Positive health in a time of crisis

5th of November 2020
Positive health in a time of crisis

VSR’s John Griep reports from The Netherlands from a recent seminar on positive health.

How different meetings have been since March this year. So it was with our annual VSR summer event. Known for years for its eye-catching speakers and drinks on the terrace (somehow, it’s always nice weather). Only this year, not a meeting but a webinar. Instead of touching up the lipstick or straightening the tie, participants probably just got in from mowing the grass or hanging out the laundry. The theme was - how appropriate - ‘The world changes, but people don’t...’

Angelique Schuitemaker was our guest. She is the director of the Institute for Positive Health (IPH). Positive health is not only linked to physical health. Because, as she explains, you can feel good - and maybe even work - while you’re ill. Or feel ill when you’re (physically) healthy but suffering from stress.

The most important pillar of positive health is a sense of meaning and the way you influence that yourself. In other words, control. Angelique refers to the definition: ‘health is the ability to adapt and be in control in the light of life’s social, physical and emotional challenges’.

This is a task for employers. Because the healthier employees are, the more sustainably they can work. Schuitemaker: “Talk to employees: how can you keep doing your job well with everything that’s going on? Or - if you’re restricted by illness - what can you still do? What would you want? Look at possibilities. Then you’ll be contributing to positive health and a positive self-image. As an employer, there are cost benefits to this approach too.”

The Institute for Positive Health developed what it called a spider’s web and wrote a manual for employers called How Positive Health Fits into the Working Environment. “When you fill in the spider’s web, people discover where their quality lies. This can be an eye-opener, especially for people in ill health.” It is available in several languages.

You can also ask clients to make a positive contribution. Schuitemaker herself once organised a meeting for a group of external cleaners. At the time she was a client herself through her work in the healthcare sector. “I told the cleaning staff how important their work is. And we’d noticed that, for our clients, it was the contact with them that stuck in their minds the most. That was a very emotional meeting. A cleaner will begin to see themselves differently that way. They’ll think: I’m important.”

The conclusion is that the coronavirus crisis will not be the last crisis that befalls us. How do you prepare yourself and your employees for the next one? Schuitemaker says: “Everything keeps changing; innovations, the labour market. After the coronavirus crisis, there will be another one. You, as a human being, have to go through that all the time. For me, it’s all about the common thread: creating your own control and being willing to grasp it.”


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