Länsilinjat Oy, Finland: flexible working practices, redeployment, training and development
Länsilinjat Oy is a privately owned bus company, which was founded in 1939 when five bus companies merged. The company owns 80 buses, which provide transportation to the west and northwest regions of Tampere in Finland. Länsilinjat Oy handles short-haul traffic and offers regular, express and charter services. The operations are divided between Länsilinjat Oy and its subsidiary Veikko Viitanen Oy, which concentrates on charter traffic. The company also has its own travel agency.
Länsilinjat Oy currently employs 143 people (15 women and 128 men), of whom 55% are over 44 years, 22% over 54 years and 6% over 60 years. The average age of employees is 45 years. Most of the employees are bus drivers; a further 10 workers handle maintenance and 14 are white-collar workers. About 70% to 80% of the drivers have attended bus driver courses, and almost half of them have passed the bus driver examination. Staff turnover is low.
The company values long-term employment, believing employees should be able to continue working in Länsilinjat Oy until retirement age. Part-time retirement, a ‘godparent driver’ system and individual shiftwork planning are among the favourable working practices within the company. The values of a family business and cooperation are an integral part of the company's culture. Due to the scattered nature of the work (buses depart from 15 different localities), the possibilities for natural social dialogue among drivers are limited. The need for greater participation among employees was suggested by both the employees and the employer.
The original initiative
The high average age of the workers in Länsilinjat Oy was a particular concern of company. In 1999, Länsilinjat Oy took part in a programme on ageing workers, established by the Council of State of Finland. One part of the programme was targeted at supporting organisations to develop comprehensively, particularly in relation to the work ability of its ageing workers.
Based on this programme, the company introduced a range of measures from 1999 to 2002. These measures included:
• information about a healthy lifestyle;
• rehabilitation courses;
• part-time pension arrangements;
• occupational rehabilitation;
• occupational health care services;
• education about emergency situations;
• development of drivers’ professional skills and know-how;
• education to prepare drivers for the professional drivers’ examination;
• apprenticeship-based professional examination for maintenance workers;
• a godparent driver system for new drivers;
• regular meetings for drivers in small groups;
• more flexible working time arrangements;
• the development of meeting practices and interaction.
The ‘godparent driver’ system (or ‘apprentice-journeyman’ system) was developed to support new drivers. The term ‘godparent drivers’ refers to drivers who have a long work history, have passed professional examinations and have participated in workplace trainer courses. Such experienced drivers can distribute their expertise and knowledge to the younger workers in a natural way. New drivers, in turn, become acquainted with their job in a safer environment. Other training related to the godparent system involves communications between supervisors and godparents. Altogether, four godparent drivers and over 10 assistant godparent drivers have been trained. Godparent drivers work in short-haul traffic, and in regular, express and charter services. They explain all important company practices to new drivers and observe new drivers during some of their first trips. New drivers can always call on their godparent driver for help. Godparent drivers also train drivers to work as assistant godparents.
The introduction of the godparent driver system and individual working time systems proved to be the most beneficial practices. Both measures are important for maintaining the work ability of older and younger workers. Individual working times offer possibilities for avoiding night shifts and enable workers to better plan their life outside of work. Such measures help to promote the work ability of workers of different ages and are especially important for older workers.
Good practice today
In 1999, Länsilinjat Oy participated in a programme for ageing workers (aged 44 years and over) established by the Council of State of Finland. Thereafter, the company has implemented measures to promote the work ability of its entire staff. The following measures from the original initiative have been continued on a regular basis with no significant changes: rehabilitation courses, part-time pension arrangements, occupational rehabilitation, development of drivers’ professional skills, education to prepare drivers for their professional examination, apprenticeship-based professional examination for maintenance workers, the godparent driver system for new drivers, more flexible timetables and working time arrangements, and meeting practices.
Measures concerning information on the importance of exercise and other healthy lifestyle habits, and occupational health initiatives for workers whose work ability is low, are not yet practices rooted in the daily work of Länsilinjat Oy. However, the company is participating in a large pilot project aimed at creating good occupational health practices by initiating exercises to promote health and work ability. As a result, Länsilinjat is trying to increase the physical activity of its employees of all ages, especially its bus drivers. This intervention is just beginning. The company has also changed its occupational health service, and now works together with the service to create new practices, especially for employees whose work ability is low. However, regular meetings among small groups of drivers are not functioning consistently well: in some areas, these meetings are almost a daily routine, but in others there is little or no interest in the initiative.
The godparent system is important for maintaining work ability among both older and younger drivers. Experienced godparent drivers can pass on their expertise and knowledge to the younger workers in a natural way and influence the familiarisation and training of new drivers. At the same time, the motivation of these older workers improves. Individual working schedules help to provide possibilities for avoiding night shifts and enable workers to better plan their life outside of work, e.g. childcare or hobbies.
Länsilinjat has itself financed all of the measures that followed the original initiative. The godparent driver system has proved particularly economical to implement. Although godparent drivers are experienced drivers and are usually older, there is no specific age limit. Gender was not considered in the design and implementation of the godparent driver system, however, more men than women have participated in the programme, since most of the workers are men.
The purpose of current practices is to improve workers’ well-being and expertise. The occupational safety commission was responsible for the design and implementation of these development measures. Increasingly, the company is trying to motivate employees to participate in the design of development measures.
Between 2002 and 2005, sickness absence has remained at about the same level in the company. In the future, the company plans to continue implementing its current good practices. It aims to promote regular exercise and the maintenance of functional capacity among its employees and to initiate special occupational health courses as normal practice. It is also planning a follow-up for its rehabilitation courses to determine the advantages of such rehabilitation. In addition, the company hopes to participate in the ‘family and work project’, which is a follow-up of the flexible working practices that have been introduced. The project helps establish working times and work practices that take into consideration workers’ different life situations, e.g. older workers, workers with small children, workers with no family and ‘remote’ parents. The circumstances of older workers will be an important focus in all of these future actions.
Contact: Terhi Penttilä, Email: Terhi.Penttilä@lansilinjat.fi
Company website: www.lansilinjat.fi
Tuomi, K., Ilmarinen, J. and Jahkola, A. et al, Work ability index, Occupational health care 19, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, 1998.