People sometimes need change to evolve – sometimes without a reason

NADEL employees can take an unpaid leave for no particular reason and on a regular basis.

Out of office
Isabel Günther


ETH Zürich, NADEL Centre for Development and Cooperation
Professor of Economics

Work-life balance is a societal issue which is very relevant in the international cooperation sector, as dual careers at international level, in difficult contexts or with frequent changes of duty station, require more flexible working conditions.

Unfortunately, these models are not yet widely applied. cinfo has sought out “success stories” from within and outside international cooperation to illustrate this model in practice and to serve as inspiration for employers and employees.

Our storytellers share their experiences with you. 

Isabel’s story about flexible work arrangements

At NADEL, we believe that providing flexibility to our team members allows them to develop their competencies and stay highly motivated.

We allow everybody to take a one-month unpaid leave per year without any particular reason or explanation. This time off is typically used for longer holidays, to visit families abroad, or to spend extra time with children.  

Longer unpaid leave (up to six months) is also permitted, and the person concerned has to clarify their motivation. These are mainly taken to work for a semester in another university. Normally, ETH/NADEL pay for part of this time.

Our 25 team members have around one unpaid leave per year.  

Organisations now have to offer various forms of flexible working conditions. Unpaid leave is just one example where NADEL matches its employees’ needs. In addition to this, NADEL offers generous home office options (2-3 days per week), part-time work between 50-90% at all hierarchical levels, the possibility to stay at home to take care of family members and the possibility to bring children to the office, to name a few.  

We have a social code of conduct that outlines the rights and duties of our team members. We developed this together as a team and update it every three years. This collaboration is an effective way to learn about employees’ needs.

To get the best from people, remember that people bring back new ideas from other settings.

What it requires:

  • Team members are highly motivated by their job and want to develop on a personal level 
  • Team members highly trust each other 
  • Team members are willing to take over the work of others 
  • Several team members can complete most tasks

How do we organise the workload?

Shorter leave: One-month leave must be announced six months in advance. The person taking the leave is responsible for projects undertaken in that particular year. Shorter leave should not affect the work of others. 

Longer leave: The team distributes tasks amongst themselves. The leave has to be well-planned and discussed within the team – who will take over what task when the person is away?