Subscribe to the latest news from the Nordic Labour Journal by e-mail. The newsletter is issued 9 times a year. Subscription is free of charge.

You are here: Home i In Focus i In focus 2012 i Age is no barrier i Flexitime key to a longer working life
Flexitime key to a longer working life

Flexitime key to a longer working life

| Text: Carl-Gustav Lindén

People are interested in working for longer as long as they are allowed to adapt their jobs to fit their abilities. A new survey shows flexible work solutions increases interest in working for longer. In Finland the research is supported by real life experience.

In 2004 Finnish food manufacturer Saarioinen initiated a trial at their Sahalahti factory to support older employees. The experiment proved a success and has later been expanded across the food group. The employer worked with the trade union and occupational health to draw up a plan aimed at increasing the retirement age and reduce sick leave. 

New research shows the interest in working longer has increased and that one way of achieving this is flexible working hours. Saarioinen has introduced a voluntary yet very popular system which makes life easier for older employees. They are given tasks which are not physically demanding, they don’t need to work in three shifts and do not have to circulate between different tasks like other employees. They are even allowed to see a physiotherapist at the company’s cost.

Annual leave

They are also allowed to swap the so-called the holiday bonus with annual leave which means they get 15 days more holiday than younger workers. Those who have been working for a long time for the company can also collect a bonus which can be exchanged into annual leave. On top of this they are first in the queue when the quota for job alternating leave is given out. And they still keep their usual salary. Anyone who has been with the company for at least five years and is over 55 can apply.

“Nearly everyone applies to join the programme,” says company director Ritva Tuohimaa.

Right now the programme comprises 80 people, or one in ten employees. She considers the result to be good. The number of employees over 60 has grown from 3.5 to 6.3 percent since the programme was introduced, and the retirement age has risen to 61.5 years, which is more than one year higher than average.

Focus on bosses

The challenges of implementing the system mostly fall on bosses, whose workload increases when they must adapt working tasks to suit the individual worker.

“This demands quite a lot from them.”

The senior programme was originally introduced to prepare for the imminent shortfall of workers. That is why the retirement age needed to go up.

“But right now we have no problem finding workers.”

Other companies have shown such great interest in the factory’s experience that many are now talking about a ‘Sahalahti model’ to tempt people to work for longer.

Supports survey

The Saarioinen experience is reflected in a fresh survey from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki. Flexible working hours and good health are prerequisites for getting blue-collar workers to work for longer. But few blue-collar workers - 19 percent in 2009 - get the chance to do flexi-work, compared to 37 percent of white-collar workers.
The potential for a prolonged career increases: the survey shows a full 73 percent of higher educated white-collar workers in 2009 would consider working beyond the age of 63. Three years earlier the percentage was 63. The number for white-collar workers with lesser education was 64 percent compared to 55 percent in 2006, and for manual workers it was 53 percent, up from 48 percent. There are many issues to take into account before making a decision on whether to work for longer. 

“Employees need an incentive in the shape of flexible working hours and workplace solutions, a healthy and positive work environment, a balanced work load, good management, good working climate and support from occupational health,” says specialised research scientist Merja Perkiö-Mäkelä from the Institute of Occupational Health.

So this is about a whole where the focus is on work capacity and wellbeing at work.

“Our survey shows how important it is that employees - especially those in  manual labour - get help to stay in work. The latest Eurobarometer survey results also point in the same direction,” says Perkiö-Mäkelä.

Better analysis

Just like Tuohimaa points out, bosses are important because their efforts play a crucial role when it comes to time pressure, bullying in the work place, personnel conflicts and lack of support from management.

Senior researcher Maarit Vartia says everyone should help identify psycho-social risks at work and prevent conflicts.

“A decent amount of work, the chance to make changes in your own work and good cooperation in the working community will increase people’s interest in working for longer,” she says.

Job alternating leave

is a scheme where an employee through a contract with the employer can be replaced for up to 13 months. During this time the employer hires a person who is registered as unemployed. The alternating compensation amounts to 70 percent of the unemployment benefit which the person would be entitled to during unemployment.





Receive Nordic Labour Journal's newsletter nine times a year. It's free.

This is themeComment