Düsseldorf In the political debate about tightening the lockdown, the industry is urgently warning against the closure of production facilities. The systems could not be “switched off and on at will like a light bulb”, says Markus Jerger from the BVMW SME Association. A total lockdown would mean the end for many companies, especially in the manufacturing sector, and cause massive economic damage.
The association “The Family Entrepreneurs” made a similar statement on Tuesday. Its President Reinhold von Eben-Worlée said of the demands for a complete shutdown of the industry: “That borders on Harakiri: After all, we ensure the supply of the population with our materials and products.”
On Tuesday, at the next summit, the federal and state governments will discuss further steps to contain the corona pandemic. Politicians have already brought the closure of industrial plants into play as a possible consequence of the persistently high number of infections.
However, it is becoming apparent that the Prime Ministers are divided on this issue. For Lower Saxony’s head of state, Stefan Weil (SPD), a shutdown of the industry is not an option: “You have to realize that a complete economic standstill is associated with enormous damage,” said the SPD politician on Monday.
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This is not just about the economic impact on the companies themselves. The chemical industry, for example, predicts supply problems for the entire economy and for the health system if it had to close its factory gates.
Experts recall the experiences from the first lockdown in spring 2020. According to an investigation by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research, the effects were long-lasting. Numerous companies suffered production collapses or were affected by delivery problems from suppliers.
“Working from home is simply not possible”
The study shows that production got off to a slow start after the first lockdown. As quickly as a production facility can be stopped, it is just as challenging to restart it. This is especially true for the deeply networked chemical plants, but also for car production.
Industrial companies also refer to their safety and hygiene concepts. We work in permanent shifts, the teams are strictly separated from one another. In industries such as chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the safety standards are so high that the risk of contracting the virus while in operation is lower than in front of the factory gates, said Michael Vassiliadis, head of the mining, chemical and energy union, on Monday.
Vassiliadis also rejects calls for companies to work from home: In many industrial sectors, working from home is simply not possible. The administrations of the chemical and pharmaceutical companies already work mostly in the home office, as surveys among the companies show.
Germany’s largest chemical company, BASF, does not consider it necessary to work from home. “Our experience over the past few months has shown that employees are very responsible for the current distance and hygiene regulations at the site and work from home whenever possible,” says the DAX company.
More: Tougher lockdown is approaching: Politicians could still turn these adjusting screws
Berlin Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has urgently appealed to employers to allow home offices wherever possible. “This is not just any appeal, but a very clear message from the federal and state governments to the economy,” said the SPD politician in an interview with the Handelsblatt.
Many companies acted responsibly. But there are also those who arbitrarily refused to work on the move. “That is irresponsible,” said Heil.
The request to work from home if possible is also directed at the employees – even if he understands that many would like to see their colleagues again. But it is a question of responsibility, and the employees are also deceived.
Cologne At a time when there was little to eat, the Bergader family business started a tradition that continues to have an impact today: “Immediately after the war, my grandmother regularly cooked lunch for all 40 employees. That was the beginning of corporate health management for us, ”said Beatrice Kress, the head of the cheese dairy in Waging am See in Bavaria.
A good 70 years later, the health and good meals of the employees continue to play an important role in the company. “Everyone should retire healthy,” says Kress, outlining the goal. The canteen at Bergader is just one component – and has long since become a matter of course. “She never did the math,” admits Kress. But that’s not the point.
The company’s concern for its employees goes far beyond subsidized catering. Bergader takes care of well-being with a specially developed model. It is low-threshold, but attractive, says Kress. Bergader offers employees “individual health care like in top-class sport,” says the boss.
For this purpose, the cheese dairy commissions the Traunmed physiotherapy practice on a permanent basis, in which professionals from the Bundesliga also keep fit. There, every Bergader employee can receive a training plan tailored to their individual needs from their personal coach. It is processed in one of the three health lounges at Bergader.
One in five employees used these training rooms with medical fitness equipment in the past year. “That keeps the workforce fit,” says Kress. But what is most important to the boss: “Our therapists have often suspected more behind supposedly minor ailments and recommended a visit to a doctor.” Some serious illnesses were recognized so early that they could be treated well.
