Increase in Flat Rate Reimbursement
As costs related to homework are relatively small and difficult to prove, the social security authorities (RSZ/ONSS) and the tax authorities accept to estimate these costs on a lump sum basis. The office allowance is intended to cover, among other things, costs for heating, electricity, water, insurances, office supplies and refreshments.
The social security authorities have indicated in their intermediary administrative guidelines that the office allowance is indexed again. The maximum amount of 140.15 EUR, which applied from 01.06.2022 until 31.08.2022, has been increased to 142.95 EUR per month as of 01.09.2022.
The tax authorities had already indicated in their circular letter of 26.02.2021 that they would follow the amount of the office indemnity as determined by the social security authorities, as well as the evolution of this amount. The amount of 142.95 EUR is therefore exempt from social security contributions and taxes.
The amount of 142.95 EUR is a maximum amount. It is therefore not mandatory to grant this maximum amount, but you are free to increase the amount to 142.95 EUR per month as of 01.09.2022.
We would also like to remind you that a written agreement must be drawn up for teleworkers, in principle at the latest when the employee starts teleworking. In this agreement, specific mandatory provisions must be included such as the place where the telework will be performed, how the costs will be reimbursed, etc.
Other Indemnities for Working from Home
In addition to the office allowance, the employer can also reimburse the following costs on a lump sum basis:
- 20 EUR per month if the employee uses his/her own internet connection for professional purposes.
- 20 EUR per month if the employee uses his/her own computer for professional purposes.
10 EUR per month (5 EUR per item) for the professional use of a personal second computer screen and printer/scanner (and this for a maximum of 3 years). Attention, this allowance cannot be combined with the lump sum of 20 EUR per month for the use of the own PC.
These indemnities have not been increased: the maximum amounts remain the same.
The lump sum amounts can of course only be granted if the office and internet costs are not yet reimbursed to the employee in another way.
Inform your Payroll Business Partner if you wish to increase the current lump-sum office allowance.
On the one hand we have the employer who feels they lost a certain amount of control of their team during lockdown, because what precisely were staff up to when they were at home? And on the other we have the employees who quite enjoy having the flexibility to walk the dog mid-afternoon or run a quick load of laundry during working hours. Understandably companies are keen to keep their employees in the workplace as it helps them feel more in control. And, of course, social cohesion remains essential to a strongly aligned team. But as long as targets, deadlines, and KPIs are being met, is there a problem? And how can you create a safe, respectful and balanced working environment for all?
ROI vs. ROT
“People need structure, and work-from-home has blurred boundaries,” says Willemijn. “Before Covid you’d get into your car, drive to work, do your eight hours and then return home again. Things were clear. WFH means the kids asking for a snack, a delivery that needs signing for, screens freezing mid-meeting and questions needing to be repeated… The symbolic mask that we wear for work – at work you are in function, at home you can be your authentic self – has cracked now our professional and private lives have become so entwined. Calling a colleague at 4pm is perfectly reasonable, but experience tells us they might already have poured themselves a glass of wine after a full working day.”
“We’ve always been told that, in order to be successful, we must work hard. But what precisely does that mean? Is it working from nine to five, is it being busy-busy-busy whenever someone asks how you are? What precisely is the measure of success? Companies tend to think in return-on-investment: