Case Study: Awareness Raising – Novel Zorg and Wonen, the Netherlands
Company / organisation name
Novel Zorg and Wonen
Work and Care-giving
About the company / organisation
Stichting Novel Zorg and Wonen is a care provider in the region of Noord-Veluwe, specialising in eldercare. Services offered are clustered into four areas: care; living/accommodation; well-being; and services.
In early 2010, Novel Zorg and Wonen merged with the company, Stichting Veluweborgh. Since April 2010, the new organisation is named Viattence. Please note that in the present document, the name Novel is used throughout.
The working carer initiative at Novel comprises several arrangements. In fact, Novel’s formal policy on this issue brings together policies, arrangements and practices that existed before it was developed. The initiatives to support working carers are based on three types of regulations. Firstly, there is the collective labour agreement )VVT) 2008-2010, which covers all employees in the sector. Secondly, there is the company’s own set of regulations (Ondernemingsovereenkomst), which applies to its entire staff. Finally, national legislation (Wet Arbeid en Zorg) is binding for all employers in the country.
In practice, individual problems demand a flexible use of formal regulations; customised solutions might be required. In any case, employees have to negotiate with their manager regarding their need for leave or flexible arrangements. This requires a culture of open communication and information from both parties. As a matter of principle, the outcome of the negotiation is documented in an agreement.
Novel seeks to make best use of all available options to support working carers, as addressed in the Collective Labour Agreement. For this, a flexible interpretation of the label ‘working carer’ is used. It applies to all care situations, not just to the care of a close relative who shares the carer’s home.
In addition to the entitlements provided by national legislation, Novel offers the supports outlined below.
Information: the company is obliged to inform the working carer about all regulations, also including those outlined in external sources, such as national legislation.
Research: a study is being carried out of the needs of working carers.
Customised solutions: during job interviews, Novel inquires after the candidate’s private care responsibilities. This is done in order to anticipate potential problems and to identify customised solutions (either based on formal or informal policies and regulations).
Work–life balance: this issue and care obligations are regularly discussed in job evaluations and assessment interviews.
Flexible working hours: working hours can be adapted flexibly for a specific time period. In addition, the number of working hours can be changed during a particular time period. For instance, workloads can be temporarily adjusted in order to enable the employee to better reconcile work and family life. After this period, they catch up with work commitments. Short work interruptions are also allowed during the work day, so that working carers can go to their home and perform care tasks. In some cases, working carers can be temporarily relocated to another department within the organisation, where flexibility can be more easily facilitated. Similarly, a (partial) adjustment of the job description can also enable this.
Flexible benefit scheme: these are mentioned in the collective labour agreement. Employees can optimise their benefits by trading sources and goals (such as time and money). Individual organisations (like Novel) can decide which sources and goals will be included in the scheme. Novel, for example, allows holiday leave (up to a defined maximum) to be used as a source or goal.
Rationale and background of the initiative
The introduction of a formal working carer policy was primarily driven by internal pressures.
In exit interviews, employees who left the organisation predominantly stated that they had been satisfied with many aspects of their employment. These included the quality of their work, client orientation, social climate, job autonomy, information about benefits, and the way their own capacities and skills are addressed. However, respondents stated that more attention could have been given to social and coaching management styles, the amount of staff available in relation to the workload, and issues relating to work–life balance. Moreover, rates of absenteeism due to sick leave, at 7.5%, tend to be above the national average.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that problems concerning work–life balance relate strongly to employees’ irregular working schedules, which by their very nature do not always fit with private needs and preferences. There were also indications from some employees that they would like to have some extra leave to enable them to provide informal care at home.
These findings, alongside an increasing shortage of skilled personnel in the care sector, made Novel consider new approaches to reducing absenteeism and retaining highly valued staff. The company decided to participate in ‘Mantelzorg’, a government-sponsored project that started in late 2008. It deals with ways to provide effective support to informal carers. Novel also became involved in Werk and Mantelzorg, another policy initiative that focuses exclusively on the needs of working carers. Interest in these initiatives was driven both by Novel’s internal pressures and by its core business areas, namely care and well-being. Werk and Mantelzorg supported the development and formalisation of the new policy, and efforts to raise internal awareness of the specific problems of working carers. Support measures included regular workshops and lunch meetings, and the conduct of surveys.