Health management strategies have become more creative and flexible. Steffen Klink, EuPD Research
With the unusual example of individual training from top-class sport, Bergader took first place in the “Consumer Goods – Medium-Sized Enterprises” category at the Corporate Health Award (CHA) this year. The prize for commitment to corporate health management (BGM) was awarded by the consulting and market research company EuPD and the Handelsblatt in 33 categories.
A trend this year: “Corporate health management is no longer a simple nice-to-have program. It has become an essential part of corporate management, ”says Steffen Klink, Director of Social Sustainability and Head of the Corporate Health Award at EuPD Research. It is noticeable that more and more companies are including their own employees in the conception.
The number of competition participants who regularly use employee surveys for the BGM rose by six percentage points to 68 percent compared to the previous year. “The health management strategies and measures have become significantly more creative and flexible thanks to the greater involvement of employees,” says Klink.
EuPD praised the fact that the participation of the workforce is a top priority at Deutsche Telekom. The award winner in the information and communication technology category regularly questions employees about their health.
This year the group focused on the subject of mindfulness and developed a year-round program called “My Health Journey”. The Bonn-based company is currently devoting itself to healthy sleep in the pilot project “#Rest sign”.
According to the Techniker Krankenkasse (TK), almost every second person complains of constant or occasional sleep disorders. The consequences can be, for example, lower cognitive performance or a higher risk of depression. The group therefore produces podcasts with sleep experts for its employees.
A digital bedroom check is designed to find sleep disturbances, such as a mattress that has been laid out. The company still does not want to comment on the results of the scientifically supported project. But if it is successful, it should be established across the group.
The BGM of the city of Wiesbaden also benefits from regular employee feedback. “We get a lot of suggestions from there,” says Marcus Bittner, head of the social affairs department. The City receives the award in the public administration category.
The reason given was the integrated approach to employee health. “Occupational safety, occupational medicine and company health management take place under one roof with us,” explains Bittner. In fact, almost all of the employees involved work in offices on the same floor. Decision-making paths would be shorter and acceptance for the measures increased.
Getting closer to your own employees is also the recipe for success at RWE. “We wanted to intensify the cooperation between the people at the locations and the central OHM team,” says BGM team leader Julika Graß. The department recruited strategic partners for the BGM in 30 opencast mines and power plants.
Since 2017, one manager and one operative employee have been in constant contact with the central OHM team in each company. “This has triggered a cultural change towards greater support for OHM,” says Graß. The need for WHM measures is now determined in interviews with the employees and in coordination with the strategic partners.
“With the head on the job” is the name of a pilot project for mindfulness training that is also intended to help prevent accidents. “Naturally, there are many pitfalls in power plants and opencast mines. But like the roots in a forest, they cannot all be removed. So we can only ensure that these dangers are better perceived, ”explains Graß.
For example, in workshops and training sessions last year, employees in four power plants learned to better recognize risks and to avoid dangers better through exercise training and roll off injury-free in the event of a fall.
The program was popular. “Anyone who completes walking training as a grown man will be looked at by his colleagues at first. But the first participants soon felt like pioneers and infected the others, ”says Graß. The WHM team checked the effectiveness of the measure by phone or questionnaire. The result: “With your head on the job” is currently being rolled out to all RWE companies.
Telefónica shows how flexibly the BGM can react to the corona crisis. The mobile operator received a special award for its pandemic management. The CHA jury was impressed by the “quick responsiveness”. With the outbreak of the pandemic, almost all corporate health management offers were switched to online in a very short time. That includes also the traditional company run, which could no longer be held together.
Instead, employees received an app that they could use to organize small running teams and enter the kilometers they had completed. The concept was well received. Around 1,500 colleagues ran a total of over 50,000 kilometers within a week.
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According to Telefónica, two factors were decisive for the success. “Our degree of digitization was already high before the crisis,” says Markus Frowein, Head of Data Protection and Health Management. That made the switch easier for care seminars or sports courses, for example.
