As the last echoes of the recent capitalism debate die out, the winners of the title "Germany's most family-friendly companies" are pioneering the principle of humane business models.
Schröder says economic growth depends on a healthy family policy
When SPD party leader Franz Müntefering triggered a nationwide controversy by comparing certain companies to locusts, he definitely wasn't talking about Sabine and Andrea Schönberger.
The two sisters manage a small steel and metal construction business that's been based in Wölsendorf, Bavaria, for generations. Their 28, mainly male employees are currently the envy of working parents around the country. Schönberger Stahlbau & Metalltechnik has just beaten 366 rivals to scoop a family-friendly business award, presented in Berlin Tuesday by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Family Minister Renate Schmidt.
The prize in the medium-sized business category went to IT company Komsa, which boasts an executive department that's 41 percent female -- many of whom are mothers working part-time. Germany-based detergent and cosmetics giant Henkel was named the most family-friendly multinational company.
Time away from work is important
All three companies are profitable proof that catering to family needs is good for business -- and therefore good for Germany.
"(Family-friendly policy) is a prerequisite of economic success," Schröder said.
Making parents' lives easier
The Schönbergers couldn't agree more. Flanking the chancellor at the recent ceremony, they emphasized their belief in facilitating the work-life balance.
The Schönbergers encourage employees to accompany children on their first day of school
"Our staff are allowed to take the day off for private celebrations," said Sabine Schönberger. "Whether it's a child's birthday, first day of school or kindergarten, or communion, we actively persuade them to be there -- we more or less force them. They get a paid day off. We also have no problem with employees bringing their children to work with them. We give staff three months when their partners are expecting, and we make sure they aren't sent to construction sites too far away. We expect our staff to take an active part in their family lives."
It's all music to Minister Schmidt's ears. Encouraging business to make working parents' lives easier has long topped her family policy agenda.
"Children and parents need time for one another," she said Tuesday. "This is a responsibility of our economy. It's not about changing laws, it's about being willing to actually follow through on existing laws."
Election campaign issue
Schröder has even pledged to put the issue at the heart of his upcoming election campaign. He drew attention to a survey conducted by opinion research institute Prognos that shows that adopting family-friendly policies can earn companies increased profits of up to 25 percent -- thanks to a workforce that's better rested, better motivated and more productive.
A man checks detergent bottles at a Henkel plant
"The family issue has developed into an economic issue," Schröder said. "It's becoming increasingly apparent that healthy family policy and sustainable economic growth are two sides of the same coin."
But the path to a gentler Germany is still strewn with obstacles. Many employees still complain that large-scale companies insist on inflexible working hours impossible to reconcile with family demands, as well as a widespread absence of in-house childcare.
Sabine and Andrea Schönberger from Bavaria could teach their colleagues across the nation a thing or two about family-friendly business models. For now, they're still an exception to the rule.