Case Study: Work Adjustments – Connexxion, the Netherlands
Company / organisation name
Informal policy on working carers
About the company / organisation
With about 15,000 employees, Connexxion is one of the largest employers in the Netherlands. Its main activity is local public transport, including bus, rail and water transport; taxi and ambulance services; tour services; and passenger information services.
According to the company’s annual report of 2008, the heart of Connexxion’s HRM policy is the wish to provide its staff with high-quality work. To this end, Connexxion emphasises that the company pays attention to both physical working conditions and the nature of the actual job the staff has to perform.
Moreover, Connexxion puts much emphasis on corporate social responsibility. One of the social projects that Connexxion promotes is that of ‘ensuring the social integration of people with disabilities’. This project included activities to customise working conditions according to the needs of individual employees – in this case, workers with disabilities.
Connexxion does not have a formally defined initiative to support working carers. In practice, however, the company tries to find effective solutions for challenges faced by working carers among its staff. Although there are practical limits to take into account, Connexxion tries to do its utmost to help any employee (not only working carers) when needed.
One recent example concerned a driver whose son suffers seriously from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As this man is the only person who can handle the boy well, he has to stay home during the day to look after him. The employee can go to work in the evening or on nights when his wife returns from her work. In another case, a working carer who was interviewed in this case study was dissatisfied with the professional care provided for his wife. He was eventually obliged to reduce his own working hours, in order to care for her himself.
The level of flexibility offered to staff is restricted because a certain number of staff need to be at work at any time within service hours; these typically range from 5:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Drivers usually take turns with regard to the morning, afternoon or night shifts. At the start of a year, a driver gets to know their individual work schedule for the entire year; this makes it easy to see when they are working and when they are available for caring responsibilities. Of course, drivers can indicate their working time preferences, after which preferred working hours schedules can be negotiated in order to reconcile work and private demands.
If an employee’s personal situation demands a reduction of working hours, a part-time option suited to the employee’s personal situation can be sought. Another option is to work shorter hours one week, and longer hours the following week (within the limits set by Dutch working hours regulation).
If an employee needs psychological support, Connexxion’s safety, health and welfare service will, on demand, arrange for consultations with a social worker or psychologist.
In some cases, employees who are in financial need can appeal to a social trust that can give or lend money. For example, this may apply to medical or dentist services.
With regard to leave arrangements, the national regulations apply. In practice, flexible leave options are being offered. Emergency leave can be arranged, beyond the terms laid out by national legislation. An example might be an employee who needs four or five days to solve emergency problems related to care-giving for an older person. There have been cases where an employee was granted two weeks extra holidays in order to arrange support for their elderly relative who had fallen ill. Such needs are accommodated even though it is always difficult for the company to replace staff quickly enough to avoid affecting the public transport service.
Almost every employee is technically enabled to work from home. This is done by logging into the central computer system from remote locations. Working at home is being used in some cases to help working carers manage their different responsibilities.
Connexxion does not offer training support for working carers. However, the culture encourages informal support and personal communication about the care topic between direct supervisors and employees, and among employees themselves. If no solution is found between employee and supervisor, the HR manager intervenes. This has hardly ever been necessary, as problems are usually solved at the operative level. It is an unwritten policy and practice which has grown over the years. In practice, and at all levels, managers are willing to help and support their personnel, and staff are encouraged to support each other. As a result, colleagues are usually accepting when peers are offered more flexibility by the company to allow them to better combine work and care responsibilities.
Finding ad hoc solutions for pressing needs is sometime required, for example, if an employee needs to take a few days off to arrange for professional care. This is made easier by certain provisions taken by the company deal with unexpected fluctuations in driver availability. Connexxion operates a ‘flexpool’ of on-call drivers who have volunteered to work flexibly. Flexpool drivers can indicate times at which they do not want to work, but for the rest of the time they are on stand-by duty. This strategy helps Connexxion to respond flexibly to unforeseen events, such as absenteeism of drivers due to illness or emergencies at home. Clearly, this addresses typical incidences faced by working carers.
