Case Study: Leave-related Measures – Achmea, the Netherlands
Company / organisation name
Life stage aware diversity policy (LDB)
About the company / organisation
Achmea Netherlands is part of Eureko, an international company providing financial services. Achmea Netherlands is the largest Dutch insurance company, providing health, life and non-life insurance. It has approximately 20,000 employees. Achmea Netherlands is divided into several divisions, concentrated on care, financial security and social security. Achmea’s customers are both businesses and private households.
The company has a cooperative background. Its credo is ‘Achmea takes care’ (Achmea ontzorgt). Their vision and cooperative values also inspire their HR policy.
Achmea acknowledges the importance of informal care-giving in and for society at large. About 12% of Achmea’s employees are classified as working carers.
The company’s working caregivers policy is part of Achmea’s Social Innovation Programme 2007–2010. Article 5.4 of the Achmea Collective Labour Agreement is entitled ‘Leave for caregivers’. It defines care-giving as non-professional care for a person who is in need of help by one or more persons in his or her direct environment. It states that this form of care-giving results from a personal and long-term social relationship.
This policy applies statutory entitlements (Wet Arbeid en Zorg, WAZO) to emergency leave arrangements, as well as short-term and long-term arrangements, to working caregivers. This company policy is formalised in the new Collective Labour Agreement. In order to prevent inequalities across workers, the policy addresses all employee categories. However, some initiatives such as teleworking, might only be available if the nature of the job makes it suitable. Moreover, tailor-made solutions need to be negotiated with the working carer’s supervisor.
Under the new policy for working caregivers, Achmea provides a range of supports:
Part-time work: full-time employees have the opportunity to adjust their working hours annually without changing their employment contract – working hours can range from34 to 40 hours per week for a full time job. In line with national policy, employees also have the right to change their working hours, by about one day per week.
Flexibility: employees can make customised arrangements for their working hours.
Home-based teleworking: employees have the option to work from home. This can be of particular interest to working carers, but only if the nature of the job makes it feasible.
Leave: Achmea offers longer care leave than the legal obligation. Importantly, this provision is offered not only for the care of close family members, but to anybody ‘in the direct environment’ who is in need. This means that Achmea takes into account the fact that employees are involved in broad social networks and that in present times care-giving can extend beyond the immediate family.
Article 5.9 of the WAZO addresses long-term care leave. It states that within a 12 week period, long-term leave (partly paid) is provided for, up to a maximum of 13 times the contractual weekly working hours. This period starts at the first day the leave is taken. The leave must be taken within an uninterrupted period of six months. The number of hours of long-term leave is half of the contractual weekly working hours, which implies a reduction in weekly working hours.
In the case that an employee wants to deviate from this regulation, the following options can be requested through the supervisor. (a) leave for more than six month; or (b) more hours leave per week than half of the contractual working hours per week. The employer then pays for half of the number of leave hours taken, up to a maximum of one month salary per long-term leave period. The supervisor is obliged to grant the request, unless the use of leave seriously affects the interests of the company and the work processes. In that case, the supervisor needs to discuss this with the employee.
With regard to pension rights, the leave period is viewed as a normal employment period, unless the leave period exceeds six months. Holiday entitlements relate to the number of hours the employee has worked. Sabbatical leave and emergency leave are also possible, according to the national legislation.
Information on employee leave entitlements is disseminated via the company intranet (AchmeaNU). This is used, both to create awareness about the specific needs of working carers, as well as the supports that Achmea offers to this group of employees. Via this channel, interested workers have been invited to take part in a longitudinal research project on work–life policies conducted by Dutch universities.
Rationale and background of the initiative
Public debate has involved an increasing level of attention on the issue of working carers. In addition to this, a number of factors have impacted on Achmea’s decision to initiate a dedicated policy addressing the needs of working carers.
In December 2007, Achmea merged with another insurance company, AGIS, which already had special policies in place for working carers. Prior to this, an earlier merger (with Interpolis in 2005) had stimulated Achmea to search for and develop its corporate identity as ‘a company who cares’. According to its current vision, Achmea aims to create value for all stakeholders, within and outside the company. Achmea seeks to be a sustainable company fully committed to benefitting society.
In recent years, the issue of corporate social responsibility has become increasingly important for Achmea. Under the heading of social responsibility, senior managers are given the opportunity to develop themselves in a development trajectory called ‘the Experience’. This stimulates managers to internalise Achmea’s vision and values. Part of the trajectory involves managers in a social project of their own choice. In this context, Achmea’s managers decided to take part in the organisation of a national event entitled ‘Working Carers Top’ (MantelzorgTop). This even was an ‘eye opener’ for many of Achmea’s managers. It prompted the company to develop its own internal policy towards workings carers.
In spite of the current economic crisis, Achmea seeks to invest in social innovation and has established its social innovation platform. Through the platform, Achmea, together with works council representatives and labour union representatives, intends to stimulate and guide new social innovation projects and initiatives. The platform played an important role in the implementation of the initiative addressed to working carers.
Last but not least, Achmea’s policy on working carers is in keeping with its tradition of being a pioneer of innovative HR policies. For example, the company was one of the first to establish what is known in the country as Innovative Collective Labour Agreements. It includes the explicit statement that HR responsibilities should be shared between supervisor and employee: ‘don’t agree everything in rigid rules, but empower individual manager and employee to take their mutual responsibilities’. Interpolis, which is now a part of Achmea, is also well known as an early adaptor of home-based telework to offer staff more flexibility in choosing their work environment.
