Société Electrique de l’Our, Luxembourg: Training / Ergonomics
Société Electrique de l’Our S.A. (SEO) has initiated strategies of diversity management to improve the employment situation of people with disabilities. The strategies also benefit older employees, as they help to counter discrimination of disadvantaged groups among the staff. The company aims for an integrative approach.
The Société Electrique de l’Our S.A. (SEO) is one of the leading energy producers in Luxembourg and was founded in 1951. SEO’s administration headquarters are in Luxembourg City. The pump storage power plant in Vianden became operational in 1964 and, with 140 to 150 employees, is the power-generating division of the company. Cefralux S. à r. l. in Luxembourg, Cedecel International S.A. in France and Windpower S.A. also belong to the SEO Group. In addition, SEO is a shareholder of other enterprises in Germany and France. The Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk AG (RWE), Germany and the state of Luxembourg each own 40% of SEO shares.
SEO employs a total of about 195 people, of which one third are white-collar workers and two thirds are blue-collar workers. The average age of the white-collar workers is 44 years and the average age of blue-collar workers is 40.83 years. Twenty-five percent of the staff members in administration are female; among the blue-collar workers the percentage of women is decidedly lower. The proportion of staff members with handicaps amounts to about 5% and is above the statutory minimum rate of 2%.
Most employees retire around the age of 60 years. Early retirement without deductions after 40 years of employment continues to be an option favoured by the employees of SEO
Diversity management measures are largely initiated by the human resources department. In compliance with the statutory provisions, the workforce is represented by an HR employee and a delegation composed of non-HR employees.
Description of the initiative
SEO regards human resource management as an investment in the employees that ultimately also benefits the company. Improvement of the working atmosphere, the promotion of individual staff members and the long-term retention of experience knowledge is a declared objective of the human resources department, which mainly develops the human resource strategies of SEO
Due to the special features of the labour market in Luxembourg, such as the effects of work migration from the surrounding countries, the company has deployed diversity management strategies and has transferred them to other groups. The incentive behind this was the development of individual innovative approaches to show that the integration of persons with physical impairments is not only possible but can also have a positive impact on the company. Above all, SEO wants to set a positive course with its HR policy. For example, despite the higher costs for the company, SEO has refused to subcontract various fields of work in order to create new jobs for the region and to improve its company image.
When implementing its human resource strategies, the company combines different measures to tailor individual solutions in job responsibilities for employees in case of health or other problems. These measures are developed in the respective tasks with the employee, the work environment and, where necessary, with physicians – with a view to linking the individual’s interests and resources with the company’s business objectives.
In recent years, the diversity management strategies of SEO were primarily geared towards persons with disabilities, and persons with physical and slight mental impairments were increasingly hired. To provide for the particular individual needs arising from a disability, work areas were partly reorganised or new fields of activity were created. The company also seeks to retain staff members who have been accorded invalid status, e.g. because of an accident. This is also a form of age management, as the measures are targeted at workers who have sustained impairments in the course of their working lives due to the high physical strain in the production area. In addition to the restructuring of the workplace, provision is made for a job change within the company if required. If, for instance, a worker is no longer able to perform certain tasks because of an illness or an accident, employment rehabilitation is sought. If this is not possible, the company facilitates the participation of the respective staff members in rehabilitation or retraining measures, e.g. by means of release from work, to restore their employability.
To reduce physical stresses as a whole, safety measures were expanded in the past few years. For example, a new storehouse was created for revision of machines. In this area, the maintenance work can be performed with due regard to the respective safety standards and workers are not stressed in their usual work routines by additional noise or dirt. In addition, support devices, such as lifting platforms were increasingly installed. Occupational safety measures are implemented in accordance with the delegations, whose members also can make suggestions for improvement.
In the field of health care, SEO offers regular medical check-ups organised by the company. From the age of 50 onwards, employees are provided the opportunity for preventive heart disease examinations.
In view of the progressive technological developments in the energy sector, the fields of further education and training are of prime importance. First, it is of great interest for the company to train employees throughout their whole working life, so as to incorporate up-to-date technical expertise into the work processes. Second, staff retention over a long period is a goal in order to retain the acquired experience and knowledge in the company. SEO makes in-house funds available for further education and also applies for supplementary public subsidies. The further education measures comprise training courses relating to specific tasks, as well as personal development, and are available to all employees, irrespective of age and qualifications.
Employees in administration are provided an opportunity to work part time or to work flexible hours according to their individual needs resulting from family or care work. In production, flex-time models are not put into practice because of shift work. Working hour reductions can be implemented by means of part-time work.
In collective agreements, it is provided that pay increases are staggered according to age brackets. Depending on the individual situation of the employees, retirements are possible within the framework of the statutory provisions. Despite competitive pressure, SEO does not use early retirement as a means for staff reductions.
Good practice today
The human resources department considers that the working atmosphere in the company could be improved by integrating people with handicaps into the work process. For instance, the implementation of individual solutions can be regarded as motivation for employees to take part in the organisation of work processes and workplaces. An empirical measurement of these effects is of course difficult because of the individual solutions.
Among the employees who took part in the measures, a low turnover rate and a low sick leave rate are cited as indicators of the positive effect of the human resource strategy. Sickness figures of persons with disabilities in the company tend to be lower than the average sickness figures.
Structural conditions that facilitate the provision of alternative jobs were cited as favourable conditions for implementing the integration of people with impairments. If such structures exist, the measures can be implemented without additional costs. The fitting of technical support devices and the restructuring of the workplace tends to be associated with costs but has positive effects for occupational safety.
In future, the company intends to pay more attention to question of equal opportunities, as women are strongly underrepresented among the workers due to the sectoral employment situation.