ESTABLISHED GERMAN MARZIPAN COMPANY CONTINUES SUSTAINABLE HEALTH PROMOTION 1. Case metadata

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1 ESTABLISHED GERMAN MARZIPAN COMPANY CONTINUES SUSTAINABLE HEALTH PROMOTION 1. Case metadata Country of origin: Germany Year of publication by agency: 2012 Sector: C10 Manufacture of food products Keywords: Case studies (24401C), Good practice (24361C) Small and medium-sized companies (01201D) Co-operation (02721C) Networks (02761D) Corporate Social Responsibility (03961C) Health and safety policy (04361D) Workplace health promotion (22881C) Back care (22921D) Exercise and physical activity (22961D) Health monitoring and screening (22971D) Healthy eating (22981D) Health promotion programs (23001D) Healthy life-style (23041D) Mental health promotion (23046D) Sickness absence management (23056D) 1

2 Substances awareness (23061D) Tobacco awareness (23064E) Well-being (23076D) Stakeholders (54201B) Ageing and older workers (54281D) Abstract Issue Niederegger is Germany s most well known marzipan producer. The company was established in 1806 and has a very long tradition of providing good working conditions. At Niederegger the average age of the workforce is 47, which is higher than the national average. This led to the development of their health promotion programme. Action The human resource manager of Niederegger integrated several campaigns and measures within Niederegger to keep the workforce safe and healthy. The actions include a broad range of activities such as a total smoking ban for the whole company premises, a health promotion programme specifically for older workers and several corporate social responsibility measures. In addition Niederegger is constantly developing activities to assure that its employees stay healthy and happy at work and in general. To ensure the implementation of these health promotion measures are in line with current research findings, the human resource department initiated cooperation with two technical colleagues and a university that helped draft guidelines and evaluate the results of several of the health promotion activities. Financing of several aspects, such as conducting the smoking cessation programmes, was done with the support of several health insurance companies. In order to match more accurately the programme with the needs of the employees several stakeholders were invited to participate in a steering group. The steering group included the chamber of physicians, the local health authorities, and employee representatives. Results Good results have been achieved; employee satisfaction increased by 40% and sickness absence rates significantly decreased, especially in months of seasonal conditions usually resulting in high rates of sickness absence. 2. Organisations involved J. G. Niederegger GmbH & Co. KG 2

3 3. Description of the case 3.1. Introduction Niederegger is the oldest German marzipan producer, which has been in existence since It is located in Lübeck, a town in northern Germany. The company employs around 400 permanent workers. Marzipan is a product, which is consumed in various seasonal peaks; as a result, Niederegger employs also around 250 temporary workers, especially before Christmas and Easter. Even though Niederegger is a medium-sized company, it exports marzipan to 38 different countries worldwide Aims Niederegger has always expressed the importance of keeping its workforce healthy and satisfied and maintains high standards of occupational health and safety as well as environmental compatibility. The company has implemented a management programme certified by ISO (9001), a certified environmental management system (DIN EN 14001) as well as the occupational safety and health management system OHSAS Health and safety is important within Niederegger and in addition to the standard methods and tools to reduce risk, Niederegger also takes a proactive approach by enhancing employee health through health promotion. Over the last few years, several projects and long-time measures for enhancing and promoting workers health were conducted. Wherever possible, Niederegger set up partnerships and used a wide-spread network of partners for producing the best working and environmental conditions for its employees. The health promotion measures were supported and adapted by the different partners, and involved technical colleges, a university, public health authorities, health insurances, etc. All measures were developed to improve employee wellbeing and give them the opportunity to live their life as healthy as possible. Providing healthy working conditions and ensuring that the working environment as well as the organisation of work and enabling healthy choices in both employees private life and at work have been the goals at Niederegger for some time. The aim of this case study is to provide extensive information of the different activities that have been conducted and to show the overall outcomes What was done, and how? Smoke-free Policy: Smoking cessation and total smoking ban A total smoking ban was in place at Niederegger for a year before it actually came into force in Germany. The first step to initiate this sensitive issue was for the human resource manager to consult the workers representatives and to get their approval for achieving the goal of no cigarettes on the company premises. 3