In addition, Telefónica relies on clearly visible communication of all health issues: since 2015, all occupational safety, occupational medicine and company health management activities have been bundled under one word and image: “Feel Good”. “In this way we communicate the sometimes bulky topics more playfully and reach more employees. The brand now has a positive connotation, ”says Frowein.
Berlin Consumer advocates are calling for progress in the supply chain law against exploitation, child labor and starvation wages for foreign suppliers. At Christmas, many people thought more than usual about how the gifts on the gift table would actually be produced, said the head of the federal consumer association, Klaus Müller, of the German press agency. “I don’t know any consumer who would say: Yes, I would like to buy products that contain child labor, exploitation and environmental destruction.” But the manufacturing conditions of the products are usually not obvious.
Several federal ministers had therefore proposed a new law. It is intended to oblige German companies to guarantee compliance with minimum social and ecological standards for foreign suppliers.
However, the project has been on hold for months because business associations and parts of the Union parties fear a competitive disadvantage for German companies. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) had also warned in the Bundestag against burdens for companies. The question is whether and to what extent a small medium-sized company can be held liable for things that are going on somewhere in the world.
Germany is not a pioneer, but rather a bottom light, emphasized Müller. The business associations also said they did not want any exploitative or environmentally destructive production conditions. “But you don’t want to be liable for it,” he criticized. Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) also recently increased the pressure to get the law through the federal cabinet.
According to the consumer advocate, the argument that companies should not be burdened additionally during the corona crisis cannot apply. “There’s never a good time,” he said. When the economy improves again, it is argued that the upswing should not be slowed down. “If you go after that, it will never be regulated,” said Müller. “Then we would still have child labor today and, in the worst case, even slavery, to make it worse.”
Müller also spoke out in favor of producing more important products in Europe. The extremely high international division of labor saves costs, but also increases uncertainty. That was noticed in the spring when buying mouth and nose covers, which were mainly produced in Asia. “In a domestic market, it is wise to be able to actually produce certain things yourself in order to influence quality and price,” said Müller. “A continent like Europe should be able to maintain critical infrastructure, at least in relevant parts.”
More: Merkel should bring a breakthrough in the dispute over the supply chain law
The app is supposed to report clear risk contacts.
Düsseldorf Much of the population accepts the measures taken to contain the coronavirus, whether it is wearing a mask or observing the minimum distance. Only a small group remains skeptical, they are not convinced. The problem: This small group is enough for the virus to spread more and more. So the group of skeptics shouldn’t get any bigger.
Düsseldorf Home office only once a week – and that with seven days’ notice to the boss: That was pretty old-fashioned for some IT employees in the Edeka Group even before Corona.
When the pandemic broke out, the specialists therefore saw their opportunity for more flexibility: remote workplaces, fast Internet connections – the specialists in Hamburg had prepared almost everything in order to secure operations remotely.
But CEO Markus Mosa insisted on presence in the lockdown, at least for the headquarters on the New York Ring. An extensive shift model was introduced. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the company has sent more than half of the workforce to work from home on a weekly basis and regulates who should come to which room in the office building and when.
This back and forth, including the equipment, was retained throughout the summer. Much to the annoyance of some employees, who suspected that the supervisors intended to control it rather than a measure to protect them. And so the demand for a permanent home office in Hamburg simply does not want to fall silent.
A group spokesman explains the management’s approach on request as follows: “Important activities at headquarters that maintain the global and national supply chains require a presence in the office.” However, he also points out that “due to the current situation, hygiene and Distance rules have been tightened further and the presence of employees has once again been significantly reduced ”.
On-site presence because the boss says so, colleagues in the office are frustrated – the case of the retail group shows that even in times of the Corona there are still executives who struggle with home office issues.
It is true that the proportion of managers who don’t work from home has shrunk during the pandemic, as a study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering and Organization among 500 executives shows.
After that, almost half of them reduced their reservations about working from home, because they have had positive experiences with the home office experiment. According to the survey, twelve percent continue to adhere to their negative home office stance – and apparently persistently.
