EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

City of Helsinki Public Works Department, Finland: redeployment, training and development


Case study name: 
Ageing workforce
Organisation Size: 
Construction and woodworkingMaintenance and cleaning
Target Groups: 
MenOther non-manualPersons with health problemsProfessional/managerialSkilled ManualUnskilled ManualWomen
Initiative Types: 
Changing attitudesdevelopmentErgonomics/job designetcFlexible working practicesHealth and well-beingRedeploymentTraining


Organisational background


Founded in 1878, the Public Works Department (PWD) of Helsinki city plans, builds and maintains Helsinki's streets, parks and green areas. It also designs, constructs and modernises the city's work facilities. In 1999, there were seven divisions in the PWD, which were subsequently reorganised into five divisions in 2004.

The PWD currently employs 1,817 people: 58% are blue-collar workers and 42% are white-collar workers. Only 27% of its workforce are women. The average age of employees is 46 years and the proportion of employees over 44, 54 and 59 years of age is 61%, 31% and 12%, respectively. Annual staff turnover is 5% and the current sickness absence rate is 5.4%.

The PWD is concerned about the high average age of its workers and has invested in projects and rehabilitation courses to promote the work ability of all its employees. PWD technical services run a pilot programme for workers over 44 years of age. The organisation is also planning a project aimed at developing methods for transferring the experience of older workers to the younger workers, e.g. by developing data collection methods, pair working and group discussions. Older workers are allowed to go on part-time pension.

Social dialogue is extensive among employees in the training and workplace health promotion unit (currently called the personal development unit), management, all personnel groups, the trade union, and occupational safety and health personnel.

The original initiative

From 1999 to 2001, the PWD implemented an organisational workplace health promotion programme. The programme was initiated because of the PWD’s concerns about the ageing of its workforce and the consequent risks to competence and health; it also arose out of the need for a more open culture within the organisation. The objectives of the programme were to improve the well-being of the entire PWD staff, to reduce health risks, to promote physical and mental capacity and to make the culture of the work organisation more participative.

The programme focused on developing leadership and work communities to help support workers of all ages. Every worker participated in at least one of the following interventions:

  • questionnaire survey and feedback for personnel about the well-being of the work community;
  • training for supervisors in handling feedback;
  • participative work conferences, psychodynamic and traditional leadership training;
  • support for workers’ hobbies, education and exercise.

Since the programme was introduced, the work communities are now more able to recognise problems related to work ability and to support the work ability of all ageing workers. Sickness absence has also decreased. Openness and social dialogue have increased and the psycho-social work environment has developed in a positive direction. To assure the continuity of the development, the five-member team that originally coordinated the programme was established as a permanent training and workplace health promotion unit within the organisation.

The PWD values the importance of cooperation and social dialogue at all levels of the work community. Commitment of management is of primary importance.

Good practice today

Since the 1990s, the PWD has invested in projects to promote the well-being of workers of all ages. The most extensive project was the organisational workplace health promotion programme implemented from 1999 to 2001. The programme arose out of concerns about the ageing workforce, risks to competence and health and the need for a more open culture. It focused on developing the natural work communities (immediate superiors and subordinates) and leadership. Recently, PWD technical services started a pilot programme for workers over 44 years of age. The PWD is also planning a project aimed at developing ways to transfer the experience of older workers to the younger generation. Current practices, which offer support to help enhance the work ability of workers of all ages, are as follows:

• Leadership training to support management: this teaches management how to handle difficult management situations and increase the support between workers in the work community. The training and workplace health promotion unit also compiled a well-being resource guide for supervisors and key persons to help standardise practices throughout PWD.

• Organisation and training on health-enhancing physical activity for employees: this includes information on the benefits of exercise on the health and well-being of the work community, and information on exercise counselling and group dynamics.

• Organisation of networks and training of suitable employees and their official representatives to support work communities and management in developing well-being at work. About 50 people, aged 25 to 60 years, have already been trained; the aim is to train 150 to 200 people, including all labour protection ombudsmen and shop stewards. Between 2005 and 2008, training will concentrate on the behaviour of groups and individuals and on the development of work communities so that they are able to support workers of all ages. The training emphasises solidarity, the functionality of the work communities, the early detection of problems and the importance of highlighting problems and resolving conflict situations.

As a result of these measures, the work communities are now better able to recognise problems related to work ability and to support the work ability of workers of all ages. Openness and social dialogue have increased, the psychosocial work environment has developed positively and the current sickness absence rate has fallen to 5.4%.

The pilot programme for ageing workers in the PWD’s technical services division aims to support employees in maintaining good physical and mental capacity in relation to their work demands and also to motivate them in their work. Based on the planning of the individual work-life span, the programme was developed following discussions between supervisors and subordinates. The occupational health service unit operates as a consultant, helping to evaluate physical and mental strain in the employees and carrying out physical examinations and tests. Based on the results in 2006, the PWD technical services division will decide on the future of the programme.

Looking forward, the PWD aims to continue its current good practices. It also hopes to plan for a more efficient recruitment process in cooperation with educational establishments in suitable fields, as hundreds of workers are expected to retire on old age pensions during the next 10 years. In addition, the PWD is planning a new project in cooperation with the Local Government Pensions Institution. The project aims at developing methods for transferring the valuable experience of older workers to younger workers, as well as at maintaining special expertise in the field. In early 2006, the PWD will introduce a new computerised data collection system. This initiative will first target office managers and then employees in lower levels of the organisation. Methods for transferring the experience of older workers to younger workers have not yet been finalised. Working in pairs may be one of the techniques used. The PWD also hopes to set up discussions between managers and groups of subordinates. This practice will enable the transfer of experience and knowledge to all members in the group. Each group will also choose a trainer who is near retirement age. These trainers could share the good practices in the other groups.

The PWD emphasises the importance of evaluating how well current practices and projects support the well-being of older workers. The plan for the project is scheduled for completion by the end of 2005.

Further information

Company website:


Elo, A-L., Mattila, P., Kylä-Setälä, E. and Kuosma, E., Työyhteisön ja johtamisen kehittämisohjelman vaikutus työhyvinvointiin. Evaluaatiotutkimus kunta-alan teknisessä virastossa. Työ ja Ihminen Tutkimusraportti 26, Helsinki, Työterveyslaitos, 2004 (in Finnish with English summary).

Gustavsen, B. and Engelstad, P.H., ‘The design of conferences and the evolving role of democratic dialogue in changing working life’, Human Relations, Vol. 39, No. 2, 1986, pp. 101–16.

Tuomi, K., Ilmarinen, J. and Jahkola, A. et al, Work ability index, Occupational health care 19, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, 1998.


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