4 After the decision had been taken, all employees were involved and invited to give their opinion on the objective. Employees were informed via their superiors, via s, poster and employees meetings. A discussion about the newly planned regulations took place. The human resource department offered a compromised solution that the majority of employees could get an extension to their breaks at work to have time to leave the company premises during their working day for smoking. This solution would have been accepted by the company s management, however, employees voted for the total smoking ban while keeping their old working schedule without extended breaks and without the possibility to leave the company premises for smoking. The human resource department contacted the health insurances and asked them to support the activity by paying for smoking cessation programmes for employees of Niederegger. The seminars were offered long before the smoking ban came into force and employees were allowed to take part during working time. The last two days before the smoking ban actually came into force, the human resource manager offered several consultations. He sat in the company s canteen and addressed employees worries and queries regarding the smoking ban. Around 80 employees benefited from the consultation. The human resource manager also decided that for a certain period smokers were allowed to go to the canteen and get a coffee or something sweet rather than giving in to their desire for a cigarette. Shortly after the implementation of the smoking ban, cooperation with the Christian Albrechts University from the nearby town Kiel created an opportunity for Niederegger to take part in an employee job satisfaction survey. Surprisingly the results were very positive for Niederegger. Compared to other companies taking part in the survey Niederegger scored relatively high on the satisfaction scale. The recent implementation of the total smoking ban did not seem to have a negative effect on employee satisfaction at all. Beside the high satisfaction of employees and the general improvement that was achieved for employees health, another aspect was observed. In the first autumn after the programme had been implemented and in all following autumn the human resource department noticed a decreased sickness absence compared to the years before the total smoking ban. The assumption behind this notable decrease is that many employees may have caught a cold when leaving the company buildings for having a cigarette. Now that employees no longer smoke during working time this risk has been eliminated. The sick leave rate in September 2007 equated to 4.1%, after the implementation of the smoking ban the sick leave rate continued to decreased and the average sick leave rate for September from 2008 to 2010 was 3.3% 'Fit for the second half' 'Fit for the second half' is an initiative addressing the fact that employees normally stay a lifetime in Niederegger. Many employees are currently approaching the age of 50. The idea behind this programme is to enhance and promote health and wellbeing for assuring lifelong health and a positive and long lasting collaboration between Niederegger and its employees. 4

5 The 'Fit for the second half' initiative is also supported by several partners. An initial idea came from a working circle conducted by the federal state Schleswig Holstein. The aim of the working circle was to motivate companies to take action with regard to older employees to maintain and promote lifelong work ability. Several discussions led to the development of the 'Fit for the second half' project at Niederegger and the whole process was further supported by the local health authority of Lübeck. Financial support came from the Ministry of Employment, Social Affairs and Health of the federal state Schleswig Holstein. A steering committee was set up at Niederegger, including representatives from the parties mentioned. Other external and internal experts took part in this steering committee including a member of the medical association students from the Lübeck technical college as well as employee and management representatives. Figure 1: The human resource manager and employees from the assembly line during the fitness break. To start with, the employees were asked to anonymously fill out a questionnaire specifically developed for Niederegger. Based on the results the steering committee decided to prioritise the following areas: musculoskeletal disorders; relaxation and stress reduction; healthy nutrition. 5

6 The food in the canteen was changed to encourage employees to eat healthier. Sport courses and training to achieve and maintain a healthy back were offered and instructions for the correct manual handling of loads were given (Figure 1). Complimentary exercises to prevent muscular imbalance, relaxing courses, yoga and other measures were organised, in which all employees could partake. In addition, supervisors were given training from the occupational physician on how to be sensitive with regard to health issues and especially with regard to any musculoskeletal disorders their employees may have. Special care was taken to make sure that all employees had the opportunity to take part in health promotion measures. As Niederegger has a very flexible approach regarding working time (about 250 different agreements), the time schedule was one of the major challenges within the project. However, the effort of conducting the measures and finding the best schedule of implementation paid off. From the very beginning, the participation of employees was very high and the feedback from the workforce was positive. In a later stage of the project, short breaks were introduced in the production process for doing exercises. A trainer was hired to give instructions. Each team chose one or two exercise leaders that usually ask for the break and give short instructions on the exercises. A healthy day was conducted in the canteen of Niederegger, and during the day, the health promotion project was presented. The occupational physician offered blood pressure measurement, an insurance company (Allgemeine Ortskrankenkasse AOK local health insurance) provided questionnaires for assessing stress levels and health, the physicians association offered employees a questionnaire and a personal consultation on cardiovascular problems and several sport associations gave free trial lessons on different activities. Most of the employees were able to visit the activities in the day during their working time. The first part of the project was very successful as a result Niederegger started a second initiative 'happy hearts' which focused on cardiovascular diseases. The measures that started within the first part are still ongoing and are regularly refreshed and updated. For example, the trainer teaching appropriate exercises now visits annually and gives new instructions as well as corrections on the exercises that are regularly conducted. The happy hearts' activity is accompanied by other measures, such as the sheets provided by the physicians association. The sheets help employees to track their individual progress regarding their cardiovascular health. The Medical Chamber of Schleswig-Holstein provided Niederegger with step counters that encourage employees to make at least 10,000 steps a day. The experiences created by the Niederegger project create the basis of a guideline for SMEs on how to conduct a successful health promotion programme. The guideline was part of a bigger project including different companies and stakeholders. Please see references for further information. 6

