Victoria, Denmark: Recruitment and flexible working practices
Victoria is a chain of four shops selling clothes and fashion accessories for women. Two of the shops are located in Denmark’s second largest city of Århus situated on the peninsula of Jutland, one in Skanderborg in southeast Jutland and one in Aalborg in northern Denmark. The shops’ proprietors, Majken and Olav Funderud, took over the business from Mrs Funderud’s mother in 2003. At that time, the Victoria chain only consisted of the two shops in Århus; the other two shops were set up in 2006. The target customer group is women over the age of 35 years, and a high percentage of the regular customers are in their fifties or sixties.
In total, the shops employ 33 people including assistant personnel. Five of the employees are over the age of 54 years, while two are in their forties. The oldest employee is 65 years of age. The age profile is very atypical, as the majority of personnel in other similar shops selling fashion clothes for women are typically under 40 years of age. Only women are employed in the four shops.
The shops have a very small staff turnover, since most of the employees have worked in the outlets for many years. Most of the employees are affiliated to a trade union and agreement is relatively favourable between the company and the trade union.
Good practice today
The company Victoria values, in particular, the competencies and intuition that older women possess in selling fashion clothes to its customers. Since Majken and Olav Funderud opened the clothes shops, they have placed an emphasis on recruiting women above the age of 45 years to work in their outlets. The main reason for this is that they have realised the many positive results to be gained from hiring senior workers. First, the managers have identified a clear pattern, whereby the target group of older female customers seem to prefer buying clothes from women who are similar to themselves, thus improving sales. Secondly, the managers find that senior employees have a lot to offer in relation to stability, balance and critical perspectives in relation to routines and strategies at the workplace.
When the new shops were opened last year in Skanderborg and Aalborg, the managers wanted to recruit women over the age of 45 years and therefore they did not use the usual recruitment strategies, which are mainly computer based. Instead, they chose to place a large advertisement in the shop window where they stated that they wanted to hire women with considerable life experience, clearly specifying that it was not necessary to have any practical or educational training in the clothing industry. This strategy was chosen in order to attract mainly women who would not have applied for the position if it had been advertised on the internet. By using this recruitment strategy, the managers were successful in their aim of hiring older women to work in the shops.
A few years ago, with the help of a consultancy company, the managers initiated a special ‘employee analysis’ to audit the resources and skills of the different employees and to identify what they consider to be difficult and demanding aspects of the job. The analysis showed that the senior workers valued, in particular, the direct relations with the customers, whereas they were somewhat insecure about the technology used in the shops to register sales and to keep track of current stock. As the management knew that the older employees were extremely skilled in selling the merchandise to the customers, all of these employees were informed that they could be relieved of administrative duties if they wished to focus on face-to-face customer relations exclusively. Therefore, the younger employees tend to monitor the sales systems and are in charge of ordering new merchandise for the shops today.
The company has no formal written policy for its older workforce. The special working conditions of the senior workers are decided upon individually, according to the different needs and demands of these older employees. The management has decided that the individual career plans should not be conditional on age, but rather on what resources the different employees possess.
In the Victoria shops, all of the older workers are offered extremely flexible working arrangements; as a result, they all work part time. Moreover, the senior workers are entitled to take part in special yearly trade fairs where new collections of clothes are purchased to sell in the four shops. The managers consider that the participation of older workers has several positive aspects. First, these workers have a profound knowledge of the older customers’ tastes and preferences, which in turn increases the company’s profits as sales of clothes rise. Furthermore, their participation in the trade fairs allows for higher employee involvement, commitment and involvement among these workers.
All of Victoria’s employees try to take into consideration the fact that some of the older workers may find the work physically strenuous. Therefore, it is socially acceptable for the senior workers to take more frequent or longer breaks, enabling them to sit down and rest. In addition, the older workers are not expected to lift boxes and clothes racks in and out of the shops.
Some of the senior employees have also found it physically strenuous managing the daily routine of cleaning and vacuuming after closing hour. As a result, the management hired a schoolgirl to carry out these duties as a part-time job, which means that the shops’ employees no longer have to take part in cleaning work.
The company has also adopted an active policy in relation to sickness-related absenteeism from work. When an employee is absent from work for a considerable period of time due to illness, the colleagues and managers send flowers and visit the worker. This relays a message that the company cares about the employee and wants them to return to work as soon as possible. Moreover, when a person returns to work after a long period of sickness, they are offered the option of a more flexible working schedule, which in practice means that the employee can come and go as they like. By providing such possibilities, the company has managed to prevent early retirement among many of its older employees.
Contact: Majken V-L Funderud, email: firstname.lastname@example.org