On Europe’s largest employer evaluation platform Kununu, many employees are currently venting their frustration with home office grouches: “Home office is only available in corona lockdown – after that everyone should return to headquarters today rather than tomorrow,” says an employee of the consumer goods company Tchibo . In the traditional Hamburg company, the line manager decides who is allowed to work on the move – and who is not, as the company reports on request.
“Something like home office would be too modern for ZAG,” rumbles an employee of the personnel service provider, whose main office in Hanover still values presence. From there it says: The employees could work on site in a Corona-compliant manner – and thus do not lose the “social bond with colleagues”.
Seven in the office
Before Corona, the world of many bosses was clear: Most employees sat close by for queries and work orders. Teresa Hertwig also observes that so many superiors long for these beautiful old days.
The head of the management consultancy Getremote accompanies companies into the home office age and knows the advantages of remote work. Compatibility of family and work, saved commuting time, more efficient work: It is already evident that “the topic of home office is becoming more and more important in recruiting,” says Hertwig.
Nonetheless, the Getremote boss says: “The people who die from yesterday will not be able to convince the employees or Corona of the home office.”
A sentence that Annalisa Meier would probably immediately sign in one way or another. Meier, who actually has a different name, is a management consultant and is currently in quarantine at home. The reason: Several of your team members were infected with Covid-19, their own test was negative.
Meier had previously complained to her superiors several times that seven of them had to work in an office. But the bosses always waved them off. The contact with the customer from the home office was too tough, it said to explain.
Pressure instead of trust
But the young consultant’s impression is different: In the first lockdown, the workforce had done their work completely from home. Problems? “None,” recalls Meier. “Now that the number of infections has soared again, an employer should show more responsibility” – a comprehensible wish.
But: Despite the infection cases in its own ranks, the consulting company does not want to move away from its general requirement to be present. The only thing left for the employees to do is wear a face mask, disinfect, ventilate – and hope for the best.
As blatant as such cases read, in the long term, some employers may want to turn back the home office clock. A survey by the US tech company Servicenow of 900 executives worldwide showed that 45 percent of all superiors want to re-establish the old work processes after the pandemic.
In Germany it became clear in the spring that bosses did not actually send their employees to work from home wherever it would have been possible. For example, during the first lockdown, Kununu analyzed 33,000 corona-related ratings and found that around 20 percent of employees whose work would allow mobile working were still ordered to the office despite the pandemic.
And so a conflict that has been smoldering for a long time escalates in a crisis. As with Edeka. The rigid attendance rules encourage those who accuse the management team of running the company with pressure rather than trust. “Anyone who has made it to the top in such a pronounced hierarchical system cannot do otherwise,” suspects an employee frustrated that the change at Edeka is a long time coming.
The group spokesman, on the other hand, refers to employee surveys, according to which the vast majority of employees are satisfied with their management behavior.
Clear edge against home office
It is difficult to change such a corporate culture that has been established for decades from within. “It’s not my decision” was heard again and again when supervisors in the middle management passed instructions from the executive floor to colleagues.
Encrusted structures, a lack of trust, but also unclear legal framework conditions: The reasons why bosses hesitate to frankly send their employees to the home office are diverse, says Sonja Sackmann, professor of economics and organizational sciences at the Bundeswehr University in Munich.
She advises superiors to avoid giving the impression of arbitrariness. Managers should “communicate openly why there are different regulations in different departments of a company, for example for data protection reasons”.
Or why some tasks are perfectly suitable for the home office without a great deal of coordination effort, but in complex and multi-layered projects there is a risk of “frictional losses”, as Sackmann calls it.
Textile patriarch and Trigema boss Wolfgang Grupp also want to avoid this. The 78-year-old entrepreneur has therefore given a clear line: There is no home office – not even for his 35 employees in the commercial area, whom he likes to keep around him.
“If I allow an employee to work from home, I can’t go back,” says Grupp, who is annoyed that he has to constantly change rooms to take part in video conferences: “That costs way too much time.” The medium-sized company from Burladingen fears loitering and loss of control in the home office. “Black sheep are getting the upper hand,” says Grupp with conviction. So he stayed tough.
