Photo: The team of 'AG Moter', the working group led by Dr. Annette Moter

Working Group (AG) at the Institute of Microbiology and Hygiene, led by Dr. Moter – Outstanding Achievement Award

Our Outstanding Achievement Award goes to the Institute of Microbiology and Hygiene Working Group (AG) led by Dr. Moter. The AG's submission included reports from research staff and young mothers, describing their experiences during pregnancy, parental leave, and return to work, and outlining the level of support provided by senior staff to help them in achieving a healthy work-life balance.

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  • Working Group (AG) at the Institute of Microbiology and Hygiene
  • Working Group Lead: Dr. Annette Moter
  • CBF
  Female Male Total    
Number of staff 7 2 9 Number of children 3
Part-time staff 3        
Number of staff on parental leave 1        

What convinced the judges?

Photo: The team of 'AGMoter', the working group led by Dr. Annette Moter

“Dr. Moter had one room converted into a dedicated child care / breastfeeding room, fully equipped with a cot, play mat and computer terminal. Parents can bring their children with them when they attend a meeting.”

“Parents on parental leave have the option of working part-time on a fee basis, e.g. by taking on projects/project-based work, in particular during the transition phase between their parental leave and the point at which they return to work.”

“Staff on parental leave remain members of the team, and are kept fully informed of all work-related decisions: the team remains in contact with them, they are included in conference calls, and copied into emails. Aside from giving absent team members the option of joining meetings via telephone, staff also use Skype for messaging within their teams.”

•    Contract options following parental leave
•    Children are welcome during all meetings, celebrations and joint meals.
•    Successful support through intensive and personal commitment and a warm atmosphere
•    Flexible working-time arrangements and highly individualized options to allow staff to return to work following parental leave
•    Working-from-home options for pregnant staff and staff with caring responsibilities
•    Use of the internet and teleconferencing to support the inclusion of staff on parental leave
•    Family-friendly meeting times and annual leave planning in consultation with staff
•    Job-sharing arrangements are firmly established in practice
•    Comprehensive career planning and signposting of options based on specific family circumstances 
•    Members of staff are notified of any family-friendly options available to them

An interview with Dr. Annette Moter

The Office of Family Affairs: When talking about the concept of family-friendly employers, how would you define the term 'family-friendly'? And, in your opinion, what renders a company or a department family-friendly?

First and foremost, members of staff have to feel that children are welcome, and that pregnancy does not constitute the end of their careers. So, we work together to find a way to ensure that work in the lab is not disrupted, which is precisely what happened when three of my female staff all fell pregnant within the space of just a few months. They were the ones who nominated me for this award.

During their pregnancies, these members of staff were able to collect data, which they were later able to process and analyze in a flexible manner, either working with the team or working from home.

The most important thing of all is to create the right atmosphere within the team, and to structure things in such a way as to ensure that work can continue even if one member of staff becomes unavailable. This requires a lot of effort on the part of senior staff, and a lot of motivation from members of staff. However, it is very much worth the effort, as the team really wants to make this work.

The Office of Family Affairs: As a senior member of staff, where do you see opportunities for action in support of a more family-friendly environment at work?

Flexible working arrangements and having faith in one's members of staff are crucial. Certain things like STAT laboratory tests must, of course, run like clockwork. Beyond that, however, it is up to members of staff to decide how they can accomplish their work. While I will of course get involved if I see there is friction between my staff or if things are not working out as they should, all of my members of staff are committed to making things work.

Our lab meetings ensure that members of the team can get together on a regular basis. Everybody adds their experiences of what has happened over the past few weeks to an excel table, outlining exactly where they would want to be, where they are, and the reasons for any discrepancies. We use this information to decide if anyone needs support and, if so, what type of support.

The introduction of fee-based contracts and the installation of a room containing a computer terminal and a cot have proved absolutely invaluable. Aside form enabling mothers to take part in meetings, these innovations have made returning to work after parental leave less of an uphill struggle.

We also use modern media and Skype to keep all members of staff involved in what is going on. Sometimes, it is just easier to do things this way than to pack everything up and bring your child with you.

The Office of Family Affairs: At this point, we would like to take a look into the future. What are the ideas, measures, and projects in place to promote and support a family-friendly environment at work?

First of all, we want to continue doing what we are doing. As for new ideas, one might say we are already in the process of developing new ways of working. After all, I am having to plan ahead to get approval for new posts to ensure we are not left with any major gaps.

It would be nice if this could be done with less bureaucracy, less paperwork. And more flexibility.

The Office of Family Affairs: How will you use the prize money and what ideas are you hoping to implement?

We would like to use the prize money to buy a larger monitor with internet access, for video conferencing and to support staff training. This would allow members of staff with children to dial into video conferences from their home computers.

This interview was conducted by Doreen Makowiak and Arlette Schwanke.