Case Study: Health and well-being – Vorova, Finland
Company / organisation name
A Life Cycle Approach to Well-being at Work
About the company / organisation
Varova is a transport and logistics company established in 1948. It is based in Helsinki and offers international road, air and sea transportation. The company has 170 employees, 50% of whom are women. The average age of staff is 44 years.
The company applies a life cycle approach to HR development (see below). This model provides a framework for the development of specific measures, from which working carers can benefit. They are summarised here.
Job Alternation Leave: this refers to long-term leave available to employees with at last 10 years of service with the company. Length of leave time can range from three months to one year. For this period, the employer must find a substitute from the unemployment registry. The employee on leave is compensated at a minimum of 70% of unemployment allowance. This rises to 80% if they have been with the company for at least 25 years. Varova Oy encourages employees to make use of Job Alternation Leave (which is a statutory right in Finland) if they face a difficult situation within their family.
Part-time pension: this is another popular measure within the company. The typical model involves a reduction of working hours to three days per week. This is done in exchange for a (modest) cut in pension payments to be received following full retirement.
Flexible working hours: the company’s flexitime regulations allow employees to commence work anytime between 06:00 and 10:00 in the morning, and to finish anytime between at 14:00 and 18:00. Of course, the arrangement requires agreement from the line manager.
In general, the company promotes an open attitude towards employees’ needs for flexibility as a means of enabling reconciliation of work and care-related responsibilities. All such staff needs are dealt with individually; tailored solutions are sought and mutually agreed upon. Rather than applying a fixed model to all kinds of situations and employees, Varova prefers customised solutions. In practice, many of the ideas and innovations for adapted work arrangements originate from the staff.
All company measures listed here are available to all employees, including those at management and operational levels; the issue of equal opportunities is considered to be important.
Most of the support measures available in the company are based on national labour legislation and collective agreements. However, in order to make a real impact on the work–life balance of employees, these agreements need to be tailored at the workplace. The company also maintains a development project, which commenced in 2010, for promoting mental well-being at work. This project focuses on issues such as experiencing success at work, nutrition, physical activities and rest. This project addresses the issue of reconciling work and private responsibilities, including caring for a dependant.
Rationale and background of the initiative
Varova is fully dedicated to the principle that its employees are the company’s most important resource. The company is aware of the close interconnection between employees’ work performance and their private lives. It is perceived as essential to reflect on ways to support employees, and to motivate them to take responsibility for their own and fellow employees’ well-being at work. In doing so, it is also important to ensure that all employees are all treated equally.
In 2000, the company implemented a life cycle approach. Through this model, the needs of employees are approached and addressed in terms of key life stages. Support measures are being offered to employees in each of the different life cycle stages.
Regarding young people, children of employees can apply for internships in the company, as a way to familiarise themselves with working life while still at school. The company also employs a large number of students, for example during the summer vacation, or throughout the year on an hourly basis or at weekends. Flexible, tailored arrangements are offered to these students, many of whom become company employees in the future.
Support measures for reconciling work with caring for a small child are standard, provided as ‘the most natural thing in the world’. In practice, many employees who return from maternity or parental leave take the opportunity to work shorter hours, typically until the end of the child’s second year at school.
In order to help staff keep fit during all stages of their life, the company promotes sports and wellness activities. For example, it provides vouchers for yoga classes, bowling and golf.
Employees who are close to retirement age act as mentors for their successors. In doing so, they transfer their expertise to younger staff members.
Various training courses and programmes are offered to encourage life-long learning, for example in teamwork, customer service, and communication skills. And finally, at least once a year, all employees have a ‘development’ discussion with their manager. This can also be an opportunity for staff to discuss special needs or wishes arising from the employee’s involvement in leisure time activities, including informal care.
Informal caring is not yet explicitly referred to in the HR strategy, or any other formal company policy, such as their equality plan. Nevertheless, the company is very open and flexible as to the needs of reconciling work and family needs in general. Work–care reconciliation needs are individually addressed whenever they occur.
Results and assessment
In Varova, staff have access to a range of options to improve their work–life balance. These include Job Alternation Leave, part-time pensions, part-time with reduced working hours and flexitime. Feedback from employees suggests that these arrangements and provisions operate very well in practice, and are much appreciated by both management and the staff. No formal evaluation has taken place.
Currently, some 10 people are on part-time pension, but no information has been collected as to whether they are engaged in care-giving within their family. This option helps keep older staff in work until retirement, which makes it easier to transfer tacit (non-codified) knowledge to younger colleagues.
The general impression is also that those employees who work reduced hours show very high motivation at work, which allows them to deliver almost as much as those working on a full-time basis; their productivity is very high.
The company lists the following impacts of the life cycle approach:
- a healthy and secure work environment;
- innovative employees;
- lower staff turnover;
- competitors finding it difficult to poach employees from the company;
- skills and know-how remaining within the company;
- ease in finding suitable recruits, with many good applicants to choose from;
- well-being at work has a positive impact on work quality and client satisfaction.
All of this is reflected in the good financial performance of the company.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
Some critical comments have been made by commentators outside the company. They felt that the life cycle model could be seen or interpreted as being too versatile or too generous as regards its focus on the needs and wishes of employees in their private lives. One perceived risk was the potential for problems when a temporary arrangement came to an end. Another was that some employees may feel that unequal treatment was taking place, with favouritism being displayed towards some individuals or groups. So far, however, Varova’s experiences have been very positive.
The company’s values include transparency and openness. As a rule, staff approve of the different practises and arrangements being used. In the event of a problem arising, the issue is discussed internally. The company takes the view that a variety of needs can arise during the life cycle and that mutual flexibility is beneficial for all.
Varova prefers a workforce with permanent employment contracts and the average age of its employees is already 44 years. In this context, the future will inevitably see a stronger focus on addressing the needs of employees who want to reconcile work with caring for an elderly parent or spouse. Because of its use of a life cycle approach to addressing employee needs, Varova is well prepared to be a forerunner in work–care reconciliation in Finland.
Case study author:
- Malla Heino, Omaishoitajat ja Läheiset – Liitto ry
- Camilla Karhunen, Human Resources Development Manager, Varova Oy
- Website of Varova [accessed at www.varova.fi]
Other sources not available online:
- Karhunen, C. Elämänkaariajattelu [Life circle approach], presentation at 60th Anniversary of Varova OY. 29 April 2008.