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Holistic approaches to health and
work-life balance

A healthy corporate culture

GIZ’s approach to health management is a key element of its policy on maintaining operational capacity. The goal is to establish a healthy corporate culture that takes account of individual needs. This involves creating working structures and conditions that protect the long-term health of employees. The seven pillars of the Corporate Health Management system enable GIZ to fulfil all its social responsibilities and its duty of care towards the workforce. They specifically address issues in the following areas:

  • health and prevention
  • emergencies and accidents
  • safety
  • work-life balance
  • ergonomics
  • sport and exercise
  • best practices.

At GIZ, health management is based on the principle of shared responsibility. Employees are responsible for maintaining their individual capacity to work. The company facilitates this by creating appropriate working conditions. Managers are expected to set a good example by representing the company’s values and goals, exercising a duty of care towards their teams and demonstrating personal responsibility.

GIZ supports its managers and staff in various ways. These include a seminar and guidelines on healthy leadership and a handbook and online course offering advice on how to manage work-related stress.

It has also set up an initiative called ‘GIZ Moves! Active break culture’. As part of the Corporate Health Management system, the initiative encourages staff to exercise more by taking work breaks together. Employees can offer to take on the role of ‘exercise multiplier’ as one of their agreed goals in their staff assessment and development talk. In 2019, GIZ organised a series of workshops in Bonn, Berlin and Eschborn entitled ‘Holistic ergonomics at your desk and on the go’ and ‘Releasing tension through exercise’.

At our main sites in Germany, the Corporate Health Management system offers a wide range of additional health services. These include opportunities for sport and exercise, advice on ergonomics, support for a healthy work-life balance (e.g. as part of GIZ’s policies on mobile working and on reconciling work and family commitments), seminars and medical examinations. The facilities and services available vary between sites. Employees can also request equipment that allows them to work ergonomically in the office or elsewhere. This is a particularly important issue given the increase in mobile working. The items available include laptop stands, mice and keyboards.

Photo: GIZ: Keeping fit and promoting children's rights
Keeping fit and promoting children’s rights: a GIZ team at the 2019 Street Child Marathon in Sierra Leone (© GIZ / Weber)

Health Team

The interdisciplinary Health Team coordinates the activities of the various bodies responsible for ensuring safety at work and promoting good health. The team is made up of staff from different departments and holds regular meetings. In 2019, GIZ organised numerous campaigns and presentations on health issues. The slogan chosen for the Health Day in Eschborn was ‘Digital Health’. A wide range of activities were held at our offices in Bonn and Berlin, including skin cancer screening, body fat measurements and sleep analyses.

Questions on health and safety issues are also included in the staff and development worker survey to help us identify needs and emerging trends.

Advice and counselling from GIZ Medical Services and COPE

GIZ’s Corporate Health Management system also includes Medical Services, an Occupational Health and Safety Team and a psychological counselling service (COPE). Medical Services offers advice on every aspect of health and health care to all those involved in employee health roles. It helps the company to implement laws and regulations on occupational medicine with the aim of creating a healthy working environment for all staff and advising them on approaches to good health. Support from COPE is available to all employees who may be looking for advice on issues such as trauma, addiction or work-related stress as a result of particular events or circumstances at work or in their personal life. This service is a key part of the holistic approach to employee health adopted by GIZ. 

Employee health services available worldwide

GIZ also protects its local employees outside Germany against sickness-related risks. This usually involves enrolling staff in local or regional state or private-sector insurance schemes.

Medical Services and the Corporate Health Management team publish information about health and occupational safety for all employees on the intranet. All staff worldwide have access to extensive online resources covering topics such as safety at work, ergonomics and exercise.

In 2018, GIZ launched a pilot project entitled Corporate Health Management in the Field Structure with a view to gradually rolling out its structured and holistic activities outside Germany too. The pilot project began in January 2019 and will run up to June 2021. The initial objective is to establish permanent Corporate Health Management services in the pilot countries India, Mexico, Sudan and Uganda. Corporate Health Management focal points were designated in each of these countries in 2019 and since then have been involved in intensive discussions at scheduled monthly intervals. Health and Well-Being teams have now been set up in all the pilot countries and share information and ideas with the Health Team in Germany. The current situation has been outlined in each pilot country, and the findings have been compiled in country profiles with general indicators and observations on particular health issues and environmental factors. The reviews also specifically examined what Corporate Health Management measures had already been implemented in the pilot countries. Various surveys were conducted to identify local needs, and the first country-specific Corporate Health Management services were implemented covering issues such as lack of exercise, diet, ergonomics, communication and air pollution.

Reconciling work and personal commitments

For many years, as well as establishing healthy working structures and conditions, GIZ has offered numerous services to help its staff reconcile their work and personal commitments.

To support parents with young children, for example, it provides a total of almost 120 in-house daycare places at its two main sites in Bonn and Eschborn. Parent-child offices are also available in these locations and in Berlin. Outside Germany, staff can apply for an allowance towards their childcare costs or school fees.

Trained care advisors are available as the first point of contact to support employees who care for dependent relatives or family members. The relevant network is available through GIZ’s membership of the German Care Charter. Detailed information can be found on the intranet. What can you do, for example, if a family member falls ills in Germany and needs care while you are on assignment in a partner country? GIZ’s ‘home and elder care’ partner offers advice and agency services for staff based in Germany and abroad. The company also organises further in-house information events and webinars for employees with caring responsibilities.

GIZ’s regulations on working hours include provisions that allow employees to reduce their hours temporarily for family reasons. Staff in Germany and abroad have a great deal of control over their time and enjoy considerable flexibility when it comes to deciding which hours they wish to work during the day. All staff are entitled to work remotely on at least two days a week. This arrangement makes it much easier to reconcile the demands of work with family commitments and personal interests. In exceptional circumstances, this can be increased to up to five days a week. During the coronavirus pandemic, this has allowed GIZ to switch rapidly to largely virtual operations, maintaining processes and workflows and even conducting remote project appraisals.

In 2018, new collective bargaining arrangements were introduced that make assignments more flexible, allowing staff to work on a project in the partner country but also regularly spend extended periods of the assignment working in Germany. This option is particularly interesting and attractive to employees whose family or partner cannot or does not wish to accompany them during a lengthy international assignment. Under a further collective bargaining provision adopted in 2019 and based on a graded and transparent system, different conditions now apply to international assignments in locations where the security situation is classed as fragile. Assignments of this kind have become more common in recent years and are particularly challenging, especially for families. New benefits have been introduced for accompanying families to build greater resilience and help them deal with highly demanding working and living environments. The benefits offer greater planning certainty, especially for families, and include support in exceptional cases where relocation – with all the associated costs – becomes unavoidable.

Since 2019, there have also been other improvements to the general conditions for foreign assignments with accompanying family members. A new relocation service was set up towards the end of 2019 to help families with the arrangements for moving out to and returning from the country of assignment. The company is also reviewing the ways in which it can provide additional support for accompanying partners. This reflects the fact that in most cases both partners have demanding careers. GIZ is building up a contact system for partners to improve the level of support available, especially in terms of employment opportunities. The new system is currently being trialled in individual countries.

For the last 25 years, GIZ’s policies covering families and employees’ different stages of life have been audited and certified externally under Germany’s berufundfamilie (career and family) scheme.

Graphic: GIZ: SDG 3 Good health and well-being
Graphic: GIZ: SDG 8 Decent work and economic growth