Dutch Railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen)

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Converting the 70% in effort and monetary resources put towards the curative approach into 70% put towards prevention. This is the ambition of Marcus Hoen, Fit Prevention manager at NS. ‘The sooner we recognise and treat symptoms, the less time it takes to keep employees on the job or return them to work.’ Below is an interview with the Fit Prevention manager of the country’s largest transport provider about the timely recognition and identification of signs and the importance of communication.

‘NS emphasises prevention’

For a number of years, NS has actively addressed the health and vitality of its employees. Has this been due to necessity?
“At NS, there is an ever-growing focus on health and sustainable employability. When I started here three years ago, I told the then curative case manager, ‘I’m eventually going to put you out of a job’. People will obviously always become incapacitated, but it’s my ambition to increase the vitality of NS employees by intensifying prevention. I used to be a sports physiotherapist and have been involved in professional football and top-flight volleyball. Here, there was a lot of focus on prevention too. If your check the NS absenteeism figures from a few years ago, these were relatively high in relation to similar companies in the same sector. And, when fewer people are off sick, it’s simply easier to set up rosters. Like others, NS employees are required to work until the age of 67.”


So the core focus is on prevention instead of cure?
“A few years ago, our focus shifted towards addressing the @home group. This is the term we use to describe employees who are out of action for a long time. In the Netherlands, employers have a ten-year responsibility for employees who become incapacitated. This isn’t just bad for the persons who can no longer work, but is also a huge financial burden to employers. This is why we’re placing more and more focus on prevention. We aim to increase the 30% in effort and funds allocated to prevention to 70%.”



How many employees does NS actually have?
“We have 20,000 employees who work in four corporate divisions. NS Reizigers, with around 12,000 employees, manages all matters related to passengers. On-board staff and safety personnel work here. NS Stations employees the people responsible for the infrastructure and its development. The retail and service department, including employees from all retail outlets in station zones, also forms part of NS Stations. Then there is Nedtrain, which employs the people who service the trains. Finally, we have corporate staff, along with support staff. And there’s another division within NS that deals with social prevention, such as violence towards on-board staff and vandalism.

What does NS actually do in the field of vitality and sustainable employability?
“We apply a range of tools. Once every two years, all employees are invited to participate in the ‘Alles Best Test’. We developed this detailed medical examination in conjunction with Adaptics. The test is a combination of examinations related to lifestyle, occupational risks, possible complaints, work ability and psychological & physical state. Employees receive a personal report including specific recommendations based on a detailed online questionnaire and physical examination. Our provisional goal is a 50% uptake within three years. We provide plenty of information and organise fun promotions to encourage participation, such as games in which people can check – amongst others – their heartrates. On behalf of NS, my closest colleagues and I determine what we need. Then Adaptics or other specialists expertly and discerningly transform these needs into appropriate tools.”

What does NS do with the data from the Alles Best Test?
“We can assess a unit if fifteen or more questionnaires have been completed. If fewer than fifteen employees have participated, the data can be traced back to individuals. In such cases, we don’t use the data. If employees want the advice of a vitality coach, this can be provided by Adaptics. Our employees gratefully accept this offer. They see it as a gift from their employer. We insist that employees with health complaints take timely action themselves. We call the group with an increased risk of incapacitation (for whatever reason) the @risk group, and do our very best to ensure that these people don’t become ‘@homers’. This entails relieving pressure in advance, consulting a physiotherapist in good time and conducting management interviews in good time to determine what can be done to ease e.g. job pressure. We train managers in conducting employability interviews and we demand behavioural change from all NS employees. That’s no walk in the park. If you want to be able to identify problems on time, you have to make managers and employees aware of the fact that you are capable of recognising and acknowledging. This demands good communication, the very toughest sport out there.”

So communication is the toughest sport. Are you successful in communicating?
“With its focus squarely on its customers, NS is a ‘Supporter of action’. We offer activities like walks through WandelBart and have a presence at all kinds of sports events. This identifies us as a transport provider that promotes good health. And, when people travel by train, they are more active. We told ourselves that it would be great if we could make this same link to benefit our employees. For this reason, we’ve bundled together all health and vitality activities for NS staff and placed them under a banner called ‘Goed Bezig’. Tasks with this seal are easily recognisable to our employees. Good communication is essential, and I’m delighted with the communication and implementation plan that we and Adaptics have developed for the Alles Best Test. Stakeholders and decision-makers must be involved in plans at the earliest stage possible, and must be shown that this doesn’t involve extra work, but that the focus on vitality and sustainable employability has a true purpose. Without this, we won’t succeed. It’s also important to monitor and demonstrate the results of our efforts. Every week, I receive progress summaries from Adaptics. The next step is to make results tangible. Right now, we can’t yet show by how much certain efforts have actually reduced long-term absenteeism. But we can detect employees with less work ability in advance. A large number of such employees receive counselling. And we follow up on that. In this way, the @risk group has become much more visible and we can tackle their problems in a specific and committed way.”

What is your most important advice for similar organisations?
“Make sure that you have insight into your current situation and that you know where you want to go. Ensure that you have a good vision and that your goals are established. Bring concrete plans to the table and make sure that they get implemented.”


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