September 20, 2017 | Work 4.0

A modern female boss

Elke Eller is guiding travel company TUI on its path to implementing Work 4.0. That’s not easy because she’s looking for young people. But they’re not necessarily interested in money but rather in purpose and meaning.

Article by Verena Mayer published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung

When Elke Eller once wanted to become head of department, she was told, “You’re a great candidate, but now’s not the right time. Why? Because Elke Eller was pregnant. That’s now two decades ago. Back then, Eller was working as section head for industrial policy on the management board of Germany’s IG Metall (Industrial Union of Metalworkers) and she found the above statement horrific. In the meantime, the 54-year-old is herself in a position to decide whether she believes an expectant mother is capable of performing executive functions or not. Eller has been the board member of travel company TUI with responsibility for human resources since 2015.

In this position, Eller is attempting to do what, in her opinion, is currently the most important duty for any personnel manager: To prepare the company for Work 4.0. To prepare it for the fact that many things are already fully and exclusively digitalized and that it’s imperative to find people who are capable of working with these new technologies. For the fact that these people are frequently young—members of Generation Y, for whom money and status are of less importance than they were for earlier generations but a quest for meaning and leisure time all the more so.

However, if the findings of a new study commissioned by the Bundesverband für Personalmanager (BPM—Federal Association of HR Managers), and due to be published this Friday in Berlin, are to be believed, many HR departments are not up to the job, especially those at SMEs. According to Eller, who also happens to be president of the BPM, the majority of the association’s 4,400 members are not even in a position to take a guess at how their business model will change in the digital world. “How, then, are they to go about finding the right personnel if they aren’t even sure what’s going to happen?”

And yet things have never been any rosier than they are now, at least for wage earners. Unemployment is at a record low, and yet there are still 700,000 job vacancies. In some industries, people can even pick and choose where and how they want to work. And that’s precisely the problem many HR managers are experiencing, Eller explains. They need to offer these people something different  or at least recognize their priorities. When two years ago a young member of staff was lined up for promotion, he was initially offered a pay rise. But the man requested time to think it over and discuss it with his girlfriend. His response was that he didn’t want money, but an extra day off every week. “This was a totally new experience for the colleague from Recruiting.”

Eller herself has a meteroric rise in a male-dominated domain behind her. As a full-time official of IG Metall, the economics PhD first sat on the supervisory board of VW, then switched to Volkswagen Financial Services as Director of Human Resources in 2007, but decided to leave the post in 2015 as the diesel affair began to send shockwaves through the company.

She was the first board member to appoint an expectant mother to a management role, she proudly reveals. And she has learned that personnel managers should always sit at the same table as the decision-makers. Today, work is no longer simply a matter of processes to be rigidly followed, and in the end, it’s the HR managers who find the right people. “We’re talking about new organizational forms that are only brought to life by people.” But even this isn’t a matter of course. According to the BPM study, only 49 percent of CHROs in Germany are actually on the management board—by contrast, the figure is 89 percent in Sweden.

So what’s her own particular work ethic? She’s no fan of what she calls the “attendance culture”, says Eller, who, as a mother of two—now 18 and 21, respectively—is far more convinced that everyone is capable of scheduling when they can do their work and play their part. “My best employees are mothers who work in focused time windows.”