DHV, the Netherlands: Redeployment, training and development
DHV, named after its founders Dwars, Heederik and Verhey, is a consultancy service that specialises in technical advice in construction. Its fields of activity are aviation, water, environmental advice and industry. The advisory service encompasses the entire construction process, ranging from conceptual design to implementation. Services include advice on legal permits, finance, project management and design. Employees have legal, economic and technical backgrounds. The level of education is high, with 80% of the workforce holding higher professional or university level qualifications. As of 2004, DHV employed 3,767 people globally, 2,175 of whom work in the Netherlands and 1,592 abroad. The average age is 42 years, while the average duration of employment at DHV is nine years. Twenty-four per cent of the employees are female and 31.5% work part time. The recruitment of new employees totals 8.5% of the workforce, while 13.5% left the company in 2004.
The company has an open culture that is exemplified by the office design. The personnel policy has recently shifted from an age-related policy to a life course policy. The policy is organised around the competence and performance management cycle. A number of ‘curative’ and ‘preventive’ instruments are applied, emphasising training and development and flexible working practices. Line management performance appraisal includes an assessment of adequate implementation of the management cycle.
The DHV Director of Human Resource Management (HRM) has commissioned the development of the current age-aware personnel policy. The central works council is involved in the determination of the group’s social policies.
The original initiative
In 1997, a new human resources policy was introduced in place of the previous personnel policy. The new policy was aimed at individual competence management through training, job rotation and coaching. These instruments formed a comprehensive but generalised career management programme. The policy was not fully formalised; instead, the company announced that the spread and exchange of knowledge, experience and skills would be achieved through training, job rotation and coaching. Employees were expected to take the initiative for these three aspects themselves, while the programme was implemented by line management.
Specific age-related wage and exit policies included regulated working time reductions after 60 years of age, the possibility of part-time work after 56 years of age, an early retirement arrangement after 61 years of age and a supplementary benefit for employees who exit work into disability insurance after 56 years of age.
In 1999, the competence management initiatives were extended and efforts were made to increase their coherence. It was observed that while line managers employed ample initiatives in the field of competence management, they did not build on the knowledge base or follow up on agreements made in competence management cycles. An ‘investment programme’ was started which aimed at improving the competence management cycle. A profound and lasting effort has been made to support and encourage line managers to adequately use the programme. In this well-developed context, an age-related personnel policy developed after 2002.
Good practice today
Current age-aware personnel policies consist of training and development, career management instruments and flexible working practices, which are organised around the competence and performance management cycle. In accordance with the decade-long development of the competence management cycle at DHV, the measures show a strong emphasis on integration in day-to-day management operations.
In 2002, changes in the legal regulation of pensions and disability, as well as announced regulations prohibiting age discrimination at work, led to a more explicit emphasis on age-related issues in the personnel policy. In March 2004, a document that established an age-aware personnel policy was published by the Director of HRM, taking into account comments made by a committee of HRM officials and works council members.
Three reasons for the introduction of the policy were mentioned: the changing legal regulations; a high level of exit because of rigid working hours and limited development opportunities, as well as the under-use of competencies because of a transfer to management functions or over-specialisation; and the fact that a relatively high exit of younger workers is coupled with a cost structure that makes the deployment of older workers in projects unfavourable. The policy does not aim to address this cost structure, but rather the maintenance of older employees' productivity.
Instead of building a new policy programme for an ageing workforce, age awareness is integrated into general HRM policies and is explicit in a model in which phases in the life course are related to differences in relation to career, age-related capacities and motivation, physical conditions, the relationship between work and private life and overall link between requirements and capacities. The policy is aimed at the prolonged employability of employees, from recruitment to exit. A differentiated application of the management cycle is prescribed that takes these considerations into account. This implies that both life course and work–life balance issues are addressed.
The available instruments are divided into ‘preventive’ and ‘curative’ instruments. Preventive instruments concern the improvement of worker employability, capacities and motivation, and include training and development, mentoring and coaching, mobility and career management. Curative instruments are applied if preventive instruments appear ineffective. These include outplacement and the already existing wage and exit policies for older workers.
DHV aims to improve the age awareness aspect of its personnel policy by integrating it in day-to-day management operations. The annual planning of each unit has to take into account the different capacities and motivations of employees. Individual agreements on training and development, career issues, performance and so on are to be part of this planning process.
A disadvantage of the individualised nature of the measures is that little is known about the actual take-up of the various instruments, and it is difficult to establish the efficacy of the measures. There are no indications of employee disagreement in relation to the policies or their implementation. However, an indication of efficacy may be derived from the declining sickness absence rate since 2002. The level of sickness absenteeism stood at 4.1% in 2002, falling to 3.8% in 2003 and to 3.7% in 2004. There are no figures available for the exit of older workers into early retirement or disability insurance.
The age-aware personnel policy at DHV appears to exemplify good practice because it aims to combine two approaches, individual and company level. It is a strongly individualised measure, taking into account the needs and requirements of individual employees over the life course. Such a policy runs the risk of inadequate implementation, however, because implementation strongly depends on management’s willingness to look into and accept individual employees’ needs and requirements. The policy addresses this very danger: there is ample attention given to implementation and line management responsibilities – line managers need to justify the implementation of the cycle in their own performance appraisal – and the age-aware personnel policies are integrated in a competence management cycle that has been developed over the course of many years.
The personnel policy had always accommodated both individual and company needs. With the integration of age-related issues in the competence management cycle, the personnel policy now accommodates life course considerations. Elements of the policy are highly transferable. The age-aware policy at DHV is effective because it is closely linked to existing implementation structures.
Contact: Erik Goldsteen, Director of Human Resources and Communication, DHV
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