Open letter to Ministers De Block and Peeters

Dear Ministers De Block and Peeters

I can no longer stay silent about the so-called well-being policy that you both instruct. I would not want to earn a living to support those who are at home, suffering from long-term illness! And I would not want to face the long-term absentees due to stress unless I write this letter now. As a stress and burn-out coach, I was trained in Belgium. So, I understand the curative language you use very well. As Chief Happiness Officer, I was trained in the Netherlands and Denmark and I really fail to understand that after all these years, you are still opting for a reactive policy that serves to reduce the number of sick people instead of boosting and maintaining the number of healthy and happy working people.

How is it possible, Minister De Block, that you rejoice at the policy that you, together with Minister Peeters, have put in place to “reverse the upward trend in the number of sick people” and are then satisfied with the fact that the number of people suffering from long-term illness increased by only (!) 4.9% in 2016 and 3.7% in 2017?! To me, they are not positive outcomes, on the contrary. In spite of your pilot projects …

As long as the number of long-term sick people continues to increase, there is something fundamentally wrong with our policy, wouldn’t you agree? In my opinion, it fails in 2 areas:

  • The curative approach leads to reactivity and therefore healthcare.
  • The legislation leads to companies that, on paper, are perfectly active in the field of well-being, but in reality, put little or nothing into practice.

If you really want to help the labour market as well as mankind, then we must get rid of the wait-and-see attitude, and dare to go for a proactive approach in which we can keep people in their strength; give those who are struggling the tools and the possibilities to regain their strength; and offer those who are absent due to illness the right support so that they can reintegrate permanently. And you don’t do that by imposing time pressure on them.

It is high time, dear Ministers, to really tackle the stress and burn-out epidemic. I therefore invite you both to talk to people from the field; people who work, day in and day out, with those who suffer from stress to a greater or lesser extent. I train, coach and talk to them every day – thousands of people a year.

I think of the countless people who desperately end up in our well-being training courses, often after much insistence on their part vis-à-vis their employer. They cannot go on, don’t know how to get through the next few days at the beginning of the working week; and at the end of the month, they barely manage to go out to get groceries. They are well looked after at work: their office chair provides a healthy (?!) sitting position, and should they become victims of bullying, they know who to turn to with their story. However, the direct manager sucks all the oxygen out of the team, causing many colleagues to fall ill or to run away. Too much work is landing on too few shoulders. Until they, too, face difficulties.

I’m also thinking of the “unlucky ones” who were brought up with the conviction that they must help their fellow man and, above all, shouldn’t stand up for themselves. Quite a challenge in today’s climate: hardly taking care of yourself, yet managing to keep your head above water. Many can continue down this path for quite a while, but only the exceptions will do so indefinitely.

I could go on for hours with examples of people like you and me who do their job with heart and soul, but have come up against (or lost – it’s all a matter of perspective …) themselves somewhere along the way. I would therefore like to insist that their voices be heard. In order to arrive at a collective and effective well-being policy that also provides for happiness at work. A policy that really leads to a better quality of life. Talk to me – please do!