Case Study: Awareness Raising – Menzis, the Netherlands
Company / organisation name
Menzis’ diversity policy
About the company / organisation
As a health insurance company, Menzis provides health insurances for individuals as well as collective insurance for companies. The company is among the four biggest insurance companies in the Netherlands and provides insurances to more than two million people. Menzis is characterised as an organisation with no pecuniary reward; solidarity, transparency, and accessibility are key. There are more women than men among its employees, and part-time work is very common.
The starting point of the initiatives taken at Menzis is the company’s slogan ‘elk menz is er één’, which implies that preferences and needs of people vary and are important to the company. The implementation of a working carer’s policy fits in with this philosophy. It is particularly relevant to ongoing initiatives such as Menzis’ life stage personnel policies (in which customised solutions are aimed for), diversity projects and voluntary work. Moreover, the working carer’s policy reflects the company’s core business. As a care insurance company with a corporate responsibility, Menzis wants to ‘practice what is being preached.’ As a good employer, Menzis wants to pay attention to the needs of its own employees who have to reconcile the demands of work and informal care.
According to the HR manager for Menzis, the company’s internal policy on working carers began in May 2009 and is an ongoing process. Currently, the internal policy is under development and, as of yet, no formalised policy has been arrived at. Some personnel wonder if it is appropriate to have a formal policy as the final goal of this process, as the changing environment demands its constant revision. There is a widespread feeling that the problems of working carers demand tailored solutions that cannot be addressed by a formal written policy.
The long-term goal is to implement a working carer-friendly climate, in which there is room for dialogue and where employees feel free to ask for, and obtain, customised solutions.
In order to provide the basis for future initiatives, Menzis began an internal review on working carers. It aimed to identify the number of working carers in the company, their characteristics, needs and preferences for support, and what is already being done to help them reconcile work and care responsibilities.
In its operations, Menzis adheres to Werk and Mantelzorg’s definition of a working carer as someone who provides informal care to a care-dependent person who is close to them, for more than eight hours per week, and for a minimum of three months. Menzis’ actual policy applies a broader definition, according to which one in seven Menzis staff are working carers, the majority of whom are women.
The initial stage was followed by training measures for line managers. This focused on raising awareness about work and care issues within the company. During this training, good support practices that were identified during the internal review were discussed.
In order to support all stakeholders within the organisation, Menzis has started to develop a number of toolkits, outlined below.
In order to increase awareness and understanding, a toolkit for line managers is being designed. This will help supervisors to recognise working carers within their teams, and offers customised solutions to typical problems faced by this target group. The options offered by Menzis are: flexible working hours (annual hours according to schedules); various types of leave arrangements; and the option of swapping shifts with colleagues. Flexibility and adjustments in working hours are the most important aspects of Menzis’ ‘policy’.
In a similar vein, Menzis is developing a toolkit for working carers. This helps them to face the challenges arising from informal care responsibilities. Strikingly, the internal study showed that some working carers do not recognise themselves as such. This prevents them from asking for help or from making use of available supports. Menzis has established a help desk and a care agency for helping staff deal with typical care-related questions. A number of employees have been trained to become internal care consultants who provide practical help to working carers. This includes help in dealing with psychological and emotional issues, for which mental coaching is provided. While Menzis does not provide any financial support for staff with private care-giving responsibilities, the company provides its employees with its own services, free of charge. This is provided regardless of whether or not the employee is a client of Menzis. Menzis has also set up alliances with municipalities and other providers in the region to support working carers and to find solutions to practical problems.
Finally, a toolkit for HR managers and for occupational health and safety managers, social workers and medical officers will also be developed.
At time of writing, these toolkits were not yet available. Nonetheless, the company promotes its activities internally, mainly through the intranet and through presentations in meetings and workshops.
Menzis aims to comply with national and sectoral regulations. Together with the union FNV, Menzis is considering the idea of including additional leave options for working carers in the forthcoming collective labour agreement. Other new initiatives are also being discussed.
Rationale and background of the initiative
The chair of the company’s board of directors initiated developments regarding working carers. The Werk and Mantelzorg initiative was brought in to supervise development and implementation. Werk and Mantelzorg helps companies become more working carer-friendly, through steps such as by developing an action plan, project groups and an internal audit. The HR department is responsible for the content of the policy. Solutions to concrete problems are devised and agreed upon at shop floor level, although HR might be involved in searching for these solutions. As of yet, the works council has not been directly involved in the development of the policy, but has been informed of plans in this area.
The goals of the company’s policy on working carers are as follows:
• the policy should reflect established organisational goals;
• it should promote Menzis as a good company to work for;
• it should increase effectiveness and efficiency by ensuring staff motivation;
• it should increase employee satisfaction;
• it should reduce absenteeism (sick leave);
• it should improve the company image;
• it should develop better relationships with commercial and public partners (clients and potential clients);
• it should promote corporate social responsibility;
• it should improve health and well-being;
• it should act as an example within the Dutch economy;
• it should involve a partnership with the sector union (FNV) and SMEs;
• it should improve company performance; and
• it should drive national policy-making on work–care reconciliation.
The initiative was prompted by a number of internal as well as external drivers. With regard to internal drivers, it represented a response to current challenges facing HR, such as attracting and attaining personnel and reducing absenteeism. Recent sick leave rates, at 5.2% in 2007 and 5.4% in 2008 are considered too high. Since 2008, the company has placed more attention on prevention and on empowering employees to take responsibility for their health. Menzis is also keen to further improve job satisfaction rates, which have already increased somewhat in recent years. Finally, women make up the large majority of the workforce, and they are considered more likely than men to take up private care responsibilities.
