At Gärtner Datensysteme GmbH & Co. KG New Work is “old news.” Since their founding in 1992, they have been thinking of many New Work principles organically and without using such labels. Of the 16 almost exclusively male (!) employees, 9 work part-time. Part time near to full-time, home office, a 4-day work week, a consistent salary level and various open-space formats – these are all standard at Gärtner. In addition, there is no classical budgeting and no target agreements; numbers are communicated transparently and decisions are made during collective conversations. These are some of the many good reasons to introduce Christine Müller and Gärtner Datensysteme here as #ChangeAgents. We talked to Christine – a partner at Gärtner Datensysteme – about prejudices against part-time work, New Work and the new world of work.
Flexibility plays a big role with you guys. How did that come about and what do you love about it? What working time models do you offer?
The idea of being able to work flexibly was an important pillar when the company was founded. From the beginning, all four partners had planned to work fewer hours in the future. In addition to the classic motivation “time for kids,” there was a desire to have more time for activities outside of work like sports, making music – or just free time. After a busy start, the bosses implemented this idea in 2002. All four partners have reduced hours. One oscillates a bit since they spend Wednesdays in the summer months on their road bike. Two work part-time for half a week, and then full-time the next week – that means 30 hours on average. One worked half a week for a while but is back at 35 hours now that their kids are older.
Because of our stance on flexibility, we also gave the employees the choice of how much they want to work. From the beginning, employees have worked as much as they want: four days a week; seven hours on five days; or five hours on four days. Out of our 16 employees, 9 work part-time, each in an individual model.
The full-time employees are thus in the minority. Leisure time is also important to them, so they get an extra day of vacation per month. That makes 42 days off a year.
Since our work is computer-based, working from home is in principle possible and some employees use it sporadically. One of our employees is on a home workstation in another city for two days. He works in the Brunswick office for three days. The three days with the colleagues are important for everyone; the personal contact is appreciated.
Part-time work is often associated with women and family formation. However, most of your employees are men. Thus, you’ve proven that these models are also attractive to men. What are your experiences with this?
For the three male bosses, it was never really a question. One of our bosses is convinced that through his time with his daughter, he gained important new experiences that have greatly broadened his view. He sees it as a positive development from which the company has benefited.
One of our employees only started with us because we continued to give him one day off per week. Our only classic “half-time” employee is a single male who simply did not want to work as crazily as he used to. He had to quit with his previous employer because they weren’t open to working models other than full time.
Basically, part-time work simply means that you can spend less time in the company. Since you get permission to work the way you like, your engagement tends to increase. The employees are more relaxed.
Appointments require good communication. Working hours are known to all, and dates are set so that everyone can participate in the conversation. This works well in our experience, since part-time work is accepted. Even in a company with mostly full-time jobs, colleagues aren’t always available: in addition to illness and vacation, there are meetings with other groups or project work out of the office.
Your website says “Flat hierarchies, individual responsibility and shared decisions define our cooperation. We are all ‘decision makers.’” What exactly does this look like in practice?
With us, decisions are not made, they arise; it sounds funny at first. It works like this: A person brings up a theme that pops up in everyday life, either through a customer’s request, because a technical problem has to be solved, or because someone has an idea. Usually, we discuss the topic with those who are competent and interested. These meetings are often spontaneous and take place at the desk of a colleague or at the coffee machine in the kitchen. People who are important to the topic are brought in. There are many arguments for or against individual solutions. In the group, after one or more discussions, a decision is made as to which route is currently the most meaningful to pursue. This will be followed and, if new decisions have to be made, will be discussed again. If necessary, other people are asked for their opinion, and the direction may be corrected. This type of decision-making is surprisingly fast and effective.
This method, which we have intuitively used for years, is referred to in the literature as a “consultative decision.”
If you could change one thing on the job market immediately, what would that be?
The flexible expansion from part time to more working hours is currently possible via individual negotiations. It would be great if there was a legal regulation.
We are also critical of mini jobs. 450-EUR jobs have the effect of making many people work less than they otherwise could. Many people prefer to work only up to the marginal income for which there are no deductions. Extra work over 450 EUR or regular part-time insurable employment is then subject to comparatively high deductions. On the entrepreneurial side – for example in the retail sector – fewer regular jobs are offered. Both lead to social problems in the area of social security.
What does a company look like to you that is prepared for the “working world of tomorrow?”
In short: trust instead of mistrust.
Instead of widespread control functions, we believe that companies that let their employees “just do it” will have competitive advantages. In contrast to the beginnings of industrialization, today we have a society with consistently well-educated workers. It is no longer certain that a manager can better decide things simply because they know more. Often enough, the competency to implement decisive things sits elsewhere in the company. Companies that can use this existing potential have the advantage.
Today, markets are changing very fast, so you have to react quickly to changing situations. This will be better achieved by companies whose decision-making processes are adapted to this circumstance.
Thank you for your time and the nice interview!
In our #ChangeAgents section, we introduce people and businesses who encourage us to take action and change. Strong minds, who work with passion for a more humane working world, thus initiating a change in thinking and actively helping to shape change processes. Our #ChangeAgents are role models, lateral thinkers, multipliers and dissenters.