7 Figure 2: A promotion poster from the 'fit for the second half campaign' Family friendly business Eighty per cent of the workforce in Niederegger is female and the human resource department is making an effort to meet their specific requirements with regard to working time and flexibility. Many employees have to take care of small children or elderly relatives. Wherever possible, the human resource department works in cooperation with the manager/supervisor in charge, and tries to find an individual time schedule, which fits to the personal situation of the employee. The Chamber of Industry and Commerce (Industrie- und Handelskammer) approached Niederegger, knowing about its family friendly working times, and asked if there was also the possibility of doing part-time apprenticeships. Consequently, Niederegger offered part-time apprenticeships for several employees whose home responsibilities suited part-time working hours. In addition to the efforts Niederegger made regarding working time, the human resource department also cooperated with the municipality for setting up a bus line making it easier for employees to reach the Niederegger premises. Part of the family-friendly approach is a special programme for employees on maternal/paternal leave. Niederegger keeps in touch with them regularly, keeps them updated about news and invites them regularly to staff meetings and other events as well as individual conversations with the human 7

8 resource department. As a result, Niederegger regularly updates employees on changes and tries to make their return to work as smooth as possible. Furthermore Niederegger offers assistance for its employees in challenging life situations. Financial assistance in special emergencies is also possible and the human resource department has organised the possibility of getting anonymous debt counselling. They also assist their employees in dealing with public authorities in case they are afraid of authorities. Organisational measures providing psychosocially healthy conditions Niederegger not only supports employees with regard to their private life and challenging living conditions but also with their daily routine. Several measures assure that employees are optimally challenged and have the possibility for development. The following list highlights some of the measures: job rotation (each employee is trained for at least two different workplaces); team work (employees work in small teams within the assembly line); free organisation of working procedures (within special processes of the work organisation); a human resource representative or a manager regularly meets with each employee to discuss his/her job situation, career development, etc.; a programme of regular training is offered to all employees. Corporate Social Responsibility Besides improving working and living conditions of their employees, Niederegger also takes an interest in the municipality. Two partner schools were established; one being an elementary school in a problematic district and the other one a general school. Every year Niederegger apprentices run several projects within the two schools, most of them related to their apprenticeship. These projects include visits at parent-teacher evenings and activities with the pupils from the partner schools. The idea behind this approach is to let young employees practice presenting information to a group of strangers, to demonstrate to pupils that an apprenticeship can be an interesting career choice and of course, last but not least, to maintain Niederegger s excellent reputation within the municipality. Part of this approach is not only the cooperation with the partner schools but also regular communication with the local employment agency (Arbeitsagentur) What was achieved? In Germany, a corporate health initiative has been conducted annually since The initiative aims at benchmarking, awarding and supporting companies that introduced a comprehensive workplace health promotion programme. Niedderegger participated in the benchmark in 2011 and got an excellent assessment by the evaluators. The results state that Niederegger has established a prominent health promotion management programme and it has scored among the best companies participating in the corporate health awards. According to the assessment, the health management at 8

9 Niederegger is very well integrated in the general company strategy and processes and employee participation is very well organised to ensure a sustainable approach. Smoke-free policy Sick leave data show that especially in the autumn, absence due to respiratory diseases decreased significantly. Besides this hard data, it was reassuring for Niederegger to discover that employee satisfaction after the implementation of the smoking ban was still very high compared to other companies. Fit for the second half Due to the communication and high commitment from the employees representatives, the measures created a higher awareness for a healthy lifestyle across the company. A feedback questionnaire distributed to all employees also revealed a higher satisfaction of employees after the implementation of the programme (Figure 2). Sixty-six per cent of the employees state that there has been an improvement within their daily routine. They feel less discomfort, more happiness at work and report higher psychosocial wellbeing. Family friendly business Niederegger was awarded with the family-friendly business award from the federal state Schleswig Holstein 2006 for their comprehensive measures for ensuring that employees caring for children or elderly can balance their duties in their private life with their working life. Organisational measures Due to psychological reasons Niederegger does not use the term sick leave rate anymore but prefers to talk about the health rate. Following the several measures that were implemented for improving the employees health, the health rate increased and is now at a very high average with 96.4%. As well as this, Niederegger has never had difficulty in recruiting and retaining employees and the staff turnover of employees tends to be very low at around 3.8% Success factors In Niederegger traditionally there exists a very good cooperation between the employees representatives, the management and the human resource department. This cooperation enables a joint approach for tackling different topics in an effective way. As well as providing good working conditions at Niederegger and implementing various health measures and effectively planning new programmes, Niederegger s human resource department is also known for cooperating very well with different stakeholder on a regional and national level. The support from the chamber of physicians, the health insurance companies and the local health department, created several health promotion interventions such as the free smoking cessation courses as well a competent steering committee for implementing health measures. Cooperation with the local authorities and the Chamber of industry and commerce helps to sensitise apprentices for 9

10 health promotion issues, from the beginning. The networking with the technical college of Lübeck, as well as with the Christian Albrechts University in Kiel, enabled Niederegger to gain valuable feedback on their activities through professional support on evaluation procedures such as analysis and interpretation on the feedback from questionnaires Further information I.G.N. Niederegger GmbH URL: Human Resource Manager Klaus Puschaddel Transferability The Niederegger approach creates several ideas for other companies on how to best implement health promotion programmes and on how to seek synergies and collaborate with local, regional and national stakeholders. 4. References, resources: ISO Quality management Occupational Health and Safety Management System: Guideline for SMEs on health promotion implementation: Corporate Health Initiative: 10

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