Having a fitness program doesn't make you a sustainable employer

Guido Heezen

These days organisations will do everything they can to keep ageing employees healthy as long as possible, but they often forget to invest in their personal development.

Having a fitness program doesn’t make you a sustainable employer

Sustainable employability is a hot topic. Not surprisingly, since the retirement age is steadily going up. Here in the Netherlands, retirement is up from 65 to 67 years. So how can employers promote sustainable employability in older generations? A lot of Dutch companies think it’s enough to offer a fitness program, discounts at a gym, or start offering salads for lunch, but is it enough?

The employers’ dilemma

It isn’t easy to break a habit, especially one that’s deemed “unhealthy”. If you push too hard, you’ll be met with resistance. Some employees will welcome the measures for a healthy lifestyle. The only thing is, typically they’re the ones who didn’t really need encouragement to begin with. They’ve just been offered an additional benefit. However others might not take the initiative so well. They may end up feeling patronised if their employer interferes with their personal lifestyle choices. Feelings of rejection may arise because apparently, they’re not valued for who they are.

The focus on employees’ health is understandable. They’re not responsible for the lifestyle of their employees, but when an employee falls ill and is unable to work, it’s the employer that foots much of the bill. Dutch companies can pay-out of 75 percent of an employee’s salary, for up to two years, on top of significant premium increases. Understandably, chronic illness/disability of employees is a business risk. It makes sense that employers want to minimise this risk by trying to keep their employees healthy or employing flexible part-time workers.

Personal development

Would it be better if employers are less responsible for the damages facing chronically ill or disabled employees? I argue that, ageing employees would then be seen as less of a business risk, and organisations could focus on making matured employees permanently employable. Physical ability would no longer be a main condition for employment.

Ask questions

If you really want employees to last longer, you have to have to know if your older employees are comfortable in their own skin. Do they still enjoy going to work? Do they feel appreciated? Do they have opportunities to develop? By having a genuine interest in the well-being of your employees, the chances that they will stay healthy for longer significantly increase. And they will be better for it, becoming more enthusiastic and involved in their work.

This is why it’s so important to continue to invest in the personal and functional development of ageing employees. However this often isn’t the case. Typically employers will stop investing in employees who reach the age of 50, and there is no real justification for this. Especially since an employee who has turned 50, still has at least fifteen more years left in their career. As they’re not likely to change jobs within this period, it makes sense to offer older employees training and development opportunities, even if they may be a bit more conformed or slightly less flexible.


Research into personal development is really what is needed to help older employees continue to work with purpose. Keep them motivated, inspired, and involved. Development can be through education or training, or a change in work environment. But it can also be through meditation exercises. Look at Google, for years they’ve offered employees courses in practicing mindfulness – teaching them to cope with stress and negativity in the workplace.

Don’t only focus on the body. See the human. And you’ll see there’s still a long way to go.