Setting up vitality policies? ‘The biggest investment is a good conversation’

Source: PW magazine (June 2021)
Of course, we all know it: when you’re comfortable in your own skin, you function better. But where do you start as an employer and – just as relevant – where do you end to improve employee vitality? What does it cost and what does it yield, are likewise questions every HR professional struggles with. The most important investment is relatively inexpensive: a good conversation.

In any case, doing nothing is not an option, says Rutger Bennink, vitality consultant at health insurer De Friesland. He illustrates this with a real-life example from a large manufacturing company. “This company had a preventive medical survey conducted among its staff, which showed serious cardiovascular signs: relatively high obesity, high blood pressure, moderate fitness. This was then left unaddressed. The company ran on and no budget was allocated to take action. Subsequently, several employees suffered heart attacks, resulting in many months of rehabilitation. That absence resulted in a huge cost, quite apart from the human aspect.”

Four areas of focus sustainable employability

  • Motivation and commitment
  • Subject knowledge and skills
  • Work-life balance
  • Health and vitality

Bennink argues that employer and employee both have a responsibility in this. “It’s not just about a healthy lifestyle. It’s also about wanting to learn, career planning and providing the right facilities for this as an employer. Vitality is about whether you are fit enough to do your job well. A lack of job satisfaction or commitment or a disturbed relationship with yourself or with your supervisor: it can all cause you to not function optimally.”

Not just physical fitness

The fourth component, a healthy lifestyle, has several aspects. Consider exercise, diet, smoking, alcohol, sleep patterns. “When a fifty-year-old improves his or her fitness by 20 percent, it instinctively saves thirteen life years in the performance of work,” Bennink knows(Source:Monod,1999)

Loss of connection led to substantially more outages

However, mental state is just as important. That includes development, future prospects and commitment. Bennink points to the recent corona situation, which necessitated prolonged working from home. “The loss of connectivity has led to substantially more outages.” According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, sick leave in the Netherlands in 2020 was the highest in 17 years at an average of 4.7 percent.

Low absenteeism

In small businesses, where absenteeism increased the most in 2020 by the way, absenteeism is lower on average than in large organizations. A low absenteeism rate is often a reason not to work on sustainable employability of employees. But low absenteeism does not mean that there are no people in the organization who, for example, have poorer health, a lack of motivation, outdated knowledge and skills, or a disturbed work-life balance.

“That doesn’t necessarily translate directly into visible absenteeism,” Bennink knows. “But these people may not be sustainably employable. And this group is many times larger than the approximately 4 to 5 percent who are absentee. The fact that these people are not sustainably employable has adverse consequences for their productivity. Already now, but certainly in the longer term.”

Costs and benefits of sustainable employability

With reduced productivity, an employer gets less “value for money” (read: wages paid). TNO characterizes this as “wasteful” and has developed a tool to quantify the costs and benefits of sustainable employability, the KOBA-DI tool. A practical example is a company with a wage bill of 10 million euros, where 12 percent of employees are not physically okay and 8 percent are not psychologically okay. The calculated wastage cost on an annual basis is 106,000 euros.

Panthion also offers the KOBA-DI tool and can use it to quantify the costs and benefits of sustainable employability. Panthion is certified for this.



Vitality policies only for large organizations?

One objection Bennink also hears a lot is that vitality policies are something for large organizations. “Of course budgets are different then, but having a good conversation can be done anywhere. When it comes to performance appraisals, people often complain, ‘We spend so much time on them. But if you have a structural discussion with your people, you can identify that there are no prospects for further development or that someone has to deal with demanding care responsibilities, and so on. Then you can try to do something about it. By making the person in question free for informal care every Wednesday afternoon after two o’clock, for example.”

If in a small organization someone suddenly leaves or drops out, it counts much more heavily than in an organization with a thousand employees

Bennink believes that in small and medium-sized businesses, vitality policies are actually extra valuable. “If in a small organization someone suddenly leaves or drops out, it counts much more heavily than in an organization with a thousand employees.”

Structuring activities

According to him, much can be gained if direct managers are not only about the content of the work, but also deal with the sustainable employability of employees. “You have to be in constant dialogue with people.”

Many companies are already doing some vitality work without realizing it themselves, Bennink believes. “The trick is to structure activities, such as regular performance reviews and periodic surveys. For example, there are scans that make the status of vitality and sustainable employability measurable. It starts with insight. Once you learn to recognize the risks, you can then make timely interventions.”

Yield vitality

Setting up a vitality policy is not an exclusive task for HR. “Precisely not. Don’t make it a one-man-show, but work together with management, the company doctor, the works council, but certainly also the employees themselves. Try to get clear what certain activities cost and what possible savings are. What does it yield if you invest, for example, in people’s knowledge and skills, in leadership development or in health interventions, such as an exercise program or a smoking cessation course?”

One of the returns, according to Bennink, is that a good vitality policy makes you attractive as an employer. This helps in retaining and attracting staff. “A nice touch in today’s job market.”

This article from PW was created in collaboration with De Friesland.First published by content marketing editorial team on Jun 17, 2021

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