One step to the side and one step forwards - getIT


A step to the side can also be a step forwards

Martin Vögeli was already working in management at Swisscom when he suddenly found himself as a single father. Everyday family life, sick children, 13 weeks of school holidays and the normal family madness had to be reconciled with a management position from one day to the next. To manage this, Martin Vögeli sometimes hired a full-time carer for his children to cover the time when he was absent from work. Today, almost 20 years later, he looks back on this feat of strength, which allowed him to take a different approach to his career.

Martin Vögeli, Head of Group Security & Corporate Affairs, did not make it onto the Executive Board with a paper day, i.e. a reduced workload. He devised his own working model. One that enabled him to bring up his three children, support his ex-wife financially and be a present father in the evenings, at weekends and sometimes also on holiday - and still do justice to his demanding management job. It wasn't easy, to start with. 

In management and single parenthood - two challenges went hand in hand.

Oh yes. I never sought out this situation, it "happened" to me. Due to factors beyond my control, I had to take my children with me full-time after separating from my then wife after just under a year.

I had to find a solution pretty quickly so that my children would have a stable environment. I moved to the city so that the distances were shorter and the family environment closer. And I hired a trained daycare centre employee. That was a huge expense, but I had to afford it and luckily I could. In the early years, she had a very long working day, sometimes 12 or even 14 hours, depending on how I worked. But back then there were no online meetings, everything.

And how did you organise yourself at work? 

I knew that I couldn't do the family justice with my five weeks' holiday. I was looking for a way to create more time autonomy so that I had more time for the children. After all, I had to make sure that I had a certain amount of flexibility for certain situations - from children's birthdays to emergencies and illnesses. So I implemented a model that meant: 90% salary, 100% work, but a total of nine weeks' holiday a year.

"That gave me the emotional freedom to simply take time off due to family situations without having to justify myself." 

But I don't want to gloss over the situation in retrospect: You don't work 42 hours in a management position. That simply doesn't correspond to reality. My work didn't get less just because my family situation changed completely - the work had to be done - in the evening or at night if necessary.  

The fact is: I managed a lot around my job. I was never the family man who worked with three children and had a fixed daddy day. I also had hardly any hobbies in the early years - there was very little in it. I had a work and childcare model that together enabled me to have a 100% job. 

So part-time management is not an option? 

It is possible, but it requires enormous discipline and very good delegation. After all, you are responsible for certain things and have to be flexible in terms of time. At the same time, acceptance and understanding are needed in the working environment at management level, where a lot has certainly changed compared to the situation 20 years ago. The challenges are even greater at top management level, where part-time work is the exception. 

What were your daily challenges in terms of "work" and "life?" as a single father? 

Establishing the childcare system is one thing. The challenges include sick children, the 13-week school holidays and when a child has problems at school or with friends. Of course, there were also situations where I had to take the little one who didn't want to go to school to school anyway because I had to run to the train myself to attend a meeting. These are the things that happen and that were challenging for me. On the other hand, the close relationship with my children has given me a lot in return. 

And yet you still honed your career? 

I made a conscious family decision in 2006. As Head of Risk Management at the time, I actually wanted to get into the operational business, but I realised that it wouldn't work. When you work in operations, you have a full agenda from 0 to 100 and are no longer really flexible. I was offered the job of Secretary to the Board of Directors. The job was well positioned, but many advised against it: "You'll be a one-man show". Or: "You work 100%, but earn 10% less with your part-time model... Are you really aware of that?" 

Were you aware of it? 

Yes, it was a conscious and sensible decision for me. At that time, the children were still far too young to take on a broader role. After seven years, when I joined the extended management team at the end of 2013, I looked back and asked myself whether this model still made sense for me. I came to the realisation that I was usually only able to take seven of the nine weeks' holiday. So I had a huge holiday balance. Despite this, I was still working well over 100%, simply at off-peak times. After all, my childcare model "only" covered 100% .

A career setback? 

It was more of a side hustle - to manage the challenge of being a single father. When the youngest was ten years old, I took over the Group Strategy and Board Services function and had around 110 people under me. It was an operational function in the corporate staff - relatively externally controlled as far as the agenda was concerned. For me, this was a big leap into broader management responsibility. 

Back to incompatibility? 

This change was drastic for the family system. I was clearly away more than before. The workload, some of which I had to work through at night, was already much greater. Looking back, the move was probably two years too early for my family, but such opportunities never come at the ideal time. But we mastered it together. One success factor was certainly the good organisation of my children's care. 

Was it the same for others? 

There was a colleague in senior management who had the same 90% model as me. He was home on Friday afternoon. But apart from that, there was nothing like that at A level. 

And today? 

Despite everything, a management role involves a large presence. Above a certain hierarchical level, it is simply difficult to say: "I only work four days." 

"But difficult doesn't mean impossible. What we need is a tremendous cultural change and an equally tremendous organisation in order to say at this level: I'm never here on Fridays. And, of course, the acceptance that a manager doesn't have to be available 24/7." 

So it takes the support of bosses like you to get more fathers to take on family time? 

Absolutely. I always support a reasonable reduction in workload for specialised functions. But I don't want to fool people, so I always say: "You have to manage your job even if you work part-time. You have to say when you can't do it." 

We also make sure that those who cut back don't have to do the same amount of work as before - otherwise they fall into the 80% trap of working the same amount and earning less. After all, people then have eight hours less time for their work. 

Is it more difficult for management positions? 

Yes, there is less variability here. You have less flexibility to control your own time. But here, too, it's not impossible. Times have also changed - we are reading more and more about new career models, even at the upper levels. But it is still the exception today - the demands on top management functions are high. 

Are you a role model for other men, for other fathers? 

I can't judge that. My story certainly shows that a further career step is possible even after a conscious, longer side-step. At the time, this would not have been compatible with my family situation. 

"As an employer, we have to make the balance between family and career possible."

The younger generations are pushing for even more compatibility. 

Work-life balance is now an absolutely central factor for Generation Y and Z. As an employer, we have to make sure that we can achieve a balance between family and career. 

In today's world, this is a criterion for attracting and retaining good, specialised people. 

And what does that mean in your eyes? 

We need role models, the right framework conditions and flexible models. And also the courage of men to break new ground. 

Swisscom's compatibility measures:

Flexible forms of work 

  • Home office 
  • Mobile working in Switzerland 
  • Flexible working hours 

More time for private life 

  • Holiday purchase 
  •   Unpaid holiday 
  • Long-term account 
  • SaSabbatical (management) 

Work model 

  • Part-time (also on probation) 
  • Job sharing 

Further training programmes 

  • 5 training & further education days 
  • Health programmes (stress management, self-management, etc.) Flexible forms of work 
Diversity Team

Diversity Team

More getIT-articles

Ready for Swisscom

Find the job or career world that suits you. In which you want to help shape and develop yourself.

What you make of it is what defines us.

Go to careers

Go to current cyber security vacancies