Madeline Dessing (UWV): ‘Meaningful Work Contributes to Employee Well-being’

Madeline Dessing (UWV): ‘Meaningful Work Contributes to Employee Well-being’
UWV, the public service provider assisting job seekers, is currently seeking new employees. The core of the recruitment campaign revolves around the idea that professionals at UWV get to do meaningful work with substantive challenges. ‘I recommend every company to explicitly mention significance,’ says HR Director Madeline Dessing, who is also an enthusiastic advocate for enhancing the well-being of colleagues.

How do I find and retain talent in today's tight labor market? Employers often pose this question. Madeline Dessing’s, HR Director of UWV, advice is to ‘Focus on the meaningfulness of the work.’ ‘Indicate to employees that they can make an impact when they join your organization and then grant them autonomy. This is how to ensure employee job satisfaction.’ Since last year, the public service provider has been recruiting with the campaign Working for UWV. Then you work for all of us. The website describes the work as tangible, dealing with the real issues of real people, giving the employee the opportunity to contribute to a society where everyone can participate. With over 22.000 employees, UWV is one of the largest employers in the Netherlands. The organization is looking for a diverse range of new staff – from insurance physicians and IT professionals to benefit specialists and customer advisors.
The opportunity to have a meaningful impact was what motivated Dessing to join UWV three years ago. This was a significant career move. The HR professional worked at the international consulting firm Korn Ferry for many years. She was managing director for the Netherlands and held various international management roles in Singapore and Hong Kong. Her time abroad deepened her appreciation for the Netherlands. ‘We have a fundamentally strong society. I realized it is easier to break down a good government than to build one.’ UWV's mission drew Dessing and she is happy with her move to the public service provider, even though it took some adjustment. ‘I went from an American publicly traded company to a government organization, from international to national, from a line role to a staff role.’ Initially, it was frustrating. ‘There were so many departments involved in the decision-making. Now, I understand why this careful deliberation is crucial – every decision needs to be able to be accounted for.’

What ambition did you bring to your position as HR Director at UWV?
‘I chose UWV because I deeply admire its mission. We work towards a society where everyone can participate and provide individuals, who temporarily are unable to work, with benefits. UWV employees are incredibly passionate about helping people find employment. When it comes to incapacity, we focus on what people can still do. We apply the human touch and tailor our approach when necessary. However, UWV’s image is not always as positive as it should be. I am committed to changing that.’

What have you achieved thus far at UWV?
‘UWV was formed through the merger of five social security agencies—Cadans, Gak, GUO, SFB, and USZO—and the principal, LISV. Additionally, UWV merged with CWI in 2002. This has resulted in numerous silos within the organization. We have different departments for applying for benefits, job placement, and medical assessments. Many clients who need our services need to navigate through these silos. We are currently working on providing a more integrated service for the clients. This requires a cultural shift within the organization and a redesign of our processes. We have made significant progress here.’

Is the experience you gained at previous employers useful at UWV?
‘I have extensive knowledge and experience in HR, such as understanding what does and what does not work in leadership development and how compensation is structured. I am very involved and loyal, but I am also capable of independently assessing situations. I want to investigate issues thoroughly and then seek solutions, a skill from my consultancy days. As HR Director at UWV, to be the guardian of the guidelines that govern UWV was something I needed to get accustomed to. It is important for both employees and management to take responsibility. It is not always comfortable to enforce these rules, but if we agree on certain guidelines, everyone must adhere to them.’

You started during the COVID-19 Pandemic. What impact did COVID-19 have on UWV?
‘What I have heard—since I was not working here at the time—is that the NOW scheme was implemented very swiftly. This created a profound sense of pride among employees. With this temporary support measure for entrepreneurs, UWV quickly addressed a significant societal need.
The pandemic also had an impact within the organization. Remote working was not really entrenched, for instance. The pandemic fundamentally changed that. Remote working is now fully accepted. We are, however, also struggling with it: like many other companies, we find it challenging to get people back to the office adequately. It works well in many areas, but not everywhere.’

What does the remote work policy look like?
‘If you want to maintain employee engagement with the team and the organization and continuously focus on their development, it is important to meet in the office regularly. Two days a week seems like a good baseline. That being said, it is crucial to have ongoing discussions about this subject between individuals, teams, and supervisors. If it works well for certain teams to meet once a week, that should be possible.
To manage remote work effectively, employees need to be in constant dialogue with their teams and supervisors. This keeps everyone connected and ensures the work comes to a proper conclusion. It also makes it easier to address those who have not been to the office in a while. Both remote work and office work merit attention throughout the organization. This is especially important with new employees to ensure they quickly feel integrated.’

