It's all about the people, says ISS EMEA ceo Andersen

5th of May 2015
It's all about the people, says ISS EMEA ceo Andersen

ECJ editor Michelle Marshall speaks exclusively to Henrik Andersen, chief operating officer for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at ISS Group about the workforce challenges facing the cleaning sector, and also the many opportunities that exist to attract and retain new employees.

“Every success we have is founded in our employees,” says Henrik Andersen, group chief operating officer (coo) for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at ISS Group – the Denmark-based leader in the provision of facility services worldwide. Founded in Copenhagen in 1901, the company currently has around 518,000 employees and local operations in more than 50 countries across Europe, Asia, North America, Latin America and Pacific.

Andersen has been in his current position since March 2013, having joined ISS in 2000 and worked in roles including group cfo, ISS UK country manager and ISS UK cfo. As a senior management figure in a company that has made very clear commitments to the health and wellbeing of its workforce, Andersen takes his responsibilities for employees very seriously. “We want to be the preferred employer in the industry,” he says, “which is easy to say but much more challenging to achieve, particularly on a global scale.

“It’s about supporting not just the employee but also their family,” Andersen continues. “There is a life cycle involved in every staff member – recruiting, training and development, then progressing and remaining with us or exiting the business. The really encouraging thing is that we sometimes see people leaving the company after 40 or 50 years with us.”

Employee engagement is a core part of the ISS strategy – PwC carried out a survey of employees for the company in 2010 which revealed the most important factor for them was that leaders care for the entire person and treat them as a human being rather than simply a resource. Other key points were health, safety and working environment; correct pay on time; and job opportunities.

Andersen explains why a survey of this kind is so important. “For many of our people this could be the first job in a new country for them and they are simply not used to being asked for their opinion, or being heard. And when we had the results they were closely evaluated with our site managers, the objective being to get to the root cause of any problems which may have arisen, for example.”

Andersen doesn’t believe this level of engagement is happening across the industry in general. “However we feel it is our responsibility to help in as many ways as possible, particularly if people are settling into a new country and this is their first job. A new job in a new country is a very big step for them and they don’t always know about the language, the values, or how to set up a bank account for example. These are the things we can help with.

“However, there are still countries where there are ‘alternative’ ways of entering, through illegal documents for example. We cannot rectify that as ISS and we will not use illegal labour, but we can be involved in improving overall conditions and we will play our part.”

The industry as a whole has improved tremendously in the last 10 years with regard to employee relations, in Andersen’s view, “and the three parties of trade unions, governments and private companies are working together much better. Relationships between trade unions and employers are certainly healthier too”.

The world is facing significant demographic change because of the ageing population and Andersen evaluates how this may affect employment in the sector. “Twenty to 30 years from now the ageing population will be higher and the working population will be lower. You might compare it to the years before the financial crisis. In 2005-2007, we were running at a much lower unemployment rate in Europe compared to today, so we saw a different mobilisation and flexibility of the workforce.

“The recession then came, and many workers returned to their home countries as a result,” he continues. “However, we shouldn’t worry too much about this factor, because there will still be many people across Europe with an interest in moving abroad to get a job.

“The world has become smaller and it is now much easier to travel and to work across different countries. As a company we see this as a great opportunity, and it will continue to happen I believe. In Europe alone we have tremendous possibilities across borders.”

The profile of the service sector is changing too, Andersen believes, which could bring a new generation of personnel. “In the early 2000s in Europe, for example, we saw a young generation that was not so interested in entering the service industry. Now, we observe they are generally much more engaged with the service sector because they realise there are plenty of career opportunities to go into supervisor or management roles if that is what they are looking for.

“This is happening because our clients are changing, and they are becoming more international in nature. The view of existing employees, and those looking into the sector for jobs, has altered. And we also must not underestimate the emotional connection that often takes place between employee and employer. This relationship is also improving.”

One of ISS’ key objectives now is to make the job functions more flexible, which could lead to employing more of its staff on a full-time basis. “Jobs are no longer always purely cleaning and janitorial tasks carried out for a few hours at different sites,” Andersen explains. “We have more full-time positions and an operative could also be involved in hospitality, property services and handyman tasks for example.

“Many of those tasks do not require certification, however we offer the relevant training to make the operative competent in what we are asking them to do,” he continues. “I would estimate that 70 per cent of tasks can be carried out by well-trained members of staff, with 30 per cent requiring actual certification.”

The benefits of this way of working are numerous, says Andersen. “Operatives have the opportunity to earn more, and to form a stronger link with the client and with their employers. They have more variation in their day-to-day job and as a result they feel more self-esteem and more in control of their own destiny.”

There are still areas, however, where the industry as a whole must continue to raise its standards says Andersen. “There are unfortunately still examples of companies where people are exploited, and where there is an illegal trade in employees. We all have to improve, even though we are up against strong negative forces.”

ISS boasts a zero tolerance approach to illegal practices within its company, on a global level. “We have over 500,000 employees around the world,” Andersen explains, “so there might be isolated examples of violations, but if we find any illegal activity we deal with it immediately. We also offer employees the facility to report such incidents to us – to whistle-blow in effect.”

Other key drivers for ISS are output-driven cleaning, and the developing trend towards intelligent buildings. “In this respect our employees need to have relevant data so we have developed an app which any of them can download to their smart phone, tablet or other device. There they can receive their tasks and updates in real-time, read company news, other useful information on new methods, etc – it’s a work-driven tool for them.

“We can never replace face-to-face communication at site level but this is a complementary tool to that.”

Andersen is confident of the crucial role technology has to play in the future of the industry. “Of course ultimately the service we offer has to be delivered in person, by an engaged employee with a smile on their face. But there is no doubt technology can make us feel more engaged. And this is where the journey for the service industry is really interesting."

While acknowledging that cleaning is now a much more openly discussed area of service and generally it has improved its profile among clients, Andersen believes the perception of the staff working as cleaners can still be better. “We as employers and colleagues must always see the cleaning assistant as a person who helps us and works hard in order to do that. We must look more closely at that person as an individual. They are working to create a better life for themselves, and often for their family.”

He concludes: “As an industry we are offering jobs that are engaging and interesting and I believe we are now well recognised by industry and government worldwide as an extremely important employer - and we are certainly one of the best sectors at promoting integration.”


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