EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Barco, Belgium: flexible working practices


Case study name: 
Ageing workforce
Organisation Size: 
Target Groups: 
Initiative Types: 
Flexible working practices


Organisational background


Barco NV specialises in the development and sale of electronics. The organisation comprises five business units: BarcoView, Barco Media and Entertainment, Barco Presentation and Simulation, Barco Control Rooms and BarcoVision.

At Barco’s headquarters in Kortrijk, BarcoView Belgium employs around 600 people, 35% of whom are women. Some 400 of BarcoView’s employees are white-collar workers, while the remaining 200 are blue-collar workers.

The age profile of employees at Barco varies between young and old, although only one quarter of personnel is aged between 35 and 45 years. Older workers consist mainly of blue-collar workers and there have not been many vacancies for blue-collar workers for a considerable time, which is why the middle age group is not well represented. Furthermore, some blue-collar workers are leaving the company because of a restructuring process that began in 2004 and which will continue until 2007. This process involved the restructuring of a number of Barco divisions in Belgium and resulted in the transfer of some blue-collar workers to other subsidiaries. In addition, blue-collar workers aged 50 years and over were allowed to opt for an early retirement scheme available in Belgium and known as ‘Canada Dry’, which most of them opted for (under a Canada Dry arrangement, a dismissed employee who does not qualify for an early retirement scheme receives additional ‘bridging’ allowances).

A minority of white-collar workers is aged 45 years and over, but this group of workers is also ageing. The organisation has reacted to the ageing of the workforce by introducing various measures, such as training, job mutation, outplacement, and early retirement arrangements.

White-collar and blue-collar workers are represented in the works council. The union delegation is informed about and involved in different organisational matters. Problems and solutions concerning health and safety issues are discussed in the CPWB (committee on prevention and safety at the workplace).

The original initiative

At Barco, staff are expected to keep up with technological changes and innovations. The competencies of all employees must be maintained to the required standards, and particular attention is given to ageing employees.

If older staff members start to fall behind or if their performance appraisal indicates that there are problems, several options are available to them, such as limited job mutation, sometimes involving demotion, or forming a ‘tandem’ with a younger colleague.

Due to the ageing of its workforce, particularly of white-collar workers, and increasing stress and work pressures, Barco developed a preventive approach by investing in educational and training programmes aimed at enabling older employees to keep up with their jobs. This followed the realisation that it was necessary to invest in the broad competencies of staff members and that employees must be encouraged to ‘co-evolve’ with the changes in their job.

More recently, there have been individual cases where employees were not able to keep up with their job demands, despite the intensive training programme. Barco introduced a policy to cope with such situations by encouraging a culture of greater openness around this topic and seeking alternatives. Sometimes this alternative has been found internally, e.g. flexible working hours, part-time work, job mutation or demotion; sometimes external solutions, for example outplacement, are decided upon. The trade unions are informed about such cases and the solutions on an ongoing basis. Because of the company’s openness and constructive approach, Barco expects that people will come forward with problems they may be encountering before it is too late to find a positive solution.

Good practice today

Barco employees are encouraged to take part in different training programmes, where they are exposed to considerable technical knowledge and skills that are not directly connected to their job at that time. Broad training initiatives such as these have helped prevent early burnout of employees, as well as preparing them for future changes in their job. Another positive effect is that training stimulates employees to search for solutions outside the confines of their present job and their common daily knowledge and skills.

Training, which is given after working hours, is undertaken on a voluntary basis. Employees can subscribe online for a training package of their choice, thus allowing management to follow employees’ training efforts. Both temporary and permanent staff can take part in training programmes. The lessons are highly practical, concise and goal-oriented and the ‘students’ are encouraged to actively participate. In addition, employees have a say in the selection of the training module topics.

The broad nature of the training programme – as opposed to going into different topics in depth – is still being debated at company level. However, the preventive approach has proved to be beneficial, and has enabled staff members to cope with the changes in their job more easily.

In the last three years, a competencies database has been under development. Within the research and development department and laboratory, functions have been screened and the required technical competencies added to the database. In the laboratory, people were asked about the importance of each registered skill at that particular time and its importance in the future. Based on this brainstorming exercise, the priority skills for the future were highlighted. This exercise also provided the basis for determining training needs and developing a training programme. In addition, the level of importance of such skills for the future was added to the competencies database. A similar exercise is currently being planned for other departments.

Despite the introduction of intensive training programmes, some staff members are no longer able to keep up with their job. It is important that the proposed solution – whether internal or external – has added value for the employee in question, as well as for the organisation itself. Barco considers it important to show appreciation and respect for each individual case, as sometimes the employee may have worked at Barco for more than 30 years. In situations where a solution is found outside the company, special attention is given to the quality of the outplacement chosen.

In 2005, the government and social partners in Belgium initiated discussions concerning the need to reform early retirement options. This is a sensitive topic at present, as trade unions, in particular, fear that early retirement schemes will be reformed. Although the Canada Dry system is still permitted, it is possible that it will be discouraged in the future.

This ongoing discussion at governmental level could have an impact on the situation at Barco. Because it is still uncertain if, and what, changes will be implemented, many people are choosing early retirement, as they fear they will lose their entitlements later on. The works council is closely following the debate at governmental level and has some concerns. The outcome of this debate is expected in late 2005. Currently, a bridging pension is permitted for all personnel from the age of 58 years.

Further information

Contact person: Stefaan Vandeputte, Director of human resources, BarcoView

Barco, Visibly yours, Annual report, 2004.

Barco, Company overview, Ann Galland, Director of corporate marketing, March 2005.

Company website:


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