Seniors are assets!

by | October 19, 2009

This German healthcare company is one of the winners of the AARP International Innovative Employer Award and has no problem in having seniors as part of their team.

BY: Eleanor Yap


Sozial-Holding der Stadt Mönchengladbach GmbH in Germany was one of 10 winners (three came from Singapore and already revealed on this website) of the 2009 AARP International Innovative Employer Award from around the world who were recognised for their efforts in retaining mature and older employees. The healthcare company with its five subsidiaries has 875 employees (including 32 apprentices), of which 31% are older than 50 years of age.

The other international winners that US non-profit organisation, AARP, announced in late September included: Adecco Employment Services Ltd (service sector) from Canada who employs 436 employees (13% of which are 50+), BMW (motor vehicles production) in Germany who has 71,596 employees (20% are 50+), BT Group plc (telecommunications) in the UK who has 103,524 employees (30% are 50+), Centrica plc (utilities) in the UK who has 27,338 employees (14% are 50+), Domestic & General Services Limited (insurance) in the UK who has 747 employees (9% are 50+), and SICK AG (industrial equipment/commercial machinery) in Germany who has 1,879 employees (17% are 50+). We speak to Sozial-Holding der Stadt Mönchengladbach’s CEO Helmut Wallrafen-Dreisow (below, far left) on what efforts he took in terms of hiring mature employees:


Can you give me a short background of your company?

Sozial-Holding der Stadt Mönchengladbach GmbH (Sozial-Holding) was established in 1996 and emanated from the city council of Mönchengladbach. The city of Mönchengladbach (the home of F1’s Nick Heidfeld) is the owner of Sozial-Holding. That is the reason why we offer our services only locally.

Sozial-Holding’s subsidiaries include: 

• Altenheime GmbH – It operates five elderly retirement homes in the city and currently has 605 residents. 

• Ambulante Dienste GmbH – It provides assistance to elderly, who still live in their own homes. This includes housekeeping, delivery of meals, and nursing the elderly for a short time in one of our retirement homes. It also provides care for seniors, who live in an apartment-sharing community. Furthermore, the employees assist the elderly in other common tasks such as shopping and doctor’s visits. 

• Beschäftigungs- und Qualifizierungs GmbH (BQG) – This subsidiary organises and coordinates youth training schemes and other personal development and professional trainings for unemployed persons, e.g. long-time unemployed persons, unemployed women and adolescents in Mönchengladbach, and supports them socio-pedagogically. The social workers are employees of BQG and they are trained educational professionals, who support the participants of the training, if necessary. This subsidiary doesn’t just focus on over 50, but everyone who is unemployed for a very long time and/or has no chance in finding regular work.

• Bildungs GmbH – This subsidiary offers basic and advanced training for those who care for the elderly. It also offers workshops for those who are unemployed. BQG and Bildungs GmbH work together – BQG organises and coordinates everything with public authorities, local Government offices or employers because they finance the training. Bildungs has teachers as employees, who teach the participants of the training.

• Service GmbH – This is a state-of-the-art “cook & chill” large-scale catering establishment where employees prepare 1,200 meals per day. This subsidiary provides support to our retirement homes.


Background on population ageing in your country.


What initiatives do you have that are geared to mature employees?

Some of the actions, which we have taken are: To accomplish an annual staff appraisal and individual career advancement, to initiate workplace health promotion, and skill enhancement in particular for mature workers. Lifelong learning is an integral part of Sozial-Holding’s personnel policy and also an operative necessity. Care and the quality of care require a continuous update of knowledge, competences and know-how of all employees. For example, if an employee is no longer able to work as a geriatric nurse because of health problems, we want to re-integrate these health-impaired persons by instating them in other sections of our company or retirement homes.

Instead of letting them go, we appreciate their life experiences and their intellectual skills. We would employ them such as a special carer of the elderly who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and they would need to talk to them, organise their daily routine, train their cognitive abilities, etc.


Are there any more specific initiatives for mature workers such as them mentoring the younger workers, etc?

Yes, for instance, our former leader in one of our retirement homes, Margaret Strucken-Jordan, is now a few months away from retirement. We have put her into our department on projects and quality. There, she is able to support the other leaders of our retirement homes with her knowledge.

Furthermore there are regular meetings in which all employees, who are in charge of wound management, mentorship, etc (who work in our retirement homes) can exchange their knowledge.


Will you be adding more mature employee initiatives in the future and increasing your current 31 percent?

From last year onwards, we supported unskilled workers in our company with an apprenticeship in domestic science. The average age of the participants was 45 years; the oldest being 57 years. The apprenticeship ended in August 2009.

Whenever (in the future) our employees are interested in such skill enhancement, we will check the need and possibility to increase their abilities. The increasing of our 31 percent depends on the personnel turnover.

How much has the company invested from the initial costs to now in having mature workers in the company?

As long as we are actively proceeding with the advancement for our mature workers, we fell it is cost-neutral.


Who is your oldest employee?

Our oldest employee is Karl-Josef Pennazatto (left), who is 72 years old, and is a carpenter. A retiree for eight years now, he still works for us on “mini-jobs”, which means, that his income – additional to his benefit – is €400 (about US$597). This is part of German law.

There are some other pensioners, who work on this basis in our various subsidiaries such as Martin Nösen, who is 70 and Hartmut Nattermann who is 63, are all working at the reception desk. Gerhard Kipp, 67, is working as an ombudsman where he pays attention to any complaints of a resident at our retirement homes or from his or her family member.

There is also Rainer Altrock, 65, who is still working in our finance department. He states: “The Sozial-Holding is an innovative and very interesting company. I want to take an active part in its further development. I appreciate being able to work, even if I am now a pensioner.”

There are approximately 15 employees in our retirement homes and they are pensioners. This group of people cook together, play games with the residents, organise excursions and various events for the residents, as well as get involved in special projects for the elderly and/or dementia residents. 

Why do you feel mature workers are important in your organisation?

For Sozial-Holding, which is a group of humans, who work for and with humans, it is important to take advantage of all employees’ life experiences, wisdom and social skills, be it young or old. We recognised over the years that our mature workers develop more and more of these skills and experiences. We want to harness these positive points so they become an advantage for us.

What advice would you give other companies who are looking at doing this?

We advise other companies to imitate us and not let themselves be so youth-obsessed, which is common in our society nowadays. Mature workers’ healthcare and career advancement might mean more costs to the company initially, but the effect and sustainability of action taken will ensue continuous knowledge transfer.

The usual opinion is that younger employees are quicker in comparison to the older ones. But we know from our experience that older employees work more accurately. Mature employees can tell younger ones on which they should focus on, what problems could occur, and how to react in dealing with a problem or difficult situation. Young employees can easily work in new ways; they have another point of view, which may give the mature ones an idea for their own routine. When this exchange works, both can gain insights from each other on how the other is working and how it could be done better. That way, they both learn from the exchange!


** SPECIAL THANKS TO: Claudia Becke of Sozial-Holding der Stadt Mönchengladbach GmbH.



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