Prevention in service voucher sector requires dedicated approach

The service voucher sector is extremely fragmented: cleaning and ironing staff usually work at several different locations that are not easily monitored by the employer, and they tend to work by themselves. This atypical situation requires a custom approach when it comes to preventing absenteeism, reducing staff turnover, and improving the well-being of workers.

“This sector is faced with some unique challenges”, says Pascal Meyns, prevention expert at Mensura. “Research by the Foundation Innovation & Work has revealed three major stumbling blocks when it comes to the well-being of workers in the service voucher system: they struggle with ergonomic health issues, isolation and a relatively low level of motivation. This also presents a problem for employers, who see these issues reflected in regular sickness absences and a higher turnover among their workforce.”

Up to 35% of cleaning and ironing staff working under the service voucher system struggle with motivation. This number is much lower—around 20%—in other industries in Flanders. Also higher are the rates of short-term absenteeism (16%) and long-term absenteeism (18%) when compared to other sectors. Pascal: “We are told that people working for service voucher companies frequently stay home to look after sick family members, or whenever they have a mild cold.” Pascal believes that this type of absenteeism is like the canary in the coal mine: “There is often a deeper underlying cause for frequent unscheduled absences. So that’s what we need to look at.” 

This problem is putting a lot of pressure on the sector. “These high absenteeism rates are shaving away at profits, and the motivational and ergonomic health issues are completely out of line with the idea of sustainable employability.”

Prevention advisors usually focus on optimising the workplace and preventing occupational accidents. However, in the service voucher sector this is not as straightforward as it sounds, as the workplace is usually a domestic residence. Pascal: “Having the prevention advisor visit thousands of privately owned residences is simply not feasible, let alone asking the owners to invest in the prevention of workplace hazards such as fall and tripping hazards, which are the most common causes of accidents in this industry.”

A different approach is therefore required. Pascal: “Rather than looking at each individual, we need to look at these employees as a group.” He advocates a staggered system: “Together with the HR departments of the service voucher companies, the external department will assess the employees’ situation. By analysing the entire group of workers within one company as a whole, we can more easily identify specific problem areas. We analyse the data gathered and translate our findings into an integrated, sustainable policy.”

A recent analysis showed, for instance, that the many Eastern European workers of one company were experiencing communication problems with their employer. “In these cases, we aim to invest in a contact person who speaks the mother tongue of the employees”, Pascal explains.

Consultants as a direct point of contact

After the in-depth analysis, consultants take over in the field. Pascal: “We need to ensure that these consultants are properly trained. They are the direct point of contact for those people working in the service voucher industry, and they pass on their knowledge to them. This helps to overcome fragmentation in the sector. Professional consultants are often also the first to observe new trends.”

“We like to give these consultants the opportunity to learn new languages to help them strengthen their relationship with the workforce. We train them in recognising psychosocial problems, even when these problems are not mentioned explicitly by the employee. The consultants also provide cleaning and ironing staff with tips and advice on ergonomic matters to improve their employability.”

“If any major issues are revealed through the data analysis or through these consultants, then we can start focusing on providing dedicated training for the cleaning and ironing staff of that specific company”, Pascal adds.

More motivation, less absenteeism

“The consultants act as a missing link between the prevention policy of a company, and their cleaning staff”, Pascal continues. “It makes a world of difference when these workers can go to someone who understands and supports them. By involving professional consultants, service voucher employees tend to be more committed and motivated.”

“As a result, the companies also face less worker absences. And, a positive prevention policy boosts their corporate image, which helps attract new staff.”

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