‘The business trusts me to get everything done’: the supermarket giving employees with kids the flexibility they need

·4-min read

Charlene Eaton was 18 months into her Aldi career as an area manager when she became pregnant with her son, Sebastian, now four. “To be honest, I didn’t think of all the ways it would change mine and my husband’s lives,” she says. “Luckily, when I told my manager, he said he would be led by me – that I had lots of options, and that I might change my mind about them once I had the baby. He was right!”

Four years on, Eaton is benefiting from the flexibility that an Aldi career offers, now working as an HR manager in the national office. Life circumstances can change very quickly – and in an uncertain world, more are considering a career which can change with them.

Related: How Aldi’s head of HR went from graduate to group director in under a decade

Eaton joined the company’s graduate area manager programme in 2016, just after she graduated from university. “Within a year, I was looking after stores taking hundreds of thousands of pounds every week,” she says. “I learned about leadership, strategic thinking, management, and how to deal with the ever-changing landscape that is food retail.”

She spent 10 months on maternity leave – Aldi offers up to six months of company maternity pay, depending on the role, followed by statutory maternity pay. During the 10 months, she used seven keeping in touch (KIT) days to attend area manager meetings and training courses, and changed her store region to be nearer to her home, so that both she and her husband would be able to do nursery drop-offs. Then, for her, the time felt right to go back to work. “There was absolutely no pressure – I could have taken a year off, and followed that with a sabbatical,” she says. “But everyone’s different. When I returned, I had a four-week training and handover period so I could find my feet again.”

As children grow, the challenges of juggling parenthood and a career change with them. Eaton says she’s felt supported every step of the way. During lockdown, Sebastian wasn’t eligible for a nursery key worker place, so Eaton, by now working in HR, changed her hours to share his care with her husband. If there’s an emergency, Eaton can be there. “There’s a complete understanding that if your child is ill, you need to go,” she says. When her son starts school in September, Eaton will flex her hours to ensure she’s there for his first day – and she also has the freedom to work from home two days a week, which is great for work-life balance.

And, of course, fathers need that all-important work-life balance too. Area manager Tom Stead joined Aldi’s graduate area manager programme in 2020, aged 28. He’d previously worked in recruitment but was looking for a new challenge. “The Aldi area manager programme really stood out in terms of salary and benefits – but also the opportunity to work independently, running your stores your way, and building a career,” he says.

His wife became pregnant when Stead was a few months into the one-year training programme. When Stead told his manager the good news, he was immediately offered a range of support options, including training at stores nearer his home, and time off to attend appointments. “As long as I put the effort in while I was at work,” he says, “Aldi was more than happy to accommodate the needs of my family life.”

Area managers are responsible for recruitment in their stores, and Stead was interviewing a candidate when he got the phone call telling him it was time to get to the hospital. Within a few minutes, the store manager had stepped in to finish the interview, and Stead was on his way. “At Aldi, area managers also have what we call cover partnerships,” he says. “We’re a team, so if you can’t work, there will always be someone to cover your role.”

He also appreciates the flexibility Aldi offers as his family situation changes. Now that his wife has gone back to work, Stead takes his daughter to nursery three days a week, and is able to choose which two days to have off each week.

“I get more flexibility at Aldi than I’d get in a traditional nine to five office role,” says Stead. “It’s all about trust. The business trusts me to work my hours and get everything done. I’m happy to give that trust back.”

Eaton agrees. “Aldi is a brilliant place to work,” she says. “There’s so much opportunity – I started as an area manager and now I’m working in HR. It’s exciting, challenging and fast paced, and there’s a diverse range of options to allow employees with children to create a work-life balance.”

Are you ready for a career that means more? Join Aldi’s graduate area manager programme