By providing fruit, a gym and a personal trainer, Örserums Åkeri − a haulier in southern Sweden − has gained healthier drivers who work more effectively.
It is easy to miss, since your gaze is drawn unavoidably to the landscape with its beautiful lakes and idyllic farms. But just before the little town of Örserum, in Småland province in southern Sweden, a modest sign is visible on an equally modest building: Örserums Åkeri. On the second floor, Marica Härold greets her visitors in what looks like a living room. Homey, rural, a bit old-fashioned.
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On her coffee table are two trucking magazines and a fitness magazine. The room next door is a gym, with an exercise bike, a rowing machine, dumbbells, a back stretcher and more. In the kitchen stands a large basket of fruit. Not so old-fashioned, after all, but instead very savvy and 21st century.
“We can see that our drivers work more effectively and are sick less often.” Marica Härold, co-owner, Örserums Åkeri
Härold is one of the co-owners and a member of the third generation of this 60-year-old company. Her brother Christer Svensson is managing director. She is in charge of administration. Also working in the house is Margaretha Lager, who is the accounting and logistics management assistant and the person who handles the switchboard. In addition, the company employs 12 drivers and has nine trucks.
Promoting occupational health
On the surface it looks like a fairly ordinary haulage company in the Swedish countryside. But appearances can be deceiving. Örserums Åkeri was named the most attractive workplace in Jönköping County two years ago. And Marica Härold was nominated for one of Sweden’s most prestigious national business awards in a category known as “health promotion leadership.”
Of course this is where the bowl of fruit and the gym come in. Örserums Åkeri is a company that has proactively invested in health, with very clear results.
“The big gain is that our employees are healthier,” Härold says. “We can see that they work more effectively and are sick less often. Absences due to illness are down to 0.5 percent.”
Exercise key to your health
This is a figure other companies cannot even dream of. Getting sick leaves down below 5 percent is considered exceptionally good, at least in Sweden.
Örserums Åkeri also works in an industry not exactly known for healthy lifestyles − with long shifts, lots of sitting still and often lonely work.
Not surprisingly, Härold is invited to lecture all over Sweden. How did she succeed so well? She was the one who started up the company’s fitness programme four years ago.
“I noticed that I personally felt better when I exercised and ate properly,” she says.
Persuading a number of individualistic men to change their behaviour is not easy. When she called the first employee meeting to launch her idea, reactions were lukewarm to cool. “How can we find the time to exercise?” was the common response.
Exercising and healthy food
Obviously it was not enough to tell people how beneficial it is to exercise and to eat a good breakfast. Something else was needed, especially since most of the exercising would have to occur during leisure hours (there might be time for short walks at truck stops, but no more). So Härold and Svensson introduced an “account” that employees could fill by exercising during leisure hours. Their hours in the account could then be exchanged for up to 40 hours of extra time off per year, in other words one extra week of paid holiday.
In addition, everyone was given a personal trainer, Tamara Lorentzon, who allowed each employee to set personal goals. One perhaps wanted to lose weight, another wanted to become stronger and a third wanted to stop smoking.
Truck driver challenges
“It’s important not to impose your views on other people,” says Härold. “This is simply a matter of making our daily lives a little better and feeling a little better in the long run.”
One of the company’s drivers is Kenneth Palmér. His breakfast used to consist of “a pinch of snuff, a swig of lukewarm cola and a raspberry candy boat.” “Now I eat yoghurt, muesli and fruit,” he says. “I’ve lost a bit of weight.”
Another driver, Sören Andersson, stopped smoking after 40 years. “To begin with, I didn’t think I needed to exercise, but I did want to stop smoking, so I got help with that,” he says today. “I think it’s a wonderful programme. Being able to build up vacation time is a real carrot.”
Increased health and more vacation
After the first year, the employees took a physical exam. On average, the drivers’ physical fitness level had improved by 20 percent. How much each one has improved his condition is not reported. The personal trainer’s meetings with employees are confidential.
A third of the company’s employees collected all 40 extra hours, and half saved at least 30 hours. Reporting of hours is based entirely on the honour system. Each person fills out a monthly report.
“We’re completely sure no one is bluffing,” says Härold. “We would notice it right away. After the first year, the pace slowed a little. You need to provide constant input to keep the ball in the air.
“Meanwhile you sometimes have to take things a little easy,” she says. “Otherwise you get tired of it. But now the time is ripe for a new effort.”
Drivers like Scania’s health corner
Scania’s “health corner” travelling exhibition is aimed at providing good advice about how drivers can stay healthy.
Everyone wants to be healthy – drivers too, of course. Yet many people associate the driving profession with a rather unhealthy lifestyle. Long periods of sitting still, alternating with intensive periods of heavy lifting.
At Scania Human Resources, this was confirmed in a questionnaire filled out by 110 drivers from various European countries. Their eating and exercise habits were rather unhealthy.
“It was surprising how unanimous the responses were, regardless of where the drivers come from,” says Andreas Evers, project manager at Scania HR.
“They all shared a great interest in adopting a better lifestyle and staying healthy.”
Their physical aches were concentrated in their back, shoulders and neck, which was not especially surprising. As expected, there was a certain generation gap. Younger drivers were more eager to stay in shape through physical training.
After the questionnaire, Scania launched its “health corner” − housed in several tents and transported by truck − and took it on a road show around Sweden.
“We got a huge response and it was much more appreciated than we could have imagined,” says Gunnar Hedlund, who is in charge of developing health and working environment methods at Scania.
In the health corner, drivers receive advice about eating habits, stress management and ergonomics. They can also get a massage there, check their blood pressure and get a vision exam. And instead of hamburger and beer, visitors to the tents are offered healthy foods − smoothies and healthy snacks.
“This is just the beginning,” Hedlund says. “The next step will be to launch a similar health corner in a few pilot markets outside Sweden.”