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Shimano Europe: Training is a gift, that employees have to open themselves

— General HR

Shimano Europe: Training is a gift, that employees have to open themselves

Every month, Lesley Arens from #ZigZagHR interviews an international HR professional. This time, Sigrun Debaillie, International Matchmaker at HR Talents, connects us with Maarten Horbach, HR Director at Shimano Europe. He talks about the remarkable vitality programme of the internationally active company.

"Promote health and happiness through the enjoyment of nature." That striking mission stems from Shimano, the well-known manufacturer of bicycle parts, angling and rowing equipment, with more than 12,000 employees worldwide, 800 of them in Europe. The Japanese character of the parent company is reflected in the pursuit of balance, the drive for perfection and the long-term focus. The vitality programme also matches that spirit, even though it has been set up from the European head office in Eindhoven.

The programme aims to tackle three challenges in a sustainable way:

  • increased staff turnover,
  • rising absenteeism
  • and the waning employee engagement that manifested itself after an intense transition period.

The results were significant:

  • staff turnover was reduced by 48%,
  • absenteeism by 15%
  • and engagement remained stable and even increased from 7.5 to 7.9 in the last measurement.

This all despite the increased workload over the past two years: the explosive demand for bicycles during the corona crisis meant that a multitude of bicycle manufacturers were banging on Shimano's door with urgent requests for components, and this naturally translated into an increased workload.

These are not even the only results of the programme. "Today, employees at Shimano are significantly healthier and more active than in other companies and sectors," explains Maarten Horbach, HR Director at Shimano Europe. "This is not only a result of the vitality programme, but mainly of the fact that well-being in all its dimensions is embedded in the corporate culture.

Last year, he cycled the route of the very first Tour de France of 1903: six stages of more than 400 kilometres, a total of 2428 kilometres. This required a tight training schedule, which he combined with his job as HR Director and other hobbies, proving how sport is encouraged at this leading international company. Maarten Horbach shares the five pillars of the well-being programme and the five most important keys to its success.

The 5 pillars of the vitality programme

"Our vitality programme originated from the challenges associated with the rapid growth of Shimano in Europe," says Maarten Horbach. "The programme is built around five pillars: connect, be active, give, keep learning and take notice and is based on positive psychology, a movement within psychology with Martin Seligman and Mihály Csíkszentmihályi as its founders. Positive psychology is concerned with three topics: positive experiences (such as happiness, hope and love), positive attributes (such as vitality, perseverance and wisdom) and positive ways in which institutions can make a positive difference in society."

Pillar 1: Connect

"You connect with everyone around you: family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, at work, at school, the neighbourhood you live in," Maarten Horbach clarifies. "These are the cornerstones of your life. Connecting with people largely determines your emotional, psychological and social well-being, and is therefore a first important pillar in our well-being programme."

Pillar 2: Be active

"This is about the physical component of well-being, more specifically the importance of nature and exercise: by walking, but definitely also by cycling or going fishing, not coincidentally two of our core activities," Maarten Horbach explains.

Pillar 3: Give

"You make yourself happy by giving and by doing good", Maarten Horbach believes. "That ranges from giving a smile to giving donations. We mainly put the initiative in the hands of our employees. For example, they go to neighbourhoods where young people have fewer opportunities to develop themselves and teach them to apply for jobs."

Pillar 4: Keep learning

"We find it important not only to stay agile physically, but also mentally: every time you learn something new, you get a boost," Maarten Horbach explains. "We interpret learning very broadly, by the way, ranging from following leadership programmes to an Excel course. In the context of well-being, we also respond to hot topics and work with theme weeks: how to deal with stress, for example, or a webinar with an expert on sleep. Learning is also about being open to discovering new things and finding out about them yourself.

In this respect, we see learning, education and training as a gift, but you have to open it yourself. Here, too, there is an unmistakable link to well-being. Not only does it increase your self-confidence, it simply also makes you happy when you have learned something new.

Pillar 5: Take notice

The fifth pillar is the least concrete and the least measurable, Maarten Horbach admits: "This one is about mindfulness, about the importance of standing still, reflection and actually noticing and observing your surroundings."

The 5 keys to success

Key 1: Management leading by example

"It's obvious, but everything starts with management leading by example. If they never make time for training, never connect with others and never participate in activities, a well-being programme does not stand a chance", Maarten Horbach realises.

Key 2: Put the initiative in the hands of the teams as much as possible

"We have an active group of ambassadors," Maarten Horbach notes. "These are employees who have combined all existing initiatives around the five pillars of our vitality programme, set up new activities and inspire other employees with their enthusiasm. Employees have a say in choosing activities and are given the necessary time and autonomy to do so."

Key 3: Well-being is not a project, it is embedded in your culture

"Well-being is not a project with a start and end date, it is part of our culture and embedded in everything we do as an organization," Maarten Horbach outlines."That means that such a programme lives and can be adjusted based on feedback and results."

Key 4: Communication and branding

"We collect all information and all activities on a platform, and have a website where all activities are bundled in a calendar", Maarten Horbach indicates. "People are invited by e-mail to join. One size does not fit all. That is why the offer is deliberately broad and diverse."

Key 5: Provide a dashboard and KPIs

"And perhaps most important of all: to ensure that a well-being policy remains high on the agenda, it is best to link KPIs to it and include it in your management dashboard alongside other parameters", Maarten Horbach emphasises.

How fundamental those figures and indications are, is clear from the entire organisation of the programme: "HR is the owner of the vitality programme, takes a facilitating role and keeps it on the agenda. There is also a health & lifestyle index that monitors the physical and mental well-being of all employees in the context of prevention. This allows us to detect potential risks in time and to take proactive measures. When people's work capacity is no longer optimal, this triggers a red light on the index. We also monitor the situation through exit interviews and employee surveys. Employees receive the data, so that they can get to work with it themselves, and at an aggregate level we monitor the well-being and work ability of our teams.

The results of this health index are placed alongside our company's financial KPIs. If the well-being of our employees is not moving in the right direction, that is just as important to us as turnover not moving in the right direction.


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