstrated that highly qualified scientific work and a family are both possible at the same time.

Highly flexible working hours and working time schemes adaptable to individual family situations enable staff to find solutions even in situations in which work and childcare clash. Between 6am and 8pm staff can come to an arrangement with their superiors about when they want to start work, take breaks and finish work. Working time credits or debits can be individually managed. “I benefit above all from the option of being able to plan and react in line with my needs”, reports a staff member from the BfR administration. “For instance when there was an unexpected strike at my child’s kindergarten, I was able to stay home and didn’t have to pay for expensive child care”. BfR plans to set up a parent-child office in the near future which staff can use when their child care arrangements are cancelled at short notice.

BfR offers a range of part-time models adapted to various life phases. Shaping working hours in harmony with the respective life phases is a declared goal of the Institute. In cases of individual hardship every effort is made to find a solution. For instance, for a few years now the deputy chair of a scientific working group has done some of his work at home. Since 2008 he has benefited from the BfR “telework model”. Telework means that the employer installs the same technical facilities in the staff member’s home as at his/her workplace. “From my home I can now access the same database that I access from my PC in the office,” comments the staff member. “This works very well. I save on travel time and can shape my day flexibly. During the morning I drive my son to school and sign off for this time.” His son is autistic and is dependent on his parents taking him to and collecting him from school on certain weekdays. A biologist takes advantage of a similar model. She also works at home one day a week which means she can participate in the parent school run from where she lives outside Berlin. “Without this option, I would have been forced to reduce my working hours in order to reconcile family and work. Now I can work 100% for BfR and also be there for my family,” she comments.

The numerous part-time models and the setting up of tele-workplaces does lead to additional costs initially for BfR but BfR President Hensel comments that they “are far lower than the costs that can be incurred by new recruitments, absences, bridging periods and fluctuations”. Staff members who go on leave of absence for family reasons are given opportunities to keep in touch with the Institute and their colleagues, for instance by attending further training courses and other events of the Institute. This makes a return to work after parental leave far easier because the staff members do not fall behind in terms of scientific developments.

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment draws on its scientific expertise to advise the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV) on all aspects of consumer health protection. The BfR laboratories and offices are spread over its three Berlin locations in Dahlem, Marienfelde and Alt-Marienfelde. BfR currently has a workforce of 699, 256 of whom are scientific staff. BfR prepares expert opinions on the material and microbial assessment of the potential risks from feed, food, chemicals and consumer products. In its work BfR adopts a scientific, research-based approach. The BfR work results are presented in a transparent manner and are used by politicians, scientists, the business community, associations, public authorities, non-governmental organisations and consumers as a decision-making aid. Thanks to its comprehensive and easily comprehensible risk communication, BfR makes science visible and useable for the public at large.

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