Erste Bank, Austria: a comprehensive approach
Erste Bank is central Europe's largest and most prosperous bank. It was formed in 1997, following a merger between GiroCredit and the Erste österreichische Spar-Casse (EÖSC), along with several other smaller banking institutions. As part of the merger, all GiroCredit employees were taken on and staff from the human resources management (HRM) department were assigned leading positions in the new corporate structure. The merger was deemed a cultural, structural and international success.
Today, after the acquisition of numerous eastern and southern European savings institutions and other banks, Erste Bank now offers a complete range of financial services. Employees work at the headquarters, in the branch offices or in field service. The branch offices are responsible for day-to-day customer business, key account management, portfolio management and trading off-shoots with management, infrastructure and distribution functions. Erste Bank Austria has 4,468 employees, 55% of whom are women. The average age of employees is 42 years.
Erste Bank has a reputation as a leading company in the area of HRM and personnel development. Shortly after the merger in 1997, it focused on staff reduction by easing the transition of older staff into retirement. Strengthening its reputation as a top institution in the field of HRM, the bank’s HRM department began to develop the Lifetime programme in 2003.
The original initiative
In the 1990s, when GiroCredit was Austria's leading savings bank, early retirement was considered part of the normal career progression and a recruitment cap increased the average age of employees. Some 50% of the bank’s employees were over 40 years and in a permanent position. In 1996, the management board initiated the ‘Productive ageing – a mature bank’ programme, aimed at adjusting working conditions to the needs of older employees, as well as retaining older employees and increasing their work productivity. A strategic and comprehensive age management programme, the initiative was the first of its kind in Austria, and was introduced before changes took place in the pensions policy.
The programme consisted of several measures:
- awareness-raising among managers, superiors and work councils towards ageing, through formal feedback evaluation of workshops and lectures, which encouraged progress and large-scale participation in all measures;
- projects initiated by 14 superiors in their respective departments;
- increased participation of older employees in training;
- a part-time retirement model which resulted in higher satisfaction and savings.
- the programme led to higher work satisfaction and greater recognition among older employees and yielded important findings for organisational and personnel development and ergonomics.
Two years after GiroCredit merged with EÖSC to form Erste Bank in late 1997, the programme ended. However, in 2005 Erste Bank introduced the Lifetime programme.
Good practice today
Erste Bank began developing the Lifetime programme in 2003. The overall aim was to help strengthen its reputation as a leading enterprise in the area of HRM and personnel development. The concept of Lifetime was finally approved by the board of directors in August 2005 and approved by the works council.
Lifetime aims to strategically reorganise Erste Bank to achieve optimal productivity and personal development among all generations of workers and for both genders. It also aims to enhance the work–life balance, encouraging a favourable lifestyle while increasing productivity in the face of a shrinking labour market. The main drivers behind the programme were as follows:
- The average age of clients is increasing, thus products and services must be redesigned for this ‘older’ market. As older employees are generally more successful in dealing with older clients, the promotion of older employees is vital in this market.
- Until 2014, 75% of employees will be aged over 40 years. Therefore, company culture, processes, structures and promotion must be accessible to employees aged 45 years and older, and structured so as to provide a good work–life balance in order to maintain productivity and quality, regardless of average age or gender.
- The majority of employees are female, so company culture and structures must be optimised for women and men over the working life course.
- Negative factors, such as sickness absence, tend to increase with age, so without age management, an increase in employees’ average age is likely to lead to an increase in costs related to sickness absence.
Lifetime is a comprehensive programme implemented on a number of different levels:
- Corporate culture and leadership: the strengths and weaknesses of all generations are acknowledged and respected so that, even though the majority of employees are aged over 40 years, Erste Bank will be successful without becoming outdated.
- Training and personal development: employees of all generations have the chance to participate in training and development opportunities. Different needs and pathways in learning will be respected. Learning and development over the working life course will be supported.
- Attractiveness to younger employees: the Lifetime programme is not only designed for older workers, but aims to improve Erste Bank’s attractiveness as an employer for every age group.
- Occupational health promotion for all employees: in order to maintain capacities and reduce costs relating to sickness absence.
- Distribution and marketing: focusing on the demographic change in relation to clients and redesigning the products and services accordingly.
The Lifetime programme represents the bank's response to the changing demography of its workforce. These changes have intensified since the new pension reforms: today, the majority of employees are aged over 45 years. However, in an enterprise that focuses on services, the individual and his or her willingness to work are key factors for success.
More than 100 employees, many of them superiors, were involved in designing and analysing the Lifetime programme over a one-year period. Discussions with the directors and top management took into account the demographic future and aimed at broadening the company’s strategic view by incorporating ageing and diversity issues. The works council also participated in the development of the programme. To date, Lifetime has been successful and has helped to achieve the primary benefit for all partners: ensuring that employees are happy and proud to work at Erste Bank.
Project manager: Helene Pumm
Company physicians: Dr Eva Höltl, Dr Dieter Viehböck
Members of the works council: Günter Benischek, Karin Zeisel
Head of human resources: Dr Rupert Dollinger
The Institute of Occupational Health Promotion (IBG) has described the interim results and strategies in ‘Analysis of the productive ageing potential’, 1997.