Aalborg Portland, Denmark: Health and well-being, flexible work practices, training
The Aalborg Portland Group develops, produces, distributes and markets a wide range of white and grey cements and ready-mixed concrete. The company is the world’s largest producer and exporter of white cement. It has a net turnover of approximately €600 million, employing around 1,800 employees worldwide. The Aalborg Portland Group is owned by the Italian cement group Cementir S.p.a.
A total of 650 people work at Aalborg Portland in Denmark, 50 of whom work as apprentices or trainees. About one third of the workforce is made up of white-collar workers and the remainder of blue-collar workers. At least 90% of the workforce is comprised of men. In general, the employees have worked at the company for many years: about one third of employees have worked at the company for at least 25 years, while 11 employees have worked at the company for 40 years.
Staff turnover is relatively low at Aalborg Portland and, until now, the company has not found it difficult to recruit new personnel. However, the labour shortage and the smaller generation of young people has raised concerns among the Aalborg Portland Group, particularly given that about one third of its employees will probably retire during the next decade. As a result, the Aalborg Portland Group is taking active steps to ensure that all employees have favourable and motivating working conditions, while at the same time establishing an environment for the creation of new competencies through skills development and new employment initiatives.
Social dialogue with the trade unions present in the company is cooperative, and the unions are involved in initiatives regarding work issues and policies.
Good practice today
Measures of good practice at Aalborg Portland in relation to its older workforce includes initiatives relating to health and safety, job rotation, training and flexible working practices. Such initiatives aim to ensure that more employees postpone their retirement age.
Aalborg Portland has a long history of commitment to the ongoing improvement of health and safety at the workplace. The company is committed to motivating its workforce to adopt a healthier lifestyle with regard to smoking, diet and exercise. For instance, Aalborg Portland has a fitness centre, which is used by many employees and their families. Club members also have access to both a fitness instructor and a physiotherapist. In addition, the centre is equipped with badminton courts. Moreover, since January 2006, personnel were invited to participate in an introductory meeting with a weight-loss consultant. This attracted considerable interest and a weekly class has now been started, where the consultant is available to provide individual advice and guidance. As part of its ongoing focus on healthy food and reduced fat content in food, Aalborg Portland’s canteen offers a variety of low-calorie meals at a lower price than ordinary meals, while fresh fruit is available free-of-charge once a week. Furthermore, individual counselling to help employees give up smoking has been available to Aalborg Portland personnel for a number of years, while all substitution products are reimbursed for those who are trying to quit.
Aalborg Portland wishes to retain its skilled and able-bodied workers. As a result, it has introduced a procedure involving dialogue on sickness-related work absence in cooperation with the trade union. The objective of this initiative is to ensure that contact is established with employees who take frequent or lengthy sick leave, and to retain personnel who, for any reason, have been forced to take long-term leave. The central aim of this programme is not to monitor the employees, but to send a clear message to workers that the company is interested in assisting people to return to work. Positive effects have been observed in relation to reducing the level of sickness-related absenteeism among staff.
The company makes it clear that it values its older employees for their unique and deep knowledge in the area of concrete production. Nevertheless, the company does not have a formal written policy in relation to its senior employees. In the past, Aalborg Portland tried to establish such a policy; however, the older workers made it clear to management that they did not want to be redeployed on lighter duties solely because of their age. In fact, they found it discriminating that they should be required to work under special conditions simply because they had reached a certain age. As a result, the company has decided that age should not be considered a distinguishing feature; therefore, its age management philosophy is that the senior practices should be agreed upon individually. In this context, the company has tried to create an environment in which people are judged on the basis of their talents, skills and experience, rather than on misconceptions and prejudices about age. According to the personnel policy, the company’s motto is that they ‘treat everybody the same by treating them differently’.
Aalborg Portland aims to be very flexible and receptive in formulating the career plans of its older workforce. Some of the older employees have been offered the possibility of working part time, while still receiving the same wage as full-time employees. Others have been given the option of transferring to a new and less strenuous position. Moreover, some of the employees have been offered financial bonuses for remaining at work instead of entering early retirement. In addition, the senior workers, as well as those in other age groups, have been offered different kinds of training or education. In total, 84% of the employees at Aalborg Portland have received some form of training or education over the course of a year. This training includes opportunities for older employees to keep up to date with new technologies and methods. All of these practices are gender neutral, which means that men and women are treated equally according to the flexible arrangements.
The company realises that many of its senior workers possess unique specialist skills, acquired through many years of experience in the concrete industry. It believes that it is in the company’s interest to pass these skills onto the younger generations before the older workers retire. Therefore, in some working areas, the company has introduced special ‘successor programmes’. These programmes are directed at a selection of older employees and mainly aim to secure expertise in important and strategic areas. The programme is organised in such a way that the senior worker is asked to take part in the training of the younger employee. In this way, the company creates an environment in which knowledge transfer forms a natural part of everyday life. The older workers benefit from the programme by feeling more appreciated and valued, while younger employees benefit through increased knowledge. In some cases, the older worker is even given a special bonus for the induction training of the younger employee.
In order to motivate older workers to remain in employment for longer, every employee above the age of 50 years is invited to participate in a special seminar. The keynote speakers at these seminars consist of psychologists, doctors and people with specialist knowledge of the pension system. The objective of these seminars is to improve knowledge about retirement and about the financial conditions during the retirement period. The participants are assisted in calculating exactly how much money they will earn by postponing their retirement for a number of years. Moreover, people who have retired from Aalborg Portland are invited to recount their experiences about leaving the labour market and to offer advice to senior workers regarding their future retirement. Subsequently, the management invites the senior employees to participate in a meeting at which they can formulate their future career plan. To date, the seminars have received positive feedback from most of the participants; it appears that a considerably higher proportion of employees plan their retirement process, instead of just automatically entering the early retirement scheme at the age of 60 years.
The Aalborg Portland Group believes that the good practices it maintains in relation to its older workforce helps to ensure that more people remain employed in their senior years. Since 2000, the average retirement age has increased from 61 years to 62.4 years of age. Compared with other similar manufacturing companies, 62.4 years of age represents a relatively high retirement age.
Contact: Christian Heinrich Brosolat Lorentzen, email: email@example.com