Mental health in Dutch workplaces: an expert’s tips (and signs of a top employer)

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Moving to the winding canals and quaint windmills of the Netherlands can be the adventure of a lifetime. For many, it can also be the chance for a far healthier work-life balance in one of the most progressive countries on the planet.

However, life isn’t always sunshine and tulips in the lowlands. Creeping in through the windows and lurking in the shadows is a problem that many internationals suffer from: mental health issues (psychische klachten). 

Sapping your energy and replacing it with anxiety, doom, and gloom, these ailments nudge the brakes on your journey to a perfect new life in the Netherlands.

Image: Yvo in den Bosch/Supplied

So what’s the problem? And what should your employer be doing to help? We sat down with Dr Yvo in den Bosch, a therapist at Dutch mental health clinic, U-center to find out more. 

Expats at risk

“The most recurring issues are loneliness and isolation, and depression as a result of that,” says In den Bosch.

READ MORE | Why expats struggle with mental health in the Netherlands — and what you can do about it

He notes that these difficulties go “hand-in-hand with substance abuse, especially if the aforementioned diagnoses aren’t noticed.”

This is especially true of internationals with comorbid diagnoses, which involve two or more disorders occurring in the same individual, at the same time. 

These diagnoses “require a whole different approach”, according to In den Bosch, as many of these individual ailments will not be picked up during a routine session with a psychologist (psycholoog).

Adapting to a Dutch workplace can be a struggle

Got a brand, spanking new job in the Netherlands? Gefeliciteerd met je nieuwe baan! (Congratulations on your new job!)

However, for many international employees, that joy is tempered by the stress of having to deal with the struggles of adapting to life in a foreign country.

Dutch workplaces have a specific culture that might feel strange for internationals. Image: Depositphotos

In den Bosch notes that there are a number of significant hurdles that internationals may have to navigate when getting a job in the Netherlands, including:

  • Difficulty adapting to the individualistic Dutch working environment
  • Isolation, loneliness, and homesickness
  • Anxiety (angst/bezorgdheid) about coming off as a “bad employee” for struggling
  • Depression (depressie) stemming from the aforementioned issues
  • Substance abuse in an attempt to cope

In addition to these issues, an international employee’s home environment can also be an additional stressor when it comes to adapting to life in the Netherlands.

READ MORE | Mental healthcare in the Netherlands: all you need to know for 2023

“If their spouses come to the Netherlands with them, the spouse also tends to have a big challenge integrating into society, especially if they aren’t in a working environment that can help them,” says In den Bosch.

Working from home can also place extra strain on mental health. Image: Freepik

This can put an extra strain on the working partner, as their home might no longer be a safe space to get away from the stress they have accumulated throughout the workday.

As a result, In den Bosch says that international employees looking for the best tools to succeed will need to keep an eye out for employers that prioritise the mental health of their workforce.

On the hunt for mental health specialists that are experts on comorbid diagnoses?

U-center, a mental health clinic nestled in South Limburg’s peaceful countryside, might be just what the doctor ordered.

Experienced in dealing with both international and Dutch patients alike, U-center is dedicated to treating patients that suffer from a cluster of mental health issues that often go undiagnosed by ordinary sessions with a psychologist.

Signs that a Dutch employer values mental health

Just like the various fixings the Dutch have for your boterham (sandwich), employers in the Netherlands come in many different shapes and forms, and not all are as sweet and comforting as a thick layer of hagelslag.

Whilst there’s no surefire way to determine if your new boss is a good egg, here are some signs that point to a business prioritising its employees’ mental health. 👇

There’s a proper onboarding programme

Dreaming of boarding a shuttle for a leuke new job on Mars? Unfortunately, onboarding has nothing to do with space travel, but it can definitely be fun (and necessary!).

Referring to the process by which new employees are integrated into the working environment, onboarding can involve tours of the building or facility, introductory presentations, training sessions, and a lighter workload.