In October 2008, Novel, with support from Werk and Mantelzorg, started to develop its own initiative on working carers. In order to get more insight into working carers’ specific problems, needs and expectations, the company, it organised a series of interviews with internal stakeholders. Subsequently, Novel established a taskforce comprising the working conditions coordinator, a representative from HR, and a works council representative. The goal of the taskforce is to translate the issues discussed into an overarching company policy on working carers.
Results and assessment
In November 2009, Novel received recognition from the national Werk and Mantelzorg initiative as a company that is friendly to its working carers. The Werk and Mantelzorg website makes favourable mention of the case. In addition, the company advertises its initiatives for working carers in its job advertisements. Internally, the policy is being communicated through Novel’s staff magazine and through posters. In one month, it was mentioned on the pay slip. Moreover, an annual theme day, centred on working conditions and care, is being organised to attract more attention to the new initiative.
According to the HR manager and the works council member, support for working carers has always been a fairly common issue in the care sector, for obvious reasons. In contrast to the previous situation at Novel, however, care arrangements are now brought together and made formal. This has lowered barriers that may have prevented employees from making use of available provisions. Previously, supervisors were sometimes unwilling to grant working carers’ requests. Now, however, there are signs that formalising the company policy on working carers has increased pressure on supervisors (and the company) to provide support wherever possible.
It is estimated that, at time of writing, about 20 out of 533 employees make formal use of the supports offered to working carers. These employees have voiced their satisfaction with the provisions, particularly with the request procedures.
Despite the recent, intensified communication of the initiative, there has been little sign to date of an increase in demand or take-up of the provisions. This may be attributed to the fact that line managers are primarily responsible for finding customised solutions. Moreover, according to the works council representative, the open culture that facilitates more customized solutions can negate the need for long-term leave arrangements.
No up to date figures on absenteeism were available at time of writing.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
At present, the company does not see the need for the introduction of additional measures for working carers. The company representatives think that in the future, more and more staff will avail of the company provisions for supporting working carers. This is attributed to both the ageing of the population and to the fact that older people want to stay in their homes for as long as possible,
The implementation of the initiative went smoothly and operational objectives have been met. However, it still remains that working carers might feel embarrassed if they request support from the employer. This is because steps such as taking extra leave or adjusting the work schedule can negatively affect co-workers. In other words, although the new company policy might stimulate current non-users to request employer support, internal labour market developments may discourage working carers to use the policy. If employees feel that making use of leave provisions will lead to disadvantages for co-workers, acceptance will be low.
The company representatives interviewed for this study suggested that this reluctance might represent one reason for formalising the policy in the future. In any case, the problem needs to be addressed.
The Novel management stresses that the implementation of measures for supporting working carers should be perceived as an instrument for HR policy; it can be used to arrive at a win-win situation for both the company and its employees. Based on the experience of Novel, the content of the company policy on working carers should be communicated in suitable ways in order to establish support for this particular target group. In the implementation process, the role of supervisors is crucial. Factors such as flexibility, trust, open communication and a willingness to agree on customised solutions with the employee are all very important.
The initiative should be developed passionately rather than just for the sake of self-promotion, or for meeting perceived societal obligations. National legislation and sectoral collective labour agreements act as a catalyst for activities on the shop-floor level. In day-to-day working life, customised solutions appear to be of most value to working carers.
Case study author:
- Dr Pascale Peters, Assistant Professor, Radboud University Nijmegen
- Bart Boeve (Novel zorg en wonen), HR executive;
- Gertie Montfrooy (Novel zorg en wonen), works council member and vice-chair (who is concerned with the issue of working conditions. Works as a care consultant in the company.
- Novel. Annual report, [accessed at: http://www.novelzorg.nl/novelzorg/organisatie and http://www.desan.nl/net/DoSearch/Search.aspx?action=zoeken, 20 April, 2010].
- Werk and Mantelzorg website: [accessed at www.Werkenmantelzorg.nl, April 2010].
Written material not available online:
- Novel. Werk en Mantelzorg Time Path (for the pilot period). Note.