AXA, France: Fostering employability
Insurance company Axa France launched a general policy aimed at meeting economic challenges and improving efficiency. A main element of this policy is a collective agreement named CAP Métier. Implemented from 2003 to 2005, the measures introduced under this agreement facilitated occupational mobility within the company on a large scale. The programme allowed for the company to be restructured without the need for redundancies.
Axa France is one of the French leaders in the insurance sector. Its activities are related to financial protection. Axa France is a subsidiary of Axa SA, parent company of Axa Group, which operates worldwide. Axa Group employed more than 90,000 salaried persons at year-end 2005, 52% of whom were women and 48% of whom were men. Axa France employed about 17,000 workers at year-end 2005, including 12,700 administrative workers and 4,200 salaried salespeople. Non-sales employees are mostly women. Social dialogue with trade unions is traditionally significant within AXA France and is unanimously considered to be an important feature of the company. Six trade unions are represented within the company (CFDT, UDPA, CGC, CFTC, CGT and FO). From 1999, the company started a major internal restructuring aimed at improving its efficiency and organisation in an increasingly competitive market. One of the main goals was to improve their quality of service and therefore to retain existing clients as well as acquire new ones. In order to achieve these objectives, a policy of voluntary occupational mobility has been implemented, especially through an initiative named CAP Métier, initiated in 2003. This initiative consists of organising mobility from administrative to sales jobs.
Description of the initiative
CAP Métier resulted from a collective agreement signed on 16 October 2003. The conclusion of this agreement followed rather long negotiations (begun at year-end 2002). Four trade unions signed the agreement (CFDT, UDPA, CGC and CFTC). The agreement was concluded for two years, from 2003 to 2005. The agreement aimed at monitoring and fostering occupational mobility within the company in accordance with its overall strategy, i.e. fostering mobility towards jobs with good prospects, especially jobs linked to relationships with clients (e.g. internal call centres). The implementation of this agreement was preceded by another initiative which allowed the company to highlight its needs regarding overstaffing and understaffing. Named NORMA, this complementary measure began in 2003.The agreement between management and trade unions is a compromise. Management committed not to make any redundancies and not to shut down any units, while trade unions accepted that management had to change the company’s organisation. CAP Métier is a mix of different measures implemented by human resource managers. It is strongly linked with a very intense communication plan. The main principle of CAP Métier was that mobility had to remain voluntary. Communication thus aimed at encouraging workers to choose mobility, e.g. numerous conferences focusing on jobs with good prospects, offers of available jobs on the company’s intranet and posters showing successful mobility experiences. Generally speaking, CAP Métier enabled the establishment of a wide internal labour market. The process was as follows.
- A first interview took place between a willing worker and human resource teams. This interview aimed at analysing the past and future career path of the worker concerned and at presenting the job opportunities. It also allowed the HR team to assess the worker’s skills. In that context, the employee set out his/her wishes.
- The worker could then enter the internal labour market.
- In addition, weekly meetings were organised between HR teams posted to the units with overstaffing and those posted to the units with understaffing.
- On this basis, proposals were made to volunteers according to the worker’s wishes as far as it was possible. The volunteer could then meet managers willing to recruit. If both parties agreed on the recruitment, a personal training plan was defined. The worker recruited was then coached by another employee responsible for monitoring his integration within the new unit. A follow-up was then planned after one, then three and finally six months. After six months, the worker was (or not) definitely posted to his new job and received a bonus.
The volunteer was free to stop the process at any point until six months after he was posted to his new job. In that case, he was reinstated in his former job. About 1% to 2% of the workers in the programme availed of this opportunity. If the worker chose to remain in his new job, he kept, at the very least, his former wage. If the worker was supposed to move, special support measures were planned.
Training was essential. Training needs were assessed when the worker entered the new job. Training generally lasted several weeks (on the basis of different short training units).
The key drivers of the initiative were local managers. They were not entitled to recruit outside the company and thus really had to involve themselves in the implementation of the agreement in order to find the workers needed. They were also encouraged to do everything possible to keep the newly recruited worker. This task was of course difficult to achieve (new workers were not trained enough, especially regarding the use of new technologies). Trade unions, especially the main one (CFDT), had a significant role. They insisted that mobility remained voluntary and also that all support and training measures in the agreement benefited low-skilled workers. Consequently, they contributed to making internal mobility an opportunity for all the company’s workers. Despite the fact that a follow-up committee was planned, no real tool to assess the programme’s results and costs was set up.
The main innovative aspect of the measure is the decision made by the company to restructure without redundancies by planning a wide mobility programme. There are several reasons for this decision: the cost of potential redundancies, the good economic situation of the company, the will to maintain the company’s positive image, the good relationships between management and trade unions and the strong attachment of the company to its employees (together with the commitments of Axa’s founder, M. Claude Bébéar). The programme dealt with 3,200 employees from 2003 to 2005. About 30% of Axa France employees moved from one job to another. Very few changes failed (less than 2%). It is important to note that CAP Métier is part of an overall policy and thus completed programmes that were formerly implemented or preceded other plans to facilitate mobility (especially training programmes addressed to low-skilled and ageing workers). Key elements of success were the company’s culture, an intense communication campaign widely based on positive testimonies, a strong involvement of HR managers, a good collaboration between HR managers and ‘organisation’ managers, the company’s good results which allowed them to finance this policy, the support and contribution of the company’s main trade union, the company’s size and the sector the company operates in.
Exemplary and contextual factors
Axa policy is very different from the way restructuring is usually managed in France. Rather than restructuring in a harsh way, the company chose to implement a way to manage change permanently. The results of CAP Métier are currently being discussed in the light of new constraints and objectives: overstaffing (which is increasingly problematic), managers’ mobility and probable future shutdowns.
Christophe Tessier, Université européenne du travail, Paris