ZF Marine, Italy: Changing attitudes, recruitment, development, flexible working practices
ZF is a German multinational company controlled by the municipality of Friedichshafen through a foundation. It produces engine transmission systems in Germany, Italy, France, Brazil, the US and China. Its biggest factory is ZF Marine in Padua, which makes propulsion systems for powerboats.
The Padua factory, with an annual turnover of around €65 million, has 400 employees made up of 250 factory workers and 150 administration workers. Its 41 female employees are all in administration. Currently, 165 employees (around 40%) are aged over 45 years.
ZF Marine’s emphasis on good relationships with its employees has led it to develop several management and human resource initiatives that include age-related policies. The company cooperates fully with the trade unions, to the satisfaction of both sides. Workers are involved, not only in deciding on all the initiatives, but also in implementing them.
The cooperative atmosphere has increased employees’ awareness of workplace age issues and their appreciation of their working environment. All ZF’s new initiatives are a result of a management change in 2000.
The original initiative
ZF Marine’s original initiative was aimed at changing the company’s approach to managing human resources. Starting in 2000, a new management team introduced a series of policies that revised the company’s mission and were designed to enhance diversity. The company considers that diversity in age, sex, physical ability, etc is a resource.
The new policies reflected the company’s confidence in the benefits of a trust-based relationship with employees that includes respect for age diversity. The trade unions cooperate fully with the initiative, to the satisfaction of all parties.
A booklet, published in 2001 and promoted within the company, formalises the new approach and gives it practical application. For example, it includes a section encouraging diversity, which articulates the company’s high regard for workers of all ages, stating that, ‘Employees of any age are important because they guarantee the continuous transfer of knowledge and experience.’
The initiative has had positive effects on older employees, who feel valued thanks to new measures like flexible work hours – which allow them to manage their time better – and hiring workers aged over 45 years.
Good practice today
In 2000, new management at ZF Marine changed the company’s human resource policies and practices. It wanted to create a new relationship with employees, which was based on mutual trust and satisfaction, believing that this would benefit both the workers and the company. Although not all of the new measures were based on age, the older employees benefit greatly from them.
One of the most important initiatives was the publication, in 2001, of a booklet of values that encourages age diversity. This was a major innovation in Italian business, which is generally characterised by a degree of discrimination against older workers, especially with regard to hiring. By declaring that employees of any age are important because they guarantee the continuous transfer of knowledge and experience, the ZF Marine booklet has a strong motivational impact on older employees, who finally feel that they are protected.
In April 2005, 13 working groups, made up of 60 workers representing all sectors of the company, analysed the booklet to ascertain whether the values it advocates are actually put into practice in everyday working life, and to find ways to put into effect those that are not. The groups found that the value relating to age diversity was the best implemented.
The many job applications that ZF Marine gets from workers aged over 45 years provide further evidence of the age diversity initiative’s success. Older employees are encouraged by seeing that the advocacy for age diversity is not just words in a booklet, but is given real effect by the hiring of older workers. Between 2000 and 2004, the company hired 11 people aged over 45 years and has recently added a further six in this age group, one of whom has only two years left until retirement.
An initiative in the field of career development that was introduced in 2003 encourages employees to nominate themselves for promotion. The company announces a job opening, which sets internal competition in motion. All workers who apply are tested in a group setting by all the self-nominated candidates, and assessed by an external psychologist and a team representing the company and the trade union. Candidates are not discriminated against on any grounds, least of all age. In fact, older workers are more likely to nominate themselves, probably because they feel that they have more experience. This initiative recently led to a 50-year-old employee being promoted, with a salary increase, from the testing sector to the quality sector.
In general, ZF Marine employees feel fortunate, unusually for Italian workers, in enjoying a working environment that is based on mutual trust. In practical terms, this is the result of a full understanding between the company and the employees concerning:
- economic matters;
- respect for diversity, including age diversity;
- working hours;
- safety in the workplace;
- involvement of the trade unions in all issues, including company strategy, resource management, and delegation to the trade unions of human resource issues such as holiday planning, etc.
From 2003 to 2005, the company’s personnel director was the president of the west delegation of the employers’ association Padua Unindustria, and he tried to transmit the ZF Marine model to others. However, the difficulty of doing so is attested even by worker representatives who visited other companies to tell of their experiences. They report an initial reaction from other workers that is close to envy for their being better off.
ZF Marine plans to continue its initiatives and is looking into job sharing. The trade unions are considering asking the company to give those workers approaching retirement lighter and less stressful tasks.
Company representatives: Dr Paolo Buratto, direttore risorse umane coordinatore gruppo ZF Marine (firstname.lastname@example.org); Dr Arianna Scattolin, HR Generalist (email@example.com).
Workers representatives RSU: Gianluca Badoer (Cgil), Daniele Olivieri Gorga (Cgil), Alessandro Barbiero (Cisl).