Results and assessment
With regard to the business case for the initiative, Achmea has been impacted by changes within the labour market, which have played a role in the development of the new policy. Relevant factors include the increasingly competitive environment, an anticipated shortage of skilled workers, the growing proportion of female employees, and increasing cultural diversity on the labour market. Achmea is in the process of developing a Life Stage Aware Diversity Policy, and it was in this context that the explicit policy for working caregivers was implemented. Moreover, the ‘Achmea work concept’ has been introduced. This covers issues such as innovative office design, use of ICT, flexible work, telework, a new style of leadership based on trust, new ways of working, and organising work–life balance. All of these elements of a new HR policy aim to attract, and retain employees, by emotionally binding employees to the company.
Achmea aims to be considered a ‘preferred employer’, which means taking good care of employees’ needs and desires. Consequently, this vision is both communicated to stakeholders outside the organisation and used as the foundation for internal HR policies on working carers. The related HR policies seek to increase employee satisfaction, workability, mobility and development. Achmea particularly wants to be seen as an attractive employer for the full range of higher educated employees, included younger and older people; men and women; people from western Europe and those with other cultural backgrounds; the non-disabled and those with a disability.
Against this background, the business case for work–life initiatives addressing working caregivers is very much acknowledged by all main stakeholders of the company.
In order to monitor the effects of the company’s HR policies (including the new working caregivers policy), Achmea conducts an annual survey of employee commitment. Over recent years, the proportion of employees who were satisfied with their working conditions increased from 64% (in 2005) to 78% (in 2008).
At the end of 2009, 80% of the staff agreed with the statement that their supervisor would facilitate flexible working conditions if a working carer expressed a need for this was a need voiced by a care-giving employee (in June 2008, 83% agreed with this). In addition, in both 2008 and 2009, 86% of supervisors stated that they allowed flexibility, if required by care-giving employees.
This suggests that the large majority of both stakeholder groups feel positively towards the support given by Achmea to working carers. Moreover, absenteeism rates have decreased from 7.5% in 2000 to 3.9% in 2009. Overall, employee satisfaction has increased from 64% in 2005 to 78% in 2009.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the support offered by the company is highly valued by Achmea’s employees. This is because both the flexibility provided and the availability of tailor-made agreements suit the needs of working carers. No data are available yet about the take-up of particular options. However, it appears that the long-term leave arrangements, as defined in the collective labour agreement, are used less often than more tailor-made arrangements, agreed between worker and supervisor.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
The company’s HR manager views the new policy on working carers as an instrument of cultural change. The policy will not bring about much change by itself, but it will support the diffusion of values of flexibility, cooperation and trust. Together, these form the basis for greater understanding and practical support offered to working carers. The direct line manager plays an important role in this respect, since arrangements result from a dialogue between employee and manager.
This cultural change needs to benefit from the full commitment of top-level management. To achieve a new organisational culture, this support should be highly visible to all stakeholders. Moreover, change should be considered a process: it may take time to reap the rewards of the new initiatives, but ultimately it will improve the competitiveness of the company.
Achmea’s policy for working carers has received a lot of media attention. It has also been highlighted on the website of Mezzo. Mezzo is the national association for carers and voluntary help in the Netherlands; according to its website, it seeks ‘to make life easier for those who care for another person on an ongoing basis without being paid for it’. External communication has proven helpful in starting up the debate and in increasing awareness for the need to support working carers.
According to the works council representative, however, the policy should be given more attention internally. This would increase awareness among employees and managers of the opportunities for working carers, and their underlying values. In addition, the reasons for the policy should be better communicated, in order to integrate the new initiatives into the daily routines of managers and employees.
The company has realised that, in order to advance its cultural shift towards increased awareness of need to support working carers, it is necessary to provide training. This issue is particularly relevant to middle management – working carers’ supervisors. The behaviour of supervisors has the greatest impact on the degree to which the provisions offered are taken up by employees. Achmea’s leadership model has been adapted by including the following competencies: connecting, coaching and management of change. Achmea’s view on its leadership model is in the process of being integrated in all management traineeships of the Eureko Academy. In May 2010, a brochure on care-giving was distributed among all supervisors and employees, and included advice and hints about how to deal with the issue.
Another key lesson derived from the experience of Achmea is that the best results are achieved by offering tailored solutions to individual problems. Employers should not over-regulate but leave sufficient ‘room for manoeuvre’, for employers and employees alike.
Achmea advocates tripartite cooperation via its social innovation platform, by including the works council and Labour Unions in HR policy development. This approach has proven to be highly effective.
Case study author:
- Dr Pascale Peters, Assistant Professor, Radboud University Nijmegen
- Enno van Hamel (Advisor HRM-policies, staff department Achmea): develops corporate HR policies, actively contributes contribution to life stage diversity policy, including the special policy for working caregivers. Conducted on 30 March 2010.
- Ton de Bruijn: Vice-president of central works council Achmea and member of the social innovation platform, the Social Innovation Commission, the task force on life stage policies, and the Employment Conditions Commission. Conducted on 30 March 2010
- Achmea. Achmea ontzorgt mantelzorgers.[accessed at: http://www.werkenmantelzorg.nl/index.php?p=143, 22 February, 2010].
- Neoletta van Poelgeest Union CNV. Text of Collective labour agreement. e-mail correspondence, Received March 2010
- Achmea. Annual Report ‘Doen we’. [accessed at www.achmea.nl, 19 April 2010].Achmea. Brochure for supervisors and employees: Ook mantelzorgers verdienen zorg Mantelzorg. 06 May 2010.Website of Mezzo [accessed at www.mezzo.nl].
Written material not available online:
- Radboud van Hal (Manager Recruitment, Talent Development and Employer Branding). Labour market driven HR at Achmea. ‘What do you do? If you know that the labour market is becoming as competitive as any other commercial market’. September 23rd, 2008, Radboud University, Nijmegen
- Mr. Enno van Hamel. Wat vinden onze medewerkers? Powerpoint Presentation. 2010