Team spirit, trust and flexibilityKuvateksti: Ponsse outfits for the employees’ babies demonstrate the close connection between work and family life. In addition to the jumper displayed by assembler Marko Tauriainen, the company has had other items for babies too.
Ponsse enterprise manufactures and maintains forestry machines and tree-harvesting information systems. Combining the different sub-areas of life is promoted at the enterprise in many ways. Simple flexible solutions and listening to the needs of the employees play a key role at the everyday level.
The employees at Ponsse take pride in their product, the “world’s best forestry machine” which they like to call the “Mercedes of forests”. This 21st century machine is much more than a massive rumbling diesel monster. The sum of information technology and information systems together with the parts and functions of long product development, is a smart, versatile, and efficient machine that makes working in the forest easier.
In order for an enterprise to get to the top, the employees must be motivated and skilful. This in turn requires that the relationship between work, family and leisure time is understood, concludes Paula Oksman, personnel manager of Ponsse.
– Every person’s life is an entity, so it is important to find balance between the different sub-areas of life, says Oksman.
– This is team work, in which the employer and employees have to understand the importance of working as well as the role of the rest of life. Simply sticking to one’s own viewpoint hinders the finding of practical solutions. The company has to be productive and competitive. That is the starting point for everything else, including possibilities for flexibility, she continues.
People-centred thinking has been a part of the personnel strategy at Ponsse from the very beginning. The factory is on the same site at Vieremä, north of Iisalmi, as in its founding year in 1970. The owners still participate actively in its operations, and are a familiar sight at the factory. The company’s values include the “Ponsse spirit”, which includes a positive easy-going work climate, fairness, respecting the employees’ views, good communication and helping one’s work-mates.
– We work hard, but we aren’t rigid. The hierarchy is low and everyone speaks with everyone else, says Oksman.
It is easy to believe that the Ponsse spirit prevails in the factory. During the visit, the atmosphere is easy-going and relaxed.
The good will of the whole work community
Simple everyday solutions are used at Ponsse for balancing work and family life. Their common denominator is flexibility: flexitime is used in all work tasks where it is possible. The extra saved hours can be used also as longer continuous periods of free time. When an employee’s child is sick, he or she can simply call the workplace and stay at home for one day, and if needed, for two days. The arrangements are based on trust, which Oksman believes is very important.
– The employee should also understand that not all his or her wishes can be granted. But it is essential that the employer sincerely wants to offer flexible solutions, even if the outcome doesn’t always please everybody, she says.
– Flexible work arrangements are based on the good will of the whole work community, because often a flexible solution for one person demands some stretching from the others. It is important to understand people’s different life circumstances, and to perceive that the solutions are fair.
The Ponsse factory at Vieremä employs about 450 people, and in all of Finland about 670. The corporation employs altogether 1200 persons. The mean age of the employees is 38 years, and the age range, 26–45 years, is distributed evenly. The factory operates in two shifts, and about 85% of the employees are men.
The attitude toward family leaves – of both fathers and mothers – is positive, and paternal leaves are not disdained as unmanly, says Oksman. The workers of the male-dominated factory talk about their children and families, and often the new fathers proudly show pictures of their babies to the personnel manager.
Family life has an impact on work
Electrician Vesa Tikkanen is the employees’ trustee at Ponsse. He has one child, and flexible working times are a big everyday help to the family. An electrician’s work is bound to the production line and shift, but even the half-hour flexitime at the beginning of the shift gives more freedom to organize child care. Similarly, having to leave earlier in emergency situations has not been a problem.
– The family impacts work life also in other ways. Tikkanen believes that if there are problems and continuous stress in the family, a person probably can’t make it even to the present official retirement age.
– As a trustee of the employees, people tell me how important it is for them to combine work and family life especially when they have children. This reflects the age structure of our employees.
Information manager Katja Paananen has three children, all born during her work career at Ponsse. Because of the nature of her work, the company issues sometimes occupy her thoughts even at home.
– There is a lot of talk about flexible work arrangements, but it should be borne in mind that work is important in a person’s life. I believe that we at Ponsse have succeeded in combining work and leisure time quite well, because we can discuss and come to agreements about everything. When my children were little, I wasn’t expected to work evening shifts, she says.
In Paananen’s opinion, combining one’s work and family is easy in Vieremä which has a population of under four thousand. Daily life is easier when commuting doesn’t take much time, and shops and services are at hand.
Basically everyone is responsible for their own life
Supervisors are generally said to have a key role in combining work life and the rest of life. Paula Oksman agrees about the important role of supervisors, but in addition to good leadership, she stresses openness and team spirit of the whole work community.
– It’s good to have people of different ages at work. Older employees, whose hectic years with small children are in the past, can give useful tips to younger ones who are just starting family life. Often just telling workmates about your own experiences and phases in life can be a big help, she says.
Paula Oksman points out that in the end each individual is responsible for his or her own life. The employer can listen to a person’s needs and create opportunities, but combining one’s own work life and private life, and making the necessary choices are to a great extent in one’s own hands.