Case study on a comprehensive approach: Färs and Frosta Sparbank, Sweden
Färs and Frosta Sparbank was founded in 1989 and transformed into a public limited company (PLC) in 1999. The company is located in the south of Sweden and is 70% owned by the Färs and Frosta Sparbank foundation and 30% by FöreningsSparbanken. It has been independent since 1998, although it has a cooperation contract with FöreningsSparbanken. With 132,000 customers and 19 branches in eight communities, it is the largest independent savings bank in Sweden.
A board of directors and a management team, which includes an employee representative, head the bank. The 19 branches are divided into nine units, each led by a manager and a deputy manager. The bank has around 225 employees, 60% of whom are women. The average employee age is 46 years and 20% are aged between 55–60 years. Employee numbers have decreased by 32% since 1998, mainly through early retirement schemes. In 2004, staff turnover was 1.36%. Most employees have upper-secondary education and a few have third-level education.
The trade union has employee representatives in every decision-making forum and 91% of employees are affiliated to the Financial Sector Union of Sweden, making them influential.
The bank’s overall human resources policy aims to make the company an attractive employer for all age groups. It currently implements various initiatives and measures directed towards all employees, as well as towards specific age groups.
The original initiative
In 1998, when Färs and Frosta Sparbank opened two new branch offices, resulting in the employment of 25 people, it adopted a special recruitment policy. Half of the new employees consisted of people over 55 years of age, who had banking experience, while the other half consisted of people under 30 years of age, who had an academic degree. The bank also aimed for an even distribution of women and men in the new branches. A director developed and implemented the policy, with support from the management team and the trade union. The aim was to create workforce diversity in terms of age, knowledge and competence, and to enable knowledge transfer between young and old employees.
Overall, the policy was largely successful. The resulting workforce diversity not only improved the work environment, it also enhanced customer growth and the bank’s public image. However, the most important and long-lasting effect was to place a greater emphasis on the issues of diversity and knowledge transfer in the bank. It also inspired, and has been the basis for, further measures and programmes, as well as contributing to a company culture that holds its older employees in high esteem.
Good practice today
Färs and Frosta Sparbank strives to be seen as an attractive employer for all age groups. As part of its company policy, it aims to facilitate older employees, to encourage them to remain in employment until the regular retirement age of 65, and to preserve their skills. Several initiatives directed towards both older employees, and the workforce in general, are geared towards this policy. Two of these initiatives include a mentor programme and a special programme for employees over 55 years.
The mentor programme started in 2000 and is based on the original idea of enrichment in terms of age. Each new employee is assigned a mentor who guides the novice towards personal and professional development. The bank also has a special trainee programme for newly educated employees.
The bank greatly appreciates the level of competence that older employees have gained through their years of experience. The mentor programme is one way of transferring this knowledge. It also includes the idea of reciprocity, where young employees contribute valuable knowledge relating to economics and computers. Mentors are chosen from employees over 55 years of age, who have shown great interest in participating.
To date, five people over 55 years of age have served as mentors. The task is considered important and stimulating for older employees who get the opportunity to develop both personally and in terms of acquiring new knowledge. The mentor programme has contributed to a work culture, which is characterised by greater understanding and mutual respect between the young and old. The bank has also identified positive organisational benefits, in terms of effective initiation periods and maximum use of employees’ skills.
The second programme is a special initiative for employees over 55 years of age. It was introduced after the bank recognised that its workforce was ageing, while banking work was increasing. Changes in the Swedish pension system, which made it harder for employers to offer early exit opportunities to large groups of employees, also forced the bank to think in new ways. The fact that 20% of its employees were between 55 and 60 years of age was also a contributing factor.
The trade union initiated and ran the programme. Part of the programme consisted of measures aimed at developing competencies and at preparing individual development plans for older employees. Employee competence is seen as important for customer relations, and the bank has recognised that investment in the skills development of all employees is an important factor for success. The programme ensures that the bank, during the annual development discussion with employees aged 55 years and over, places particular emphasis on the individual development plan. Special resources for competence development have been allocated by the bank.
The programme also consists of initiatives aimed at motivating older employees. Every employee over 55 years of age can participate in a special job motivation programme, which includes banking theory, as well as seminars on health and development.
The programme includes additional measures that are restricted to employees over 58 years of age. One measure is to offer a reduction in working hours to 80%, while preserving 90% of salary without affecting occupational pensions. This reduced working time initiative is supposed to be spread over the organisation, in such a way as not to overload the other employees. Employees who, because of special circumstances, cannot avail of the measure are allocated three days off a year for recreation. This scaling-back measure aims to give employees greater control over their working and living situations.
The over-55 programme has been running for only half a year, so it is too soon to evaluate the programme properly. However, participants have so far expressed satisfaction.
Färs and Frosta Sparbank currently has no plans to introduce other measures or initiatives specifically aimed at older employees. However, both management and the trade union emphasise the importance of continuing programmes for older employees.
Mrs Ann Hermansson, Personnel Director, Telephone: +46 415 173 08
Company website: http://www.farsofrostasparbank.se