Trigema Chief Wolfgang Group
Textile patriarch Grupp is convinced that “black sheep are getting the upper hand”.
In fact, managing from a distance poses major challenges for bosses. Fred Windel, Managing Director of the Osnabrück Windel Group, knows this too well. Around a quarter of the confectionery and gift manufacturer’s 550 workforce could work from home.
For the first lockdown, Windel has therefore introduced the home office box, which – from notebooks to work documents – contains everything that the respective employee needs to work from home. The boxes are used again now.
But: Home office is not a permanent solution. According to current planning, a maximum of ten days per year in private or professional needs should be possible. He thinks more is unrealistic for his group of companies, even if the draft law for a “right to work from home” provides for significantly more days. Windel: “An industrial company cannot be further developed from the home office.”
Nobody is a diaper who doesn’t trust their employees. “But I’m afraid that managers could forget their responsibility to their employees in the home office.” Poor working conditions, whether poor lighting or unsuitable furniture, but also loneliness or overload – everything is not noticed remotely. But that couldn’t be the future of work, says Windel. After all, superiors have a duty of care. In the office and in the home office.
More: The office worker as we know him is a thing of the past
In some industries, working conditions have deteriorated again due to Corona.
Düsseldorf Salary, job security, corporate culture, the option to work from home: employer reviews of employees on the Internet provide information about all of this. As Europe’s largest employer rating platform, Kununu has, like no other company, an overview of how satisfied Germany’s employees are with their job. According to its own information, the platform has four million reviews for over 950,000 employers.
For the Handelsblatt, Kununu found out which companies have particularly bad working conditions. The negative ranking only includes companies with more than 5000 employees that have received at least 50 reviews since April 1st.
The list thus also paints a picture of which companies made themselves particularly unpopular with their employees in terms of working conditions during the pandemic.
As with all reviews on the Internet, it is also true for employer reviews that, as a rule, it is mainly those voices that report the most frustration. Disappointed employees can quickly make blanket judgments against their own employer – especially if the employment relationship has been terminated badly.
Nevertheless, one thing stands out above all in the poor ratings of the employees, says Chesran Glidden, manager at Kununu: “The trade and care sectors tend to perform worse in terms of working conditions.” The pressure in these professions is often very great, Corona exacerbates dissatisfaction in these industries again.
“It is of course ungrateful for the employees there to be sent to the front in times of the pandemic,” explains the Kununu manager. However, it is not only in supermarkets and care facilities that employees are angry about the working conditions.
According to Kununu, these are the ten employers with the worst ratings in the working conditions category:
10th place: Asklepios Kliniken (working conditions: 2.5 out of 5 stars)
Just work from home because of the increasing number of infections? That doesn’t work, say labor lawyers. Photo: Paul Hanaoka / Unsplash
Düsseldorf The number of infections in Germany is rising again rapidly: Many employees are therefore considering working more from home again – after all, home office worked surprisingly well in many companies in the spring.
But can employees just stay at home? What applies if you have worked with a sick colleague? And what are the working hours at home? The Handelsblatt clears the chaos in the corona jungle – eight questions, eight answers:
Can I simply work from home because of the increasing number of infections?
No. Workers have no right to stay at home preventively, for example because they are afraid of infection, say lawyers. Those who refuse face a warning or even termination. Because in this country there is still no right to work from home. The Ministry of Labor is currently working on such a regulation.
There are two exceptions to the obligation to come to the office. First: If employees have agreed with their employer to work from home for about a year at the start of the pandemic, the company is also bound by it. Second: Even parents who cannot find care for their under twelve-year-old children could not be forced to return to the office, says Viersen labor lawyer Sebastian Schröder.
Which regulations apply to risk groups?
The same companies can, through their right to issue instructions, generally require their employees to come to the office. However, companies have greater duties of care towards employees who belong to a risk group.
Companies need to take precautions to protect their health. The corona protection standards published by the Ministry of Labor provide guidance. Companies are therefore obliged to allow a minimum distance of 1.50 meters between workplaces and to ventilate them regularly. You have to set up disinfectant dispensers and equalize the break times. Personal meetings should also be reduced to the bare minimum.
