Finnish News Agency, Finland: comprehensive approach
The Finnish News Agency (STT), founded in 1887, is an independent national news provider. Its headquarters are in central Helsinki and it has nine branches across Finland. STT's board is responsible for choosing the managing director who is also editor-in-chief.
STT employs 157 people, 132 of whom are journalists, the remaining staff working in sales and customer service, and the finance and administration departments. Most of the journalists have an academic degree or are on a break from their university studies. The average age of employees is 43 years (permanent workers 45 years and temporary workers 30 years). Almost 50% of employees are aged over 44 years and around 20% (33 employees) are aged over 54 years. The percentage of women and men is 58% and 42%, respectively. Staff turnover is very low.
The company has great respect for the experience of ageing (45 years and over) and older (55 years and over) workers. It is common practice for younger employees to ask experienced older workers for advice. Workers aged over 40 years do not have to work the night shift. However, there exists no formal mentoring arrangement or working time system.
Older workers can go on part-time pension and take part in rehabilitation courses. STT is still formulating its strategy for the ageing workforce. Management and employee representatives are actively discussing options and deciding the strategy in the company’s well-being advisory group and in the management committee.
The original initiative
The STT initiative dealt with issues related to the high average age of the company’s workers. At the same time, in 1999, the Finnish Council of State established a programme on ageing workers, part of which aimed to help organisations develop measures to maintain the work capacity of an ageing workforce.
Between 1999 and 2002, STT implemented measures that included management training, a renewed management structure, discussions between managers and subordinates, creativity training, financial support for workers who were in the process of completing education programmes, physical training and fitness tests, improvement of the work environment, and part-time pensions.
The employees’ average work ability index (WAI) was good in all age groups. The WAI, which was established by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH), assesses on the basis of a questionnaire a worker’s ability to work by taking account of physical and mental job demands. In general, one-third of STT employees thought that the employment of ageing workers had been promoted at least moderately well while three-fourths thought that there had been no special attempts to promote the employment of older workers.
Workers availed most of the part-time pension and leave-of-absence measures. Other successful measures included training to develop professional competence, physical training and tests and rehabilitation courses. The initiative also included creating the position of personnel manager and setting up a well-being advisory committee.
Most of the measures seem to be transferable to other companies. Management’s commitment is very important for the initiative’s success, and it is also necessary that everyone understands its purpose.
Good practice today
STT was concerned since the late 1990s about the high proportion of its workers who were ageing (44 years and over) and older (55 years and over). The company thus developed a programme to promote the ability of all its employees to work. This programme has now been incorporated into the company's normal routine, continuing the following measures with no significant changes: supervisor training, discussions between supervisors and subordinates, physical training and fitness tests, ergonomics, part-time pension and flexible working hours (such as no night shift required for employees aged over 40 years and temporary leaves) and financial support for completing education programmes.
In addition, the company introduced the following new measures after 2002: language and information technology (IT) courses, new-employee orientation, supervision of work and a programme for all employees whose WAI is below 35. A work ability index in between 28–36 is considered moderate and an improvement of the ability to work is recommended.
The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH) played an important part in this initiative as each STT employee completes an annual FIOH questionnaire, which includes the WAI, questions about work, life styles etc. The responses help determine the measures to promote each employee’s ability to work. These measures include mainly medical and other examinations, counselling for a healthy life style, participation in rehabilitation courses and ergonomic improvements.
Men and women took part equally in the initiative to define for each employee the interventions needed to maintain the ability to work. The participants were all ages but most were aged over 44 years. The 2002 measures systematised the use of the WAI, which had been an important part of the original initiative, as a tool to promote work ability at STT.
The results of the current practices are as follows:
- the average WAI is the same as it was two years ago;
- workers feel less stress than they did two years ago, although the STT journalists feel more than those surveyed in a representative sample of Finnish journalists;
- pressure of work is less, especially among managers;
- both subordinates and managers feel that work loads have decreased compared to two years ago. However, the WAI score was on average higher than among employees in the area of science and art;
- workers have less control over their own work;
- managers feel better able to control the variety and pace of work than do their subordinates;
- communication between departments is better, but one-third of employees think that it is still insufficient;
- both managers and subordinates think that there is less communication between the management and employees;
- subordinates feel that there are fewer development activities in their own work units than two years ago, whereas managers think the opposite;
- opinions about how the changes had been implemented are quite negative. However, workers think that opportunities to develop at work are as good as they were two years ago, although they believe that there is less support for professional development and for work rotation;
- employees think that the work atmosphere is good overall;
- managers are more positive about the work environment than are subordinates;
- workers feel that that noise and restlessness, although reduced, is still disturbing.
The company is planning a more systematic age strategy that will focus on prevention and will include, in collaboration with the FIOH, a special project for workers aged over 54 years. It will require the company to implement a more efficient documentation system to record, for example, the reasons for short and repeated sickness absences.
Flexible working hours, job rotation, reorganised job descriptions and training in skills needed by ageing workers will also be essential. The age strategy will be part of a comprehensive promotion of health and the development of well-being for all employees. Discussion between management and employees, as well as commitment by all employees to the development process and their participation in it will essential to the strategy’s success.
Contact person: Liisa Purovirta (email@example.com)
Organisation's website: http://www.stt.fi/index3.php
Tuomi, K., Ilmarinen, J., Jahkola, A., et al., Work ability index, Helsinki, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, 1998.