MS Week 2018: how reintegration allowed Martine to resume work

The annual MS Week takes place from August 30 to September 9. On this occasion, the MS League raises awareness on multiple sclerosis, a chronic neurological disorder that affects an estimated 10,000 Belgians. Working with multiple sclerosis is a challenge, but with the necessary adjustments, it is possible.

This is also the experience of Martine, employed at Tower Automotive. Following her diagnosis and sick leave in 2013, Mensura, together with the supplier and manufacturer of car parts, devised a step-by-step plan for her reintegration. Veerle Van Kerckhove, HR Professional at Tower Automotive, made sure everything went according to that plan.

Why has Tower Automotive chosen to focus on progressive reintegration?

Veerle: “Work can be quite physical for our employees sometimes: welding, lifting or repetitive movements can be rather taxing for the body. After a period of incapacity for work, it is therefore not easy to start working full-time immediately. By gradually increasing the number of working hours and the intensity of the tasks, the body has time to adjust. In so doing, we focus on healing and not on performance.”

“The ultimate goal, of course, is that after a certain period of time, the employee will be able to do the job full-time again. It is also important not to lose sight of the knowledge and expertise that employees have built up.”

“And we want to be realistic, for the employee as well as the colleagues. We cannot expect every returning employee to be able to perform his or her former job fully. Among other factors, this depends on the job content before the employee became incapacitated and the available positions upon his or her return. In some situations, reintegration is unfortunately not possible.”

In practice, how did Martine’s reintegration as an MS sufferer proceed?

Martine: “Personally, I was not aware of the possibility of reintegration; it was Veerle who approached me with this suggestion. As soon as I agreed, the ball started rolling. Soon I was able to work part-time again. That helped me a lot: it got me out of my cocoon and gave my life a new purpose.”

Veerle: “In consultation with the occupational physician, we created a reintegration plan that included an adapted work station, a gradual build-up of working hours and physical workload and an internal coach for Martine. She got a raised stool, moved to a less demanding department and her function was filled flexibly.”

How did colleagues receive the adjustments?

Veerle: “When Martine was absent, her colleagues, who took over part of her tasks, had to be very flexible. It goes without saying that such a situation can only be maintained temporarily. To make that possible, we ensured that Martine’s colleagues were fully aware of the situation. Open communication is crucial to get support and give the reintegration process a chance to succeed. Fitting everything into place was a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, and the process was definitely not a bed of roses. But, in the end, we succeeded as a team!”

Martine: “I feel a lot of respect from my colleagues. They regularly ask me how I am doing and offer help. This seamless collaboration and social contacts are very important to me. And the feeling of having something meaningful to contribute once again to society is priceless. At the same time, I think it’s amazing that my employer has done so much for me. I am therefore happy that, thanks to my nomination, the company won the title of MS@WORK AWARDS 2017.”

Is your organisation already working on reintegration?

Mensura guides you at practical and policy levels in the reintegration of employees on long-term sick leave. We help you draw up a reintegration policy, start reintegration processes and prevent fade-out. Read all about our approach.