Aalborg Hospital, Denmark: Flexible working practices
Aalborg Hospital is a publicly-financed healthcare institution situated in the northern Jutland county of Denmark. The hospital comprises almost all types of medical specialisations, and treatment is considered to be of an international standard. Among the hospital’s departments is the occupational and physiotherapy ward, where occupational therapists assess and treat physical conditions using specific, purposeful activity to prevent disability and promote independent function in all aspects of daily life. The physiotherapists help and treat people with physical problems caused by illness, accident or ageing. Their treatment methods help prevent, rehabilitate or treat any movement disorders. They focus on the parts of the human body which are involved in movement: muscles, tendons, joints, the nervous system, the circulatory system and respiration. If a general practitioner refers the patient to Aalborg Hospital for occupational therapy or physiotherapy, the treatment is subsidised.
In total, 128 people work in the hospital’s occupational and physiotherapy department, 62% of whom are physiotherapists and 27% of whom are occupational therapists. The remaining 11% of the employees are doctors, auxiliary nurses or medical clerks. In terms of the gender distribution, only 10 of the 128 employees are men. The majority of employees are in their 40s or 50s and only very few employees are aged over 60 years. Until now, the hospital’s management has not experienced any problems in recruiting new personnel; however, the management has realised that, over the next 10 years, many of the employees will probably retire. The staff turnover rate is relatively high since about half of the employees work on the ward on a temporary basis.
Most of the employees are members of a trade union. The trade unions and the employer largely agree on work issues and policies.
Good practice today
One of the initiatives to retain older workers at the occupational and physiotherapy department of Aalborg Hospital focused on establishing a formal policy in regard to the older workforce, which outlines the rights of such workers. In fact, it was one of the older workers on the ward, who wanted to secure better working arrangements for future workers in this age group, who initiated this policy development. The next step involved establishing a committee of employee and management representatives. The committee also included a number of younger and older employees from other hospital departments, since it was considered important that all employees could influence such policy decisions. In addition, an adviser from the Aalborg Hospital payroll and personnel department participated in the committee meetings.
The purpose of an ageing policy was to put in writing the management’s wish to retain its skilled older workforce. The policy aims to make it easier for older workers to remain actively employed in the department, while gradually preparing for the time following their retirement. Every employee who is over 52 years of age will be able to apply for a special work arrangement. At the beginning of 2006, the ageing policy was implemented and comprised the following provisions:
- older workers can agree with management to opt out of shift work because job tasks are often more physically strenuous during these hours;
- employees over 59 years of age have the possibility of reducing their working time to part-time hours, while continuing to receive the same amount in pension contributions from the workplace;
- older workers can ask for a special job appraisal interview with management to discuss their future career plan;
- older workers are not obliged to do on-call duties. If they wish, fixed working hours can be arranged for them as this facilitates the planning of leisure time activities;
- older workers are granted the same possibilities as younger employees to attend training courses and further education programmes.
Since the hospital’s ageing policy has not been implemented for very long and few of the department’s employees are currently over 52 years old, only a small number of employees have concluded such a special work agreement with the hospital management. However, if an employee wishes to be covered by such a work arrangement, they have to apply in writing to the management and indicate their wishes. The terms of such work arrangements are agreed between the management and the employee – and in the presence of a representative of both the hospital’s payroll and personnel department and the trade union. Under this policy, all workers over 52 years of age can apply for a special work arrangement, provided that the financial resources are available to accommodate the worker’s request: for instance, if an older worker wishes to work part time, the employer can refuse to satisfy such a request if it proves too costly for the ward to hire a substitute worker. Nevertheless, in most cases, the financial resources have been made available.
Moreover, some of the employees of the occupational and physiotherapy department who suffer from chronic diseases have been put on light duty on the basis of a ‘flex job’ arrangement in line with social security legislation. A flex job is based on special terms, catering for people with a permanently reduced work capacity. These employees are offered work tasks that are mentally or physically less strenuous than an ordinary job, in order to retain them in the labour market, where possible. If granted a flex job, the person is paid according to the collective agreement in force, but the salary is subsidised up to a maximum of two thirds by the state, paid out by the municipalities. In order to be granted a flex job and to receive the wage supplement for workers with a reduced work capacity, the company and the worker concerned must first have tried all rehabilitation and replacement possibilities at the workplace. The municipal authorities will visit and check on the person involved prior to the final decision of granting a flex job. The opportunity for flex job arrangements means that it is possible to keep employees with a reduced work capacity in employment; as a result, they are not excluded from the labour market due to poor health.
In addition to the company-level agreement of the occupational and physiotherapy department, older employees are also covered by Aalborg Hospital’s overall personnel policy. The hospital has implemented measures to promote well-being, job satisfaction and motivation among its workforce. More specifically, the hospital has set up a ‘welfare team’, with the aim of improving the physical and mental conditions of the working environment, preventing absenteeism or exclusion from the labour market due to sickness, and avoiding occupational injuries of the employees. If an employee suffers from a work-related disability, they are offered counselling and guidance in relation to work ergonomics and body consciousness. Furthermore, the employees are granted reduced membership fees at a fitness centre close to the hospital. In line with Danish legislation, a company’s health service is required to develop preventive and health-promoting activities for its employees. Since 2002, Aalborg Hospital has had a contract with the county of Northern Jutland for the purposes of strengthening and developing health-promoting and preventive measures at the hospital. Therefore, the county has given Aalborg Hospital funding to employ a full-time health coordinator and establish a Health Information Centre; the centre provides information to employees, as well as patients, on specific health-related issues, such as smoking, diet, obesity, fitness, leisure-time accidents and alcohol.
To date, the hospital’s occupational and physiotherapy department does not have any plans to further develop its ageing policy.
Contact: Lone Kall, email: firstname.lastname@example.org