Rationale and background of the initiative
The company culture is deeply embedded in the way Connexxion operates. In addition to this, two main factors explain the company’s activities for supporting work-life balance: the need to address labour market challenges, and the wish to promote corporate social responsibility.
Recently, it has become increasingly difficult for Connexxion to attract new staff. Relevant factors include problems surrounding the latest collective labour agreements for the public sector (namely labour strikes) and a number of incidents affecting public safety in public transport in 2008. In order to address this problem, the issue of improving personal security and safety has been given top priority.
In 2008, these issues coincided with staff shortages and a rise in absenteeism. Scarcity of labour will become an even bigger issue in the future, given that the average age of Connexxion’s staff is relatively high.
The company has responded by means of a proactive policy for addressing absenteeism and increasing staff loyalty. Reduction of absenteeism, increased efforts for staff recruitment and improved staff retention have been given top priority in Connexxion’s HR policy. Training efforts have been stepped up: a ‘Connexxion Academy’ was established, providing ongoing training of taxi drivers, bus drivers and mechanics.
Connexxion is convinced that better working conditions can contribute to higher levels of employee satisfaction. In 2006, the company launched the ‘Foundation of Growth Plan’, which targets middle management and aims to ensure that Connexxion staff can maximize their potential.
The company’s revised HR policy was established within the context of a stronger focus on corporate social responsibility. In 2008, for example, Connexxion used a television advertising campaign to promote their level of social engagement. In doing so, it highlighted the benefits of working for the company, emphasising that it offers interesting, high-quality employment opportunities to both men and women.
Connexxion states that the company treasures their human capital and that they strive for healthy labour relations and a pleasant, stimulating working environment at all levels. This is seen not only as an end itself, but also as a way to secure and develop operational excellence. In fact, tailored support to employees in need is considered to contribute to a win-win situation for all parties involved. In other words, this general policy is also in the interest of the company, particularly as stressed drivers can be dangerous in traffic situations.
Results and assessment
According to company estimates, over the past few years, about 10 to 15 employees, out of an approximate total of 450 (in the Nijmegen Rayon), could be defined as working carers.
In practice, most working carers have solved the problems they face combining work and care without explicit involvement of the company. They do this by making use of the range of flexibility options available to them.
While no survey data have been collected on the issue, anecdotal evidence suggests high satisfaction levels regarding the support for reconciliation of work and care.
A working carer and employee of Connexxion who was interviewed for this study reported being extremely happy with the support offered. He described how it allowed him to keep his job and to care for his wife. While he needed to reduce his working hours to some degree, his income has not been greatly affected by this. This is due to both the Dutch AWBZ regulations and the allowances he receives for working irregular hours, for instance during the weekend.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
Conexxion’s latest annual report states that it will launch more initiatives on corporate social responsibility in the near future. In the report, Connexxion outlined plans for 2009; these included an extensive stakeholder analysis, involving its staff, which could form the basis for activities that contribute to its social responsibility mission.
According to the Rayon manager, a formalised policy might restrict the number of possibilities available to solve working carers’ problems effectively. The company culture is based on an open dialogue between all stakeholders. Moreover, the employer takes all necessary efforts to provide staff with tailored solutions to challenges arising from private care responsibilities. As long as these features remain, he is not in favour of written regulations on the care-giving issue.
Case study author:
- Dr Pascale Peters, Assistant Professor, Radboud University Nijmegen
- Henny Theunissen (Connexxion): Rayon manager, responsible for the coordination of bus services provided by 450 bus drivers. He has been working for Hermes for 12 years now and allows informal initiatives to be taken in order to help working carers to reconcile work and care.
- Harry Kuus (Connexxion): Bus driver and working carer who makes use of the option provided by Connexxion to combine work and family satisfactorily. Interview conducted on 30 March 2010.
- Connexxion Holding: Annual report 2008. [accessed April 20th 2010].
Written material not available online:
- Emilie van den Berg: Additional information on figures of personnel data base, April 2010