“If the employer is not willing or able to do this, nobody has to come back to the office,” says Schröder.
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In Germany, too, more and more companies are tracking their employees digitally.
(Photo: James Boast / 2Agenten)
Düsseldorf What the detectives are in the analog world, the spying software is in the digital world. When managers mistrust their employees, companies use so-called monitoring tools in extreme cases. These record mouse movements, save surfing behavior, take screen recordings or locate the employee.
The providers of such software do not see themselves as monitoring assistants. They argue that the programs improve employee motivation and collaboration from home. But companies can also use it to shadow their employees.
Also read on the topic:
Such applications, which often cost less than ten euros per month per employee, have been customary for years, especially in America. But since the outbreak of the pandemic, more and more companies in Germany have been interested in such programs, report various providers. Take Hubstaff, for example: The start-up that has developed a program for screen monitoring is receiving almost three times as many inquiries in Germany as it was in 2019, the company explains on request.
This development is remarkable, because total digital surveillance of employees is prohibited in this country because the spyware interferes too much with personal rights. The Federal Labor Court ruled that in 2017. In the specific case, the company had secretly installed the spyware on an employee’s computer without cause – wrongly, the judges said.
If companies do that anyway, they have to expect fines running into the millions, because the secret use of such software also violates the data protection regulation.
Only in exceptions
But none of this seems to stop companies in this country from using such programs. This is only allowed under labor law in special exceptional cases, says Sebastian Schröder, an employment lawyer from Viersen. “Companies are only allowed to use spy software if they have a specific suspicion of a serious breach of duty and the specific facts cannot be clarified otherwise.”
Such a case exists, for example, when an employee has been delivering poor results for months and there are no understandable reasons for this.
Whether companies can secretly install the software in these justified exceptional cases or whether it requires the consent of the user is controversial among lawyers.
One thing is clear: the use of such tools could actually have advantages, says Ivo Schedlinsky, an economist from the University of Bayreuth, who is researching the subject. Employees who frequently work from home, especially during the pandemic, could get the feeling that “they can better present their performance to their superiors”.
The trade union IG Metall warns that in the current situation it is “downright negligent to focus on the control of employees”. Lisa Allegra Markert, consultant at the Bitkom Association, adds: “Monitoring employees is fundamentally in conflict with an open culture of trust.”
At a glance: five monitoring tools
There are a variety of programs that can also be used for monitoring. Capterra, a provider of software user reviews from Munich, lists more than 100 such “monitoring tools”, although the providers do not always refer to themselves as monitoring software. Here is a selection of programs:
Hubstaff: The US start-up promises to be able to increase employee productivity. Marketing agencies, development companies, e-commerce websites, law firms, and construction companies in particular use the software. It records screen activities and keyboard movements of employees, gives an overview of the browser history, has built-in time tracking and reveals inactivity times.
Active Track: The cloud-based analysis service not only offers insights into employee productivity, but also provides an overview of company performance. The program monitors the activities of the employees and their e-mails, records the screen activities, shows the browser history and records the working and inactivity times. Small and medium-sized companies with up to 1000 employees like to use it.
WebHR: The focus of this tool is the management of employee data as cloud-based software for the HR department. Small to medium-sized businesses use this solution to simplify all HR matters – from hiring through to retirement age. All employee activities can be monitored, including time tracking.
Desk Time: This program promises to increase the efficiency of the employees and to be able to track individual projects. The screen and all employee activities are recorded. In addition, working and inactivity times can be tracked – not least in order to automatically make project costs transparent for customers on the basis of hourly employee rates and to calculate them precisely. According to their own information, more than 6000 companies use the tool.
WebWork Time Tracker: The tool, which is mainly used by remote teams and freelancers, is intended to increase their productivity and to keep track of which projects the team members are currently working on. The time recording is used to be able to issue invoices to the hour. For this purpose, screen and employee activities are monitored, key presses are recorded and the browser history is observed.
More: On the trail of idlers – how detectives monitor employees in the home office