Kofoeds Skole, Denmark: Changing attitudes
The project at Kofoeds Skole aims to bring new life to the career of employees aged 50+ years. The short-term purpose is to keep staff from retiring early. The long-term purpose is to set a new standard for careers within the institution.
Kofoeds Skole is an independent institution with funding from various public sources. Its activities are supervised by the Ministry of Social Affairs. The school was founded in 1928 as a charitable institution, attempting to keep young unemployed men out of social and personal misery. Its main purpose today is much the same, although the activities include a wide-ranging mix of services, production and education with and for social clients of both sexes. The core values are helping people to cope while respecting individual need and situation.
In total, the school employs 110 people, with an equal distribution of men and women. The average age of employees is 48, with 50% of the workforce being 50+. Employees possess a variety of skills and trades, including academics, social educationalists, teachers, social counsellors and skilled workers, plus an administrative staff of clerks, IT personnel and heads of departments. The staff turnover rate has risen recently to about 12%, but the main tendency is for people to stay until pensionable age.
Outside the main organisation, the school has branches in two other cities in Denmark and some projects in other European countries.
Social dialogue is maintained with the 14 trade unions involved, organised through local representatives and an elected common representative.
Although there is a sporadic shortage of labour, the institution is generally able to attract qualified personnel.
Good practice today
The initiation of a project concerning senior employees arose from the need to keep valued staff resources in-house, while also recruiting and introducing younger people from the outside. As already mentioned, half of the school's workforce is aged 50 and over; this trend is particularly marked among the managers and heads of departments. This obviously raised concerns about how to manage the organisation over the next 10 years and beyond. A loss of 50% of the staff would be disastrous, thus methods of keeping people longer in the organisation needed to be examined. Yet it was considered unwise, if not impossible, to simply keep people in their positions for an extra two or three years. First, a considerable sum of money would be required and this was not feasible due to various collective agreements with trade unions and the finances of the institution itself. Secondly, there would no guarantee of efficiency during those extra years. The worst case scenario would be if a manager — due to retire and possibly tired of the job, but holding on to it for another few years, either for the money or for the sake of the institution — created a bad atmosphere in the organisation. An incentive of another kind was therefore needed.
The opportunity came in 2003 with a Government scheme for the funding of projects aimed at older employees in the public sector. The HR department of Kofoeds Skole drew up a project for the revival of careers and work satisfaction of employees exceeding the age of 55 on an voluntary basis. Keywords in the project description were:
- developing competencies;
- appropriate frames for the enhancement of motivation;
- improvement of skills;
- opportunities of choice;
- career options 10 years ahead for people in their 40s;
- career and retirement options 10 years ahead for people in their 50s;
- solutions based on mutual benefit rather than pure economic incentives.
To meet these ends, the project was centred around a special voluntary personal development review with older employees, aimed at answering the following questions: 'How can we employ your resources in the best way?' and 'How do you share your knowledge with others?' The results from these interviews were to be analysed for resources and energy, and the possibilities of employing these productively within the organisation. The rationale of the project was that everybody has energy, but this energy can be lost if nothing is done to keep it and use it. By participating, people would have a better working life for the good of themselves, their colleagues and the institution. It would be a matter of 'give and take', hence the project was entitled Life in working life — any time.
After receiving a state grant to cover the costs of external assistance, evaluation and administration, the institution hired an independent personnel consultant to carry out the interviews with the employees. (This procedure was followed in order to avoid any confusion among staff with their usual performance appraisals.) Out of the 52 people, aged 50+, concerned, 43 actively participated in the project. Of these, 26 later reported great satisfaction with the initiative and evaluated the procedure highly.
The material from the interviews was processed and analysed, and the results disseminated to all staff members through meetings and discussions. Finally, a report was sent to management. This report was later incorporated into the future guidelines for good practice of personnel management.
Under the heading 'quality assurance', it is to be observed that no employee – in general and especially during the last 10 years of employment – should enter a state of habitual work practice. In this matter, it is crucial to observe that retirement influences performance, even several years ahead of the actual time of leaving. Furthermore, the guidelines point out that 'appreciative leadership' will contribute to the general purpose of the quality assurance scheme.
In conclusion, Kofoeds Skole's project Life in working life — any time has resulted in new procedures for personal development reviews, at the same time ensuring the satisfaction of employees and the proper use of their resources to the mutual benefit of the organisation and the employees themselves.