Both occupy demanding positions at Audi, and they have young children – so how do modern parents reconcile work with family life? The Company gives its employees a helping hand – by offering flexible working formats and child care arrangements.
“Nele has stomach ache. Can you get away? I’ll then take over this afternoon.” Marit Lender hangs up. Fortunately her husband Knut is able to collect their six-year-old daughter from school. For her part, the mother has an important meeting at the office, but in a couple of hours she will be home to take over from her husband. He will then go back to work.
Marit Lender is mother to Nele and five-year-old twins Arne and Volker. She has been Head of Development for Seat Top/Comfort since mid-2012. This means she is responsible for all seat upholstery and foam sections as well as for project steering for the seats in the Q3, Q5 and the A3 family – a genuine full-time job. Husband Knut has a similarly demanding role: He works for Audi’s Feasibility Design department, where his task is to make sure the original design ideas are preserved as far as possible when technically implemented.
So how does a working couple still manage to juggle two jobs with the demands of three children? The solution often used in such situations – calling in the grandparents – is not available in their case. “Two things make all the difference: the right partner, and the right boss – backed by the right corporate philosophy,” explains Marit Lender.
Her former boss, Marit Lender explains, was supportive during her pregnancies. Shortly before the twins were born, she was even appointed Project Manager – a massive vote of confidence. “Obviously my husband and I thought long and hard about whether we could handle it with three children,” recalls 38-year-old Lender. “But I never had to choose between ‘job or children’”. My own mother worked, so I’ve never known anything else.”
When it comes to reconciling job and family life, Audi’s flexibility is a huge help. Before moving to Technical Development in 2012, Marit Lender discussed her family situation with her superior. In the years prior to that, the teleworking job suited her perfectly: She was able to put in about ten hours a week working from home. “That was a huge help while the children were still very young, if one of them was sick for example.”
Family life can throw everything at you from minor ailments to casualty visits – tooth ache, stomach ache, a gashed knee. Whenever the school or kindergarten has called, the Lenders have always been able to find a solution. “We quickly weigh up who is best placed to get away from work, then try to swap over later on,” explains Knut Lender.
Knut Lender, too, has a supportive boss. “I make full use of the flexibility of variable working hours. What matters is that the work gets done.” As well as having understanding colleagues, his job profile makes all the difference. “Fortunately I am more or less in control of my own schedule,” he continues. “From Audi’s viewpoint it’s certainly not just one-way traffic, because the support that we both get is a huge motivation for us.”
As well as offering flexible working hours models, Audi supports day-care centers in and around Ingolstadt that have long opening hours and are closed for only a few days a year. Blocks of places are kept for its employees.
The Mariengarten day-care center – as good as winning the lottery, say the Lenders – is a veritable cornerstone of their everyday existence. Since last year miedelHaus, a facility specially for Audi employees, has also been there to help whenever flexible child care has been needed at short notice. Knut Lender elaborates: “On a day by day basis, staggering the times when we start work is very important. I usually start bright and early at 6 am, while my wife gets the children ready. That means we can sometimes pick up the three kids early, for instance if they have swimming lessons or if we want to go for an ice cream.”
To maintain their personal model of keeping work and family life compatible, the family has opted for full-day schooling in Ingolstadt. According to Marit Lender, an important factor in their choice of day-care center was that it offers vacation cover.
Without doubt such a lifestyle can be draining. Every day brings a precisely timed schedule: Up at five-thirty, arrive at the kindergarten and school at seven, work from seven-thirty to four-thirty, then collect the children. Every move is well-rehearsed, every action spot on. “I make the beds, my wife gets the children dressed, everyone takes a shower in a fixed sequence,” laughs Lender.
The couple is now well-versed at pulling off the balancing act of work and family, and approaches everything with a healthy dose of optimism. “To make sure we don’t neglect family life, we use the time we spend with our children all the more intensively,” emphasizes Marit Lender. Evenings feature an extended playtime, with the parents reading to the children before bedtime, and weekends are all about doing things as a family. “When you’re faced with the decision ‘career and/or family’, there isn’t a right or wrong answer,” points out Marit Lender. “Everyone has to decide for themselves what they are comfortable with. But we’ve never regretted our choice.”