With regard to external drivers, the Dutch government has recently placed importance on the issue of working carers, and this has been of some relevance. As a company operating in the welfare industry, the topic of working carers strongly appeals to Menzis. Therefore, Menzis responded positively to the activities of Werk and Mantelzorg (financed by VWS). This is explored in further detail below.
Results and assessment
The internal review that was commenced in 2009 is a key component of the company’s activities regarding working carers. An employee survey identified the number of working carers in the company, and also assessed their individual situation as well as their needs and preferences. At time of writing, a qualitative evaluation was to be conducted in the near future, to inform further HR policy development. A final study will be conducted by the end of the year. It will explore issues such as the level of support that has been received, the most common forms of support accessed, and their impact and associated costs.
So far, the feedback suggests that awareness of the issue of work–care reconciliation has greatly increased. This has been due to measures such as the survey during the first stage of its implementation, and the dissemination of information through the intranet.
The care helpdesk has also noticed an increase in awareness of the issue and in employees’ willingness to discuss the issue. The helpdesk is often used by staff to access all kinds of practical information and help. Absenteeism has dropped, although it is not possible to discern whether or not the initiatives have made an impact here.
According to the works council representative who was interviewed for the present study, the development of the toolkit for managers has been much appreciated. There is a sense that barriers to approaching managers and openly discussing private care responsibilities have been significantly lowered. If so, this would be a big leap forward.
The results of the first survey showed that 75% of working carers do not feel the need for any company support or intervention. A total of 15% expressed an interest in adjusting their working hours and 15% would like to reduce their working hours. Only a limited awareness exists of the provisions being offered regarding long-term leave, emergency leave, working at home, and temporary adjustment of tasks and responsibilities. Overall, levels of stated interest in and use of company supports are relatively low, with the exception of flexitime. This is probably due to the fact that many employees work part-time; this allows them to reconcile work and care demands better than if they held full-time jobs.
The company’s activities for working carers have also been recognised by policy-makers. In 2009, Menzis became an official ‘ambassador of the development of a working carer-friendly work environment in organisations in the Netherlands’. This was announced by State Secretary Jet Bussemaker, on behalf of the Ministry of Health, Well-being and Sports (VWS). As one of only two ambassadors at the time of writing, Menzis participates in the project Werk and Mantelzorg, which is subsidised by the Dutch government. Being an ambassador implies that Menzis has made working carers an explicit subject of HR policy in the company, and that it will encourage other companies to follow suit by organising workshops (‘clinics’) and meetings. Menzis’ helpdesk gives advice to interested companies free of charge about how to become a ‘working carer-friendly’ employer.
Moreover, Menzis liaises with the FNV union regarding the possible inclusion of the issue of work–care reconciliation in future collective labour agreements.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
There was no resistance within the company to implement the initiative. In fact, all supervisors who participated in an early survey indicated that they would support the initiative. One of the challenges, however, was how to make the next step, as there was little evidence of best practice available to guide Menzis. Help came via cooperation with Werk and Mantelzorg, an initiative of the Dutch government, and Mezzo, the national association representing family carers. Menzis could access European best practice models through Mezzo’s international network. Werk and Mantelzorg provided a platform for the exchange of experience with other interested parties in the Netherlands. Cooperation played a key role in its success.
Identifying the respective responsibilities of the working carer and the employer also proved a challenge. To what extent can the employer be made responsible for enabling the employee to engage in informal care-giving? In the employee survey, 75% of working carers felt they could deal with their work–care reconciliation problems themselves. According to the company representatives, it would make little sense to ‘destroy’ the capacity of people to help themselves by too much interference from their employer.
The representatives from Menzis identified a number of lessons from their experiences. These are summarised below.
An open family culture in which employees feel safe to share their personal problems is an essential condition for making the policy a success.
Flexibility is another key factor for working carers. Options such as swapping shifts, working fewer hours in one week and catching up later should be made as accessible as possible.
Another lesson has been that the solution to the problems of working carers lies in an increased awareness at both individual and organizational level. It is about a changing culture. The solution is not the policy itself, but a change in the deeply rooted values within the organisation, thus enabling the use of customised solutions.
Menzis is explicitly against the idea of giving its employees a right to a certain number of days for care leave, or a particular budget. The company views working care policy as an integral part of diversity policy. This means that Menzis does not want to tailor provisions too closely to certain target groups such as working carers; this could easily make them too rigid and restrictive.
Menzis has also learned that line managers play a crucial role in the day-to-day application of a company strategy on working carers. Hence, it is very important that line managers receive careful instruction on the issue. That is why Menzis developed a tool-kit for line managers and provided training for them on the rules, laws and policies relating to working carers.
Finally, if a line manager does not want or cannot help out, the employee can always approach the HR department or the in-house medical doctor. In case the applicable regulations are not sufficient, the personal situation of the working carer will be taken into account.
If the pilot shows that existing provisions do not sufficiently address the needs of working carers, further proposals will be developed. The company also plans to identify the business case for initiatives addressed at working carers.
Case study author:
- Dr Pascale Peters, Assistant Professor, Radboud University Nijmegen
- Edel Spoor, consultant at the HR department of Menzis/HR manager of working conditions, leader in the change process;
- Annelies Pluim: member of the works council, employee of the Support Care Unit.
- Menzis. Annual Report 2008. [accessed at: http://www.menzis.nl/web/Corporate/Pers/Jaarverslag.htm].
Written material not available online:
- Werk&Mantelzorg. Onderzoeksrapport: werk in combinatie met mantelzorg. Research Report. November/December 2009.
- Edel Spoor (coordinator P&O Menzis) and Jeanet van Lieshout (Werk&Mantelzorg). Mantelzorgvriendelijk personeelsbeleid Menzis, action plan (inhouse document). 21 October 2009.