Friday, January 09, 2009

What's The Matter With Belgium?

Front page article in today's WSJ looked at the problems that Belgium is having with workers taking time off for sick leave:

Belgians, like many Europeans, are entitled to extensive or even unlimited sick leave -- and they tend to stretch the definition of the word. One study showed government employees in droves were calling in sick to pack before vacations and to sleep off holiday hangovers. Some government departments were averaging 35 days of paid sick leave per employee each year, more than twice the national rate and seven times the U.S. average.

This story is priceless:

Mr. Lombard's method found a recent subject in Fabrice Vandervelpen, a 36-year-old manager at a frozen-vegetable packing plant in southern Belgium. In September, he called in sick. His girlfriend of six months had just left him, he says. A psychiatrist diagnosed him with depression and certified him for medical leave.

"I stopped by his house that evening," says Jean Dubuission, human-resources director at Hesbaye Frost SA, Mr. Vanderpleven's employer. Mr. Dubuission had recently listened to Mr. Lombard's presentation. He advised the younger man to "get out, play sports, meet other people."

Mr. Vandervelpen says he spent his first two weeks off writing poetry at his parents' home, where he lives. His mother, Marie-Jane, often took him shopping for new clothes, she says. He played soccer again with his local club, FC Burdinne, and volunteered as club treasurer. He visited a Catholic shrine in Banneux, Belgium, where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in 1933.

In November, Mr. Vandervelpen bought a bright red Alfa Romeo MiTo for $30,000. Zipping through the hills and sugar-beet fields in his new car made him feel better, he says. He visited his ex-girlfriend and went to parties. Mr. Dubuission visited a dozen times.

If the law didn't mandate paid sick leave, he would have gone back to work sooner, says Mr. Vandervelpen. Hesbaye Frost paid his full salary for the first month he was off. After that, a government-backed insurance company picked up 80% of his salary, which the law guarantees indefinitely. "The government keeps €1,000 [about $1,357] a month in taxes off me, so why shouldn't I get help when I don't feel well?" he asks. He makes €2,500 before taxes.

On Dec. 22, Mr. Vandervelpen did return to work. The visits of Mr. Dubuission and other bosses had impressed him. "They've showed they care," he says. He asked for a new, higher-ranking job -- and less interaction with workers -- at the same pay, in order to cut down on the stress. The company says it is considering the request.

Dude gets dumped by his girlfriend so he takes two months off from work (paid) to recover. During that time we writes poetry, get his parents to buy him clothes, buys a new car, and hits parties. Then, he returns to work and asks for a promotion (at the same pay) because he can't handle the stress. Hmmm...I wonder why international companies are reluctant to invest resources in Western Europe?

Couldn't have anything to do with this attitude, could it?

In the pension data-entry department where she works, "when you need a day off to see your kids or something, you call in sick," says Alessandro Scalzo, a colleague. "When I wake up tired, I usually take a sick day," says Evelyne Boux, another co-worker.

Yawn. I'm a little beat today too. I wonder how calling in "tired" would go over with my boss?

No comments:

Post a Comment