Being trained properly is a good signal that a workplace knows what they’re doing. Image: Freepik

This is vital when firms in the Netherlands employ internationals, who are most likely unfamiliar with the individualistic nature of the Dutch workforce.

In fact, In den Bosch recommends that employers “invest in a decent onboarding procedure, dedicated to people from a different cultural background to help them integrate and connect.”

So, if your dream job offers you a comprehensive onboarding programme, it’s likely a sign that they care about the mental health and well-being of their employees.

They employ a counsellor or mental health coach

Even for those of us that absolutely love our jobs, there are times we’re caught up in a messy web of stress and want to rip our own hair out. If the thought of managing those emotions on your own sounds overwhelming, you’re not alone.

According to In den Bosch, employers that value mental health ensure that their employees “have regular check-in moments with a coach or supervisor, so they can establish a safe connection with somebody they can confide in.”

A good workplace is one that recognises the benefits of mental health support. Image: Freepik

This is especially important for internationals that are scared of broaching the subject at work, as having “a person from a firm or organisation introducing that topic will be really helpful in preventing these issues from spiralling.”

You can think of it as an early warning system that catches destructive thoughts or behaviours before they have a chance to grow into disorders that are far more difficult to treat. 

This, in turn, gives you a fighting chance at being the best employee you can be — minus a significant chunk of the stress! 💪

Is that new job you’re eyeing at a company with a counsellor or mental health coach on staff? Hoera, you’ve picked a business that prioritises its workforce.

They focus on gradual reintegration after mental health issues

Jumping right back into the saddle after you’ve suffered a bad fall can be dangerous — not to mention terribly painful. Heading back to work after you’ve battled a burnout or similar mental health struggles is equally as challenging.

The key, according to In den Bosch, is a gradual reintegration into the workforce “in a way that is manageable.” He adds that the employees “may still be dealing with a lot of health issues, or psychological issues, so they need time to invest in that and carry on with their therapy.”

As such, In den Bosch advises that employees are reintegrated with two-hour workdays. Following an evaluation after two weeks’ time, their working hours can either be extended or shortened as their mental health dictates.

Going back to work after a mental health struggle is hard, but it doesn’t have to stress you out!

U-center’s team of specialists offer a seven-week reintegration programme for employees dealing with mental health. Committed to getting you back on your feet again, their programme also dramatically reduces your risk of relapsing. See their unique approach. 

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: companies that don’t value your health aren’t worth the time. 💅

They encourage employees to socialise outside of the work environment

It comes as no surprise that the inventors of the borrel love their after-work drinks, especially if there are steaming, hot bitterballen or kaassouffles on the side.

In addition to being delicious, finger-licking fun, In den Bosch confirms that businesses that organise social activities like borrels, sporting events, and other social gatherings are essentially waving a giant, green flag.

Spending time with your coworkers can strengthen bonds and provide a support network. Image: Depositphotos

Dubbing these “conducive to overall mental health”, In den Bosch notes that it’s vital for businesses to invest in the social and physical well-being of their workforce.

If you’re heading to some work borrelavondjes or trips in the near future, then you’re very likely employed (or soon to be employed) at a company that cares about the wellbeing of its workforce!

Dealing with mental health issues will never be easy, but the important thing is arming yourself with the best tools to overcome your diagnosis.

Are you battling your own mental health issues at the moment? You don’t have to do it alone. Reach out to the specialists at U-center to arrange the treatment that’ll work best for you.

Feature Image:Freepik
Liana Pereira 🇱🇰
Liana Pereira 🇱🇰
Liana juggles her role as an Editor with wrapping up a degree in cognitive linguistics and assisting with DutchReview's affiliate portfolio. Since arriving in the Netherlands for her studies in 2018, she's thrilled to have the 'write' opportunity to help other internationals feel more at home here — whether that's by penning an article on the best SIMs to buy in NL, the latest banking features, or important things to know about Dutch health insurance.

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