Lohmann and Rauscher, Czech Republic: Health and well-being / ergonomics
Lohmann and Rauscher is a company that has created the image of a reliable and high quality employer. Employment security, ongoing training and investment in healthcare, as well as conformity with health regulations at the workplace, make it an example of good practice which aims to prolong the working lives of all employees.
Lohmann and Rauscher produces and supplies bandaging material and other medical products. The company has been operating in the Czech Republic since 1991 and is located in the town of Slavkov near Brno in the South Moravia region in the southeast of the country. It is the daughter company of the German-Austrian company of the same name. About 730 workers are employed in two branch offices. In 2006, around 180 jobs were created as a result of an investment offer that made it possible to create new warehouses. Technical administrative staff make up about 10% of the total number of employees. The remaining 90% of staff are mostly semi-skilled or unskilled workers, the majority of whom are women. Two age groups of women are most represented among the workforce, including those aged 20–27 years and those aged over 40 years. Moreover, it can sometimes be the case that two generations of the same family work for the company.
The company’s ongoing development has contributed to reducing unemployment in the region which resulted in a significant draining of the labour market. To recruit employees, the company cooperates with the local employment office and the integrated secondary school. When the need arises, workers from Slovakia are employed as there is no language barrier. Despite these recruitment methods, the quality of the workforce is becoming an issue of concern.
The company has a good reputation in the region for offering job security and reward systems for workers. For example, workers are initially employed on fixed-term employment contracts with a three-month probation period; subsequently, these workers receive an open-ended employment contract. Social dialogue is not formalised in the company.
Good practice today
At present, the company is becoming increasingly aware of the shrinking labour supply in the region and the limited possibilities to satisfy the demand for labour by hiring migrant workers. Therefore, the company is increasing its efforts to enhance processes which prolong the working lives of the current workforce, help workers to age well and remain healthy at work and maximise the experiences of older workers. These efforts have multiple facets, the most important of which are introduced below.
Encouragement, training and rewards
On two occasions, Lohmann and Rauscher was awarded ‘The best employer in the region’ title by the international financial services group Credit Suisse; it was runner-up in the 2004 competition and received third place in 2005. The following areas were rewarded as the company’s major contributions in the field of employment: employment security and stability, continuous growth of jobs and investments in the region. As the company is one of the biggest employers in the region, it is frequently subjected to inspections by the State Labour Inspection Office (Státní úrad inspekce práce). In this regard, the company has achieved excellent results reflecting a very low incidence of workplace accidents. Since the work carried out by employees is mainly manual and rather repetitive, careers are usually not prolonged beyond the statutory retirement age. Despite this, the company encourages employees to remain in the job for longer due to an increasing lack of high quality workers. However, when employees decide to leave their job, the company maintains regular contact with them and offers them other short-term work options such as temporary work during holiday periods. In the company’s experience, older employees are more reliable and responsible in their work, which is a great advantage for the company in relation to the products as they are often more aware of the impact of their work. Due to their level of experience and profound knowledge of the company’s products, older workers are the preferred choice, for example, in quality control jobs.
Continuous training for workers of all age groups is one of the basic employment characteristics at Lohmann and Rauscher. Employees receive basic training on the skills required for the job and on the company’s products. Starting with women working in front office jobs, training becomes a regular occurrence due to changes and innovations in the production programme. These women are trained in various European countries from which the production programme is taken. The training covers the production procedure itself and also skills that will enable the employee to share the newly-acquired know-how with subordinates. Employees can take German language courses as German is considered the official language of the company. Middle management must also be able to communicate in German with foreign quality controllers, for example. Emphasis is, however, placed on motivating the workers in relation to the work they do. Starting with front office staff, basic computer courses are offered, as well as training on the software used which is updated annually. Thus, with this training, employees are able to enhance their skills and employability on the labour market.
Employees are rewarded on the basis of their productivity levels, even though productivity targets are set in such a way that it is easily possible to achieve 125% of the norm. The link between productivity and salary acts as a strong incentive for labour productivity while it is also beneficial for lower-skilled or older workers or those with particular health problems.
The second significant project introduced by the company involves better healthcare possibilities for employees and places an emphasis on creating a high quality, healthy and stress minimising workplace. In this regard, the company is exploring various ways of decreasing the incidence of illnesses and periods of sick leave. For example, the company is considering financial rewards – such as bonuses for good attendance and productivity – or opening a general medical practitioner’s surgery on the premises in an effort to prevent lengthy journeys to a doctor’s surgery in areas with an underdeveloped infrastructure.
Employees are required to undergo a medical examination on taking up (possibly also on exiting) a job in order to identify any emerging illnesses connected with work which might have a permanent impact. An external consultancy company has prepared a catalogue of all professions and jobs carried out in the company, including administrative activities, and categorised these according to possible health risks. For the latter, it provided time scales and identified a focus for preventive medical examinations. Apart from the list of jobs, the consultancy also categorised workplaces in which various indicators are monitored – such as the quality of lighting, levels of dust or noise. The study proposed necessary measures to improve working conditions. Moreover, as a result of the contract with the consultancy company, medical professionals check every six months whether the measures are being adhered to. These services are paid for in one lump sum and, according to a company representative, reflect a relatively small amount compared with how beneficial they are for the quality of the workplace, employees’ satisfaction and thus indirectly the length of work lives. All programmes aimed at improving the well-being of employees are financed through company profits. Apart from this programme, other methods are also regularly used to promote good health; for example, ‘job rotation’ allows workers in areas of production to swap tasks after two or at most four hours of work in order to break the monotonous character of a particular job task so that the employee does not suffer from repetitive strain injury.
Relatively low wage expenses compared with other EU Member States are thus far the greatest competitive advantage that the Czech workforce offers, since staff represent the greatest share of the company’s expenses in the Czech Republic. Future plans will to a certain extent depend on the impact of the Czech Republic joining the eurozone. It remains unclear whether it will continue to be possible for the company to use its own sources for recruitment – which is the current and preferred practice at Lohmann and Rauscher – or whether it will have to turn to foreign workers to fill positions.
Contact: Rudolf Vonyš, Chief Financial Officer, email: rudolf.vonys@cz.LRmed.com