Blog May 24, 2023 |

Celebrating European Mental Health Week: A Q&A with BlueConic’s Steffie Middendorp

Earlier this month, we spoke with members of BlueConic’s People Team about overcoming the stigma of mental illness and how the company provides support for those living with mental health issues. But mental health isn’t just a crisis in the US alone - billions of people around the globe struggle with feelings of anxiety, fear, isolation, and depression, making it the leading cause of disability worldwide.

As a company with Dutch roots and an office in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, BlueConic supports both Mental Health Awareness Month (May) in the US and Mental Health Week (22-28 May 2023) in Europe. We sat down with Steffie Middendorp, our People Operations Manager in Nijmegen, to understand how conceptions and stigma around mental health, as well as how policies and practices around mental health recovery, differ between the US and The Netherlands.

Why does BlueConic recognize mental health week in Europe?

Steffie: Mental health is universal and essential for thriving societies—and thriving workplaces. Young or old, we all need better knowledge, skills, and support to take care of our mental health. By celebrating European Mental Health Week, we hope to increase understanding and learning about mental health in our communities, schools, homes, and our workplace, so that everyone can thrive and flourish at every stage of life.

What resources does BlueConic make available for Dutch employees who are impacted by mental illness, either directly or indirectly?

Steffie: In the Netherlands, employees can get support from a company doctor, who guides the individual and offers tips about what to do if they are struggling mentally. As the People Operations Manager, I will also work with their direct manager to help and guide the employee towards taking the right steps, whether that’s counseling, some form of online mental health support, or a combination of the two.

However, we also leave the decision whether to disclose mental illness at work up to the employee. For example, in the Netherlands, employees are able to get a preventive consult with a company doctor to talk about any mental health issues that they are going through, without the employer knowing.

How do policies and practices around mental health and mental health recovery differ between the US and The Netherlands?

Steffie: As a company, we offer many of the same resources that are available in the US, such as compassionate leave and regular manager and People Ops check-ins.

However, the laws around mental health recovery are a little different in the Netherlands. For example, employees can receive guidance from a company doctor for two years, during which time the goal is to help the employee feel good enough to start working some hours again. The employer and employee create a plan of action whereby all the reintegration steps are mapped out and reviewed every six weeks.

With many BlueCrewer’s working from home, what supports has BlueConic put in place around hybrid working (i.e., how do you ensure employees get a good work/life balance?)

Steffie: Regular manager and People Ops check-ins ensure that our team feels empowered to use their PTO and other available resources. In addition, our Dutch employees are free to schedule their day according to what works best for them. For example, we want to make sure employees can pick up their kids from school during work hours if necessary, or go for a run.

How do you prioritize your own mental health?

Steffie: Yoga, mindfulness, weekends away on my own, reading, and keeping a journal are all priorities for me. I also block time in my calendar that’s reserved for ‘me time’.

Despite over 200 million workdays lost due to mental health conditions each year, mental health remains a taboo subject. What can leadership be doing to encourage open conversations and break this taboo?

Steffie: There’s a number of things management could and should be doing. For example, they should be open about their own experiences, encourage taking time off, and actually take that time off to set the right example for their teams. And finally, they can point to the benefits BlueConic offers for improving mental health, such as:

Headspace: Available to employees for free, Headspace is a meditation app with over 1,000 hours of exercises to help employees live their whole day mindfully.

Compassionate leave: BlueConic provides paid time away from work to grieve and to handle matters in the event of a death of someone important to an employee.

Yoga sessions: A couple times a year, one of the NL BlueCrew (who is also a certified yoga teacher) gives 30-minute online yoga lessons where the whole company can join.

FriYaYs: During the summer, employees can sign off at 2pm local time on Fridays to get a head start on the weekend.

Bookclub: Bookclub offers employees opportunities to connect with one another by reading a book each month, sharing their opinions, and exploring deeper meanings they found within the text.

Shout outs: Also known as shots of positivity, shout outs give managers the opportunity to reward employees and teams for the impact of their efforts during regularly scheduled company meetings.

Contribution to healthcare: In the Netherlands, having health insurance is mandatory. Because we believe it’s important that all employees can afford quality healthcare, BlueConic pays a monthly contribution.

Bike plan: All NL employees who pay taxes in the Netherlands are entitled to the BlueConic bike plan. Employees receive a net amount from which they can buy a new bike, which gets paid back over time from their gross salary so that employees can enjoy a gross/net advantage up to 40% of the bike price.

Research has shown that the younger generations, who are more connected than ever through social media and technology, are actually lonelier than ever. In this new hybrid working environment, what can companies be doing to ensure teams still feel connected?

Steffie: Regular manager and People Ops check-ins are key, but we also have a very active #Netherlands slack channel to help employees feel more engaged and connected at work. We also organize a lot of activities and remote outings, like rock wall climbing, volleyball, and themed lunches, that offer employees opportunities to bond outside of the workplace.

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