Seal of approval awarded to Empa for its efforts in reconciling family and profession

Empa – a family-friendly organization


Those who strive to balance the demands of family and profession find that Empa is, quite literally, an outstanding employer. On July 9th 2007 the expert organization «UND – Family and Occupation for Men and Women» awarded Empa its seal of approval or «Prädikat» in recognition of the institution’s many years of effort in encouraging a family friendly working environment and ensuring equal opportunities for men and women – and its intention to continue to play a pioneering role in these areas in the future.


Legend: Empa’s engagement in the areas of family-friendly working conditions and equal opportunities for men and women has been recognized with the award of the «Prädikat» or seal of approval of the «UND» expert office (left-to-right: Anne Satir, former Empa Equal-Opportunities Representative; Daniel Huber, UND expert office; Roland Knechtle, Empa Deputy Director; and Cathleen Hoffmann, current Empa Equal-Opportunities Representative).


With the award of the «Family UND Occupation» seal of approval on July 9th 2007, Empa has received recognition for its hard work in helping its employees to balance the needs of professional and family life. Roland Knechtle, the organization’s Deputy Director, expressed his great pleasure at the award but announced that Empa’s management «would not rest on its laurels.» In his opinion the seal of approval clearly signifies the esteem in which the management holds its workforce, viewing staff not simply as employees to be encouraged during working hours but as human beings who also have family lives and responsibilities. In this respect the award offers further proof, if it were necessary, of Empa’s position as one of the most progressive workplaces in the employment market. The seal of approval will also provide «a further enhancement of the importance of equal opportunities within Empa, and is an encouragement to take on new challenges in this area», as the institution’s Equal-Opportunities Representative Cathleen Hoffmann says.

The much sought after places for babies in the Empa and Eawag day care center allow the many academic staff to start families earlier than otherwise possible.

Day care center places very much sought after

The expert organization UND, which awarded the «Prädikat», particularly emphasized the continuity which Empa has dedicated to its efforts on the theme of family-friendliness and equal opportunities. «Whether in the position of Equal-Opportunities Representative or in the «Kristall» project group, I have always met with extremely enthusiastic women – and also men,» says Daniel Huber, who heads the UND expert body. The result has been a continuous and sustained improvement in the quality of support for family-friendliness and equal opportunities in Empa. A very important aspect of this is that at all three Empa sites – Duebendorf, St. Gall and Thun – facilities are available for staff child care.


In Duebendorf the number of crèche places for Empa and Eawag staff rose last year from 17 to 33 with the opening of the new Children’s Pavilion, and this has since further increased. «Within a year all the additional places were filled,» says Eveline Vonlanthen, manageress of the day care center. Places for babies are particularly sought after, and for this reason the day care center applied for a special permit from the cantonal authorities for three (instead of two) baby places out of a total of eleven child places. Permission was granted «... because with the new pavilion we had the necessary space and staff available,» says the head of the crèche. An additional unusual feature of the pavilion is that the majority of the children are dropped off and then collected by their fathers. Vonlanthen’s comment: «I find this very good. In other days care centers this is almost always the mother’s job.»


Equal opportunities remain an active topic

Daniel Huber is convinced that equal opportunities will continue to be an active topic at Empa in the future. He mentions as an example that the number of women in middle management positions still leaves room for improvement. «It is, of course, in addition a great challenge for any research institution to find solutions which allow its staff to reconcile the demands of an academic career with those of family life,» he adds. Huber wishes to wait until after the review discussions in 2008 before making any concrete suggestions for improvement. In accepting the «UND» seal of approval Empa also agreed that its performance be reviewed every two to three years. Huber’s assumption is that the reviews over the coming years will show that institute’s performance in terms of number of points continues to rise.

In the initial analysis four years ago Empa received 399 points out of a maximum possible of 500. The institute was awarded good marks for the various working-time schemes it offers, for example. These allow flexibility of working hours to staff with family responsibilities. Other features which received good marks were the clear rules covering staff deputization, the open communication and culture of trust which exists within the framework of the staff’s institutionalized «right to be heard» as well as the large number of extra-mural events open to all employees. The support for gender-appropriate language when dealing with staff, the availability of day-care places for the children of employees and the existence of regulations covering work-place bullying and sexual harassment were also singled out for praise.

Further information
Cathleen Hoffmann, Empa Equal-Opportunities Representative, phone +41 44 823 41 38,

Further information on «UND – Family and Occupation for Men and Women»

Martin Kilchenmann, Communication, phone +41 44 823 44 10,