As a corporate physician and lifestyle coach, I resent that more is not being done to improve employee health. There is a responsibility and task on employers.
Healthier employees are employable longer, reduce health care costs for society and are happier. But many companies still use deep frying, and a few discourage smoking.
It’s not just employers who need to create a healthy workplace. The government should focus lifestyle initiatives more on employers. It now mainly addresses schools and associations. While many people spend most of their time at work.
Between dream and work
But above all, we should take a broader view and give company doctors more “power.” The problem is that between dream and action, laws stand in the way. And practical, and often financial, objections.
Take, for example, the Case of Kubert Kress. This gardening company provides employees with free healthy lunches. A great initiative that allows people to retire healthier. But tax authorities and judges consider these free meals to be wages in disguise. As a result, Koppert Cress has to pay over €100,000 in back payroll tax.
Therefore, smaller and less affluent companies that want to do good will think twice. How much is health worth? If survival is threatened, the choice is made quickly.
There are further obstacles to tackling an unhealthy lifestyle – which in many cases is the (partial) cause of obesity, stress and cardiovascular disease. Since seventy percent of long-term absenteeism is related to our lifestyle, company doctors are the ideal people for lifestyle advice.
But a referral from a company doctor to a proven method such as a joint lifestyle intervention is not reimbursed; Except for Menzies Health Insurance Company.
This referral must be made via a GP; Additional threshold. Even when we, as Arbo Unie, want to set up such a process in-house, we face obstacles from all kinds of rules.
Health insurance companies let people get sick first; It is easier to estimate these costs. But then it was already too late. An example of this is participating in a lifestyle intervention. People with a body mass index (BMI) above 30 are eligible for this.
Also people with a BMI over 25, but only if they have an additional condition. While anyone with a BMI above 25 obviously benefits from it. Should we wait for all these people to file additional complaints?
There is also insufficient attention to the importance of a healthy lifestyle in general practitioner and hospital care. As long as we allow advertisements for diabetes medications, when we can often prevent this disease through lifestyle, we are doing the wrong thing.
This also applies to adjusting clothing sizes since more and more people are overweight. As a society we must focus more broadly on lifestyle. What it does for sustainable employment is severely underrated.
In addition, as a company doctor, I would like to have broader powers and provide more convincing advice to companies. Why can’t the Labor Inspectorate assess whether the work environment encourages a healthier lifestyle? Why don’t we look at how long someone sits in a day, rather than their posture?
Ultimately, everything and everyone is needed: from primary schools – also the foundation for a healthy life – to employers. But certainly also health insurance companies and the government. They must remove obstacles to implementing a healthy lifestyle in the workplace. Only then can we truly make this work.
Jenny Noorder is Arbo Unie’s corporate physician and lifestyle expert
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