Getting the work life balance right

Mum and Baby


Managers at Medela UK, the breast pump manufacturer, wanted to get some feedback from their staff and to build employee satisfaction. So they submitted themselves to a Culture Audit by the Great Place to Work organisation. The feedback was so good that they were named fourth best small employer in the organisation’s national rankings earlier this month.

“We felt it was important to get feedback. We had anecdotal evidence that our staff were very engaged, but we had never formally measured employee satisfaction. The Audit offered the opportunity of an independent survey. It was really interesting to talk about things that we take for granted that we do,” says Catherine Clarke, Finance & Operations Controller and one of the senior management team.

One of the areas the family-owned company scores highly on is work life balance and family support. Given the nature of its business, Catherine says it is important that the company’s work culture is supportive of working parents. “Our whole ethos is about supporting breastfeeding mums. That’s what we are about. It would not fit with our ethos if we did not support mothers in the workplace too,” she states.

Nearly a quarter of Medela’s staff are working mums with young children and five out of the seven senior managers are women. “Working mums make great employees. They have great time management skills and tend to be very motivated and driven. A lot of our highest performers are working mums,” adds Catherine. “A diverse workforce brings in different skillsets and that can only be a good thing.”

Flexible working

Many members of staff work flexibly and the company promotes flexible working internally. Catherine says she believes the business gains from having a flexible culture. “We have a very low turnover and absentee rate. A lot of that is down to the trust we place in employees and how we empower them. We get so much back as a result,” she says.”The flexibility means we get good results because everyone wants to do well,” says Catherine.

Catherine herself has two young children and works one day from home, which means she can be home for pick-ups and make any time up in the evening when her children are in bed. “A lot of mums worry about going back to work if they are never going to be at the school gates. It means a lot to their children and to them and by enabling this I think companies get more back,” she says.

A number of mums at Medela work flexi hours so they can do the school run and in the Guardian supplement on the Great Place to Work ranking managing director Paul Furlong says: “We value work-life balance. No-one will ever need to miss a school play or key family event, for eamples, We are a team and we support each other.”

“Companies risk losing good people if they are unnecessarily strict on when work is done,” says Catherine. Medela has not had one mum who has not come back from maternity leave. The company also offers Shared Parental Leave.

Other factors which were praised in the Culture Audit include training and development, which it has invested heavily in, and employee engagement. The company is trying to be more entrepreneurial this year and is encouraging employees to contribute ideas on how it should develop. There are suggestion boxes in the office and several fora for suggesting ideas.

Medela, which is based in Manchester, has a non-hierarchical structure. Below the seven senior managers the structure is very flat and the culture is very transparent. “People can see how we are doing sales wise every week so everyone buys in and has a sense of the bigger picture. That transparency reinforces the sense of trust and we have found that giving people information on how the company is doing is really motivating,” says Catherine.

The company started in Switzerland 50 years ago and has branches around the world. It launched in the UK around 11 years ago and has 34 employees. Catherine says none of its UK employees have yet left unless they have been promoted to other offices around the world. She adds that the company is growing year on year and is moving head office in the next few months as it has outgrown its current site.

Catherine says Medela is keen to do the Culture Audit again in the future. “We now have a benchmark, but we don’t want to get complacent. There is always room for improvement,” she says.

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