Post Danmark, Denmark: Flexible working practices
A special clause in the collective agreement at Post Danmark entitles older postal workers to extra holidays, reduced working hours and full pension contributions. The arrangement has been a contributory factor in postponing retirement until the age of 62.
Post Danmark A/S (Danish Mail) was once a public institution owned and run by the state. In 1995, it was reorganised and split into specialised areas of activity, such as sorting, distribution and transport. The areas are independent, with separate management, administration and budgets, but are kept together by a corporate management, led by a board of directors and a managing director. Geographically, Post Danmark A/S is divided into 12 areas, each managed by a CEO.
In total, Post Danmark A/S employs 25,000 persons (equalling 21,000 full-time positions), the majority (62%) being men. The workforce consists mainly of unskilled workers (76%), the remainder being made up of skilled workers (2%), administrative staff (14%) and others. All employees are covered by a collective agreement. Made up in 5-year intervals, the age distribution across the company is fairly even, except for the youngest and the oldest: 3% of total staff are aged under 20 and a similar percentage is aged over 60; the remaining eight age groups contain between 10% and 13% each.
Over the last five years, the total staff of Post Danmark has been reduced by 1,000 full-time equivalent people, partly because of manpower-reducing technology and partly caused by lack of substitutes for retired people. Thus, Post Danmark was experiencing a labour shortage, which needed to be tackled by the company.
Good practice today
The present private joint-stock company Post Danmark A/S originally was a state-owned public service (Royal Danish Mail). Postal workers were thus civil servants, lifelong employees, in principle, engaged with a right to a state pension. Mail delivery routes were allocated on the basis of seniority, which meant that older employees had the opportunity of picking the 'easier' routes. At the same time, this served as an unintended built-in possibility for older civil servants to keep their jobs until retirement because the easier routes were less physically demanding and therefore helped protect their health (e.g. their legs, feet and back). This, of course, presupposed that jobs and routes were stable in content and extent.
But this all changed with the reorganisation of Post Danmark in 1995. Being now in a competitive market, the mail company found it necessary to raise functional and economic efficiency through changes in manpower and technology. For the postal workers, this meant changes in delivery routes, mail delivery through teams (with variable staffing levels according to the volume of mail), with no special considerations given to the seniority of employees. Thus, there was a need to focus on the health of older postal workers and their retention by the company.
Therefore, in the late 1990s it was agreed by collective bargaining that postal workers could apply for reduced working hours from the age of 55, with equally reduced pay but with sustained pension benefits. Today, about 5% of the 3,596 employees aged 55+ are employed on these terms. In later agreements, it has also decided that employees from their 60th year are entitled to 'seniority leave': this consists of 20 fully paid days per year, which can be taken as single days (e.g. one day per week) or all together (e.g. as a holiday). Six additional 'senior days' have been negotiated for employees aged 57-59. Overall, the senior programme at Post Danmark A/S consists of a sliding scale of possibilities, aimed at easing the burden of physical work for postal workers from the age of 55 onwards.
From the employer's point of view, the programme also aims to keep senior employees longer in the company. These employees are highly valued for their skills and contribution to the company culture. In combination with the economic incentive provided by the early retirement benefit scheme (which applies to the whole labour market), it seems that the retirement age of postal workers has now been postponed from 60 to 62. It is hoped that this age limit can be extended even further in the future. Since the group of employees over 60 accounts for only 800 people, even small changes will be significant.
In addition to these targeted schemes, two other factors contribute to the retention of older employees. First, there is the possibility of becoming a mentor for newly hired staff. This, of course, adds responsibility to the job; since new staff are mostly young people with no work experience, guidance is needed both in a narrow and in a broader sense. Moreover, older employees can serve as role models for the young in the sense that they represent ongoing possibilities and a desireable future with the company. The second factor influencing older staff to stay on with the company involves a change in the organisation of work — from individual level to a team structure. This has created new possibilities of career changes and opened up opportunities for older workers even late in their working lives. A multitude of job profiles are now available for people with special skills and ambitions, such as team coordinator, head of distribution and even postmaster.
Contact: Bente de Kruiff, Personnel Consultant