Vandeurzen’s in-company health coaches: a pointless measure?

As part of its health objectives, the Flemish government is planning to introduce in-company health coaches who would be working mainly in SMEs on a preventive health policy. “Their job will be to urge Flemish employees to go for the healthy alternative during working hours,” commented Flemish Minister for Welfare and Public Health Jo Vandeurzen. But, since companies can already seek their help outside their walls, what is the point of this initiative? Mensura General Director, Gretel Schrijvers, shares her thoughts.

In December 2016, De Standaard newspaper wrote about the new measures introduced by Minister Vandeurzen to implement the Flemish preventive health policy, which focuses on healthy eating, sedentary habits and physical activity, tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and mental health. Vandeurzen has earmarked 2.8 million euros for this policy. “In collaboration with VIGeZ, he will arrange for the training of health coaches and place them at companies to promote health,” explains Gretel Schrijvers.

“The reasoning behind this initiative? The labour force is easily accessible via the workplace. And since work and health influence each other, health efforts in the workplace should also have a positive impact on people’s private life. In addition, the Flemish Government considers that the implementation of health policies in Flemish companies could be improved, especially for SMEs, which usually take few steps when it comes to health promotion and disease prevention.”

In-company Health Coach vs. external consultant

Gretel Schrijvers: “But what this new measure seems to ignore is the fact that many companies already rely on an external service for health prevention and protection at work. While external consultancy services originally focused on the prevention of occupational risks, they now also offer advice on absenteeism and healthy habits, for example. Companies using those services are actually encouraging their employees to adopt a healthy (healthier) lifestyle at work.”

“So, are entrepreneurs waiting for such an in-company health coach? Why would a company accept to integrate an additional player if its external consultancy partner is already providing support in several areas, including the physical and mental health of employees? What’s more, an in-company health coach does not have the necessary knowledge and background on the company in question (e.g. history, sensitivities, or issues). Will employees take his or her advice if he/she does not know them and is not familiar with their health record?”

On the same side

“While Vandeurzen’s in-company health coaches and external consultants basically pursue the same goals and are therefore on the same side in this matter, it is more logical to entrust the external consultants with the task of health promotion. They are better equipped for the job and are already providing the necessary services and products. External consultants should therefore be at least involved in Vandeurzen’s initiative. The well-being of the population must somehow override a strict separation of statutory tasks.”