UWV launched an employment campaign: Working for UWV. Then you work for all of us. What has been the outcome this far?
‘With this campaign, we showcase the uniqueness of working at UWV: you combine professional challenges with work that you do not only for yourself but also for society. This message resonates well. It has resulted in a larger pool of people considering UWV as a potential employer. It also enhances our brand recognition and fosters a more positive image. Many of the major government organizations recently launched recruitment campaigns, all emphasizing meaningful work. I find this noteworthy. It is excellent as people prioritize the meaningfulness of the work they do and are now more inclined to consider government organizations. This is of course also a reflection of the tight job market.’

Is it important for companies to run campaigns specifically focused on meaningful work?
‘Absolutely. I recommend every company explicitly address the significance of the work. Of course, this should align with reality. People need to feel that what they do is meaningful. If not, they will quickly move on.’

Parts of your organization are facing backlogs and a high workload. How are you addressing this?
‘For some time now, the demand for social-medical assessments has exceeded our capacity. This is due in part to a shortage of insurance physicians, as well as the aging population and the increase in the retirement age. Unfortunately, this demographic group is more prone to long-term absenteeism. We chose a more integrated approach to address this issue. We, for instance, implemented several measures with the ministry's approval. One example is the establishment of social medical centers. Multidisciplinary teams collaborate here on various, often more complex, cases. Responsibility for the content lies with an insurance physician, while the team serves as primary point of contact for the client. This team closely monitors the client's progress and ensures appropriate service delivery.’

How does UWV ensure employee well-being at work?
‘This is a major theme at UWV. We prioritize ensuring that our employees feel proud and energetic and enjoy their work while being sustainably employed. We promote a physically and mentally healthy lifestyle and work environment for our employees. We provide UWV staff with a wide range of preventive measures, from health checks, psychological support and workplace counseling to stress management courses.
Employees are free to utilize these resources without needing approval from their supervisors. Additionally, our employees can benefit from various provisions outlined in the collective labor agreement (CAO), aimed at maintaining vitality. These include access to a gym membership, a lease bike or the option to reduce working hours while maintaining full pension benefits. Furthermore, we offer a diverse range of training opportunities, allowing everyone to develop in a way that suits them best.’

Are these sufficiently utilized?
‘That sometimes still has a question mark. We invest a lot of energy into providing these resources, but with the amount of information available on our intranet, colleagues might struggle to navigate through it all. To promote employees' autonomy over healthy living and working, it is important for employees and supervisors to have open conversations. Does someone still enjoy their job? Is this person working on the right things? This dialogue is also essential in cases of absence, allowing employees and supervisors to establish appropriate return-to-work agreements and necessary support, perhaps through one of our employability coaches. Empowering employees to make choices for themselves is key. We know this leads to greater workplace happiness.’

UWV employees also fall ill. How do you separate these medical assessments from benefit provision?
‘We have a department called Special Affairs, which handles all requests from our own staff. They operate within a system that is securely ringfenced with strict protocols in place. The Special Affairs department was established to safeguard the privacy of our employees. But, also, to ensure the separation between UWV as an employer and UWV as an executor of social security laws. This prevents any appearance of conflict of interests. It would not be appropriate for an employee to assess a colleague’s case. This department in essence functions as a miniature version of UWV.’

What advice would you have for employers to improve employee well-being?
‘Be mindful of significance and create opportunities for continuous development aligned with your strategy. Strengthening expertise allows individuals to work with greater autonomy. At UWV, this translates to a personalized approach and a focus on the human touch in service delivery. This is what makes me proud.’

Do you have a final message for employers?
‘I totally align with UWV's mission, which emphasizes the importance of enabling everyone to participate fully. This touches the core of our society. At UWV, we have been striving for years to be a diverse and inclusive organization. We do, however, also recognize the accompanying challenges. We have an employee with a visual impairment, for instance. We do have various facilities available to support this colleague, but with many older systems this is not yet possible. We need to stay on top of these situations as we firmly believe that everyone should have the opportunity to participate fully. It requires ongoing attention. At the same time, I acknowledge this to be a significant demand on employers.’

This interview was published in Management Scope 06 2024.

This article was last changed on 25-06-2024