Pia Särsvik

Pia Särsvik

Sofie Persson, employment lawyer at Hove-based solicitors Engleharts, interviewed Pia Särsvik, the HR Director at Ellco Food, a Swedish food company. Here’s what she found:

Pia Särsvik is the HR Director at Ellco Food – a food manufacturing company that is owned by BHJ, a Danish company.  Ellco has sites in both Europe and the US and employs about 900 staff around the world.  BHJ is in turn owned by an American privately owned company with head offices in Ankeny, Iowa, USA.  The company develops and manufactures food ingredients based on animal proteins and manufactures high purity plasma fractions. Ellco Food in Sweden has offices in both Stidsvig and Kävlinge and has just under 100 employees.

Pia has worked with HR matters for over 25 years and has experienced great changes within the Swedish labour market. For instance, the effects of deregulation of state owned enterprises and adapting businesses so that they are compatible with free market business operations.  This has involved extensive reductions in staff, and a great need for new competencies and increased efficiency on many levels.  According to Pia, the most fun part of her job working in HR are the constant changes and how this has challenged her to find solutions that enables the employer to adapts itself to new demands and the ever increasing competition.

When Pia is not working, she is involved in several sports activities and recently ran a half marathon in Gothenburg.

1. What is the most interesting problem you have had with an employee and/or in the workplace?

I had a misconduct case involving an employee leaving the workplace before the end of his shift. He had even got one of the holiday temps to clock his card at the time when he should have clocked out himself.  I considered this to be theft from the company because the employee would have been paid in spite of his unauthorised absence. The employee who was dismissed for gross misconduct was not a union member but instructed a lawyer to claim compensation.

2. How was it resolved?

The company had to pay compensation equivalent to 18 months pay which was about half of what the company would potentially have to pay if they had been taken to an employment court and lost.

3. Have you ever been sued for breaches of employment rights?

No, never.

4. If you could decide, what would be the top three employment rights that you would change?

The section of the Employment Protection Act, which says that the last one to be employed is the first one to be dismissed. This “last in, first out” rule makes it very difficult to make capability dismissals. An employer needs greater flexibility and freedom of choice when it comes to retaining individuals who have the skills that the company needs.

5. Could you provide an example of how local culture and practices shape your day-to-day dealings with your employees?

Many of our employees are from the local village, which is quite small, and have a low level of education and no experience of other workplaces. Most of them know each other really well and may even have grown up together which can lead to great loyalty between the colleagues instead of towards the company.

6. How do you motivate your employees?

Through providing continuous information both on a company wide and departmental level. At these information meetings, the employees are given the opportunity to ask questions and make representations. All managers have individual development meetings with their co-workers. This is followed up by a process called “barometer” to ensure that this takes place. A competency development plan is put together as an action plan at these meetings. We encourage and sponsor sports and general health activities. We also celebrate birthdays and other [hogtidsdagar]. We have an active rehabilitation programme for early return to work and we celebrate achievements such as performance results and quality certification etc.

7. What do you hope that your employees say about you?

That I am competent, fair and that they have confidence in me. That I am professional and treat the employees with great respect.

8. What do you think is the worst thing a manager can do for employee moral?

To have a complete lack of respect for the other colleagues. To criticise people publically instead of having a private conversation and to bad mouth colleagues. A manager should also not be unclear in his or her communications.

9. And conversely, what is the best?

Your colleagues should feel safe and confident enough to turn to their manager but also know their obligations as well as their rights.  Essentially the opposite to the above.

To respect your employees and be clear and direct.

10. Are there any books you have read that have influenced your management style?

I have read a lot of books, but there isn’t any specific technique that has influenced my management style.  I think what has influenced me the most are my experiences and the mistakes I have made.

I have also been influenced by more experienced leaders that I have respected in their professional capacity.

11. Do you have employment contracts for your staff?

Yes, for everyone.

12. Do you have a staff handbook setting out your company’s policies and procedures?

Yes, for everyone.

13. What are the rules for issuing an employment contract?

An employer has to provide a written contract of employment within 1 month of the employee’s employment.  What needs to be included in an employment contract is very regulated.
See Sofie’s previous blog on Employment Contracts in Europe.

14. Have you ever had any disputes or problems in relation to the terms and conditions of employment?

There are no specific rules and it’s usually only involving a few discussions that are sometimes quite informal.

15. What about lunch breaks? How are they spent?

The staff that are employed under collective agreements have lunch in the staff canteen because they only have a 30 minute lunch break.  There isn’t time or opportunity to go to an external restaurant.  White collar workers eat either in the staff canteen or in external restaurants.

16. How often do you pay your employees? Do you ever run into problems with their salary?

Salary is paid once a month.  Our company outsources payroll to an external provider, who is rarely available, and there are minor errors with the payroll.

17. What is the minimum wage? What would happen if you did not follow this?

At present, minimum wage for employees that are employed under a collective agreement is just over 19,000 Swedish Krona, (approximately £1,800 per month).  In Sweden, salaries are always talked about in net pay because the tax regime is such that if you would talk about salary in gross terms, it would look like you would be earning quite a lot.  The minimum wage is in accordance with the collective agreement the company has signed and therefore the company obviously follows it.

18. Do you pay your employees for sick time? Is there a government scheme?

According to the sick pay legislation, the employer pays the first 14 days sick pay, except for the first day of illness which is a qualifying day. From day 2 to day 14 you get 80% of your salary as sick pay.

19. What are the rules about parental leave? Does it apply equally to both men and women?

There are two kinds.  There is parental leave, which means that a parent has the right to be completely free (with or without maternity or paternity pay) until the child is 18 months.  After that you have a right to full leave, but only on the basis that you do not get full maternity or paternity pay.  In other words, you can take parental leave with full pay for 18 months and after that you have the right to further leave but the parental leave pay is reduced.  The second kind is part time leave without any parental pay.  Regardless of getting parental pay, a parent has the right to shorten his/her normal working hours by up to a quarter – this applies until the child has turned 8 years old or still hasn’t completed their first year of school.  These rights are equal for men and women.

20. What about holidays? Have you ever had issues with employees who are absent without leave?

This question is related to the above question about the issue I had with the employee who asked the holiday cover to clock him out.  If an employee is AWOL, that is absent without leave, we will engage our disciplinary procedure, which takes the form of warnings and/or ultimately dismissal as described in question 1 in the first section.

21. What benefits do you give your employees?

The following are some of the benefits that we give to our employees.  Free coffee, Christmas gifts, a Christmas party for the employee and their entire family.  We subsidise the food provided in the staff canteen and in the staff tuck shop.  We also subsidise extra curricula sports and health activities. We have scheduled breaks and white collar workers are sometimes allowed to take half or full days off in connection with public holidays or other religious holidays.  The employees have access to a holiday home in Spain at a reduced price and also access to a fishing pond.

22. Have these benefits been cut in recent years due to budgetary restraints? If so, have you noticed a difference in staff productivity?

Some of these benefits have been taken away or reduced due to an increase in competition.  We didn’t notice any change in productivity.

23. What policies do you have in place for employees to raise concerns over their immediate manager?

If the employee doesn’t want to tell their direct manager about their grievance or critique, there is an opportunity to turn to the manager of that manager, the personel manager or a union who then would raise the issue with the company.

Sofie Lyeklint

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