As the long-serving Head of HR Health Management at the insurer Basler Versicherungen Switzerland, Jacqueline Schreiber is close to the company’s employees and understands their needs and concerns. In a two-part interview, she discusses the changing needs of employees and the way in which her department’s range of services has developed. Schreiber says that she has seen the pressure on members of staff increase in recent years but she also calls on employees to assume responsibility for themselves.
Claudia Kraaz: Ms Schreiber, which services does your department offer for the employees and management of Basler Switzerland?
Jacqueline Schreiber: We provide a very broad range of services. Our measures to promote employee health comprise numerous offerings in the areas ‘My Health’ and ‘My Workspace’. That includes information and events about healthy eating, tips on exercising daily, relaxation and ways of combating stress, work/life balance and monthly health tips, not to mention a range of offerings and courses such as yoga, pilates, jogging, Nordic walking and an in-house massage service. Earlier this year, we also launched a cooperation agreement with a fitness center so that our employees can take out annual membership at a very attractive price. Another of our offerings with a high level of take-up consists of ergonomic reviews and advice on employee workspaces; this is available throughout Switzerland. We have a portal on our Intranet that contains up-to-date information on all of these subjects. In addition, we run regular information events with external speakers. The most recent example was an event about male health.
Do you also offer a special program to promote the health of your management team?
We offer managers individual training modules on the topic of leadership and health that cover aspects such as how to manage employees who are displaying signs of psychological strain, how to achieve a balanced life and how to become resilient. Presence management is another area in which we offer management training: Here, the focus is on managing employee absences. We also train managers so that they are better able to gauge the wellbeing of employees who are not sick. We talk to them about topics such as mental health. We have also developed guidelines on how managers should act in the case of employees who are not delivering a satisfactory performance.
From paralysis to action
Which services do you offer employees who are facing difficulties and are under considerable pressure?
Together with the two employees in my team, I am also responsible for case management for the whole of Basler Switzerland. Unlike other companies, we have our own in-house case management service. We support employees and their line managers if someone falls ill. Furthermore, we serve as a confidential point of contact for employees who are experiencing problems in their daily lives. It may be that they are suffering from a sleep disorder, are in financial difficulties or are faced with a conflict situation in the workplace. We help them to gain the confidence to bring about change and to draw on their own resources so that they are once again capable of taking action. Around half of all the cases we handle involve employees who are not signed off sick. It is a matter of preventing them from becoming unable to work or from having their employment relationship terminated.
Has the pressure on employees grown in recent years?
Yes, there has been a clear increase in the amount of pressure they are under – but that is not related solely to their workload. The pace of life has increased. We are less focused on certain activities and we constantly check our smartphones – even when at work. I have noticed this among our apprentices in particular. Nowadays, it is a major challenge to avoid being constantly distracted. The flexible working models available today offer numerous advantages – such as allowing a parent to attend an appointment at their child’s school in the afternoon. However, if the parent has to compensate for this time off during the evening, he is not fully in one place or the other: While he is at the school event, the employee will still see that his boss has written him an e-mail. This means that there is not really a clear boundary between work and leisure time – and that makes it more difficult to recuperate.
Much less repetitive work
In which other respects has daily working life changed in recent years?
We do much more project work nowadays. That means that we are expected to assume more responsibility for our own work and we can have greater influence over exactly what we want to do. Most people do much less repetitive work today because such tasks are now automated. However, independent project work does not suit everyone. In addition, employees are expected to be highly motivated and to regularly go out and network, etc. – and this can be a source of considerable stress for individuals who find this difficult.
Does that mean the number of people suffering from exhaustion is much higher than before?
The number of people suffering from exhaustion has risen. What is important is to recognize that employees have to be responsible for themselves to a large extent. They have to learn to set clear boundaries, to stay focused and to relax and recuperate. At Basler, exhaustion is not a taboo subject. We want people to talk about it since that is the only way that the affected individuals will come to us and we can then intervene in good time. This enables us to prevent more cases of illness from occurring.
What is the reason for the marked increase in the number of cases of mental illness and exhaustion in recent years?
Most of us find it difficult to cope with the hectic pace of life and constant distractions, which is why we find ourselves suffering from exhaustion more rapidly. At the same time, people are nowadays probably more willing to go and see a psychiatrist – and that is a good thing in many cases. Overall, the number of diagnosed cases of burnout is rising. However, my experience of such cases suggests that this is not so much due to working models as to the fact that many people fail to take control of their lives and to order them properly. The reality is that we are working less than ever before. We have more leisure time but we are also very driven in this respect and we spend the whole time thinking about what we should be doing. In other words, we are also placing ourselves under pressure.
What is the reason for this pressure on today’s younger generation?
I have seen that young people, including apprentices, are often very stressed. They put themselves under a lot of pressure to perform even better – in every respect. They are always comparing themselves with others and this tendency has been heightened by social media. Young people are then also never satisfied with what they have achieved. There is always something better.
Jacqueline Schreiber (aged 45) has been Head of HR Health Management and Case Management at Basler Switzerland since 2006. Prior to that, she worked in a rehab clinic run by social services. Jacqueline Schreiber is a qualified social education specialist and has an MAS in Social Legislation. In April 2010, Basler became the first all-lines insurance company in Switzerland to be awarded the ‘Friendly Work Space’ label by Gesundheitsförderung Schweiz, a Swiss foundation that promotes health and wellbeing and is supported by the Swiss cantons and insurers.
The second part of the interview with Jacqueline Schreiber will be published on October 24, 2017. It focuses on the different responsibilities of employers and employees and looks at the way in which occupational health management needs have changed in recent years.
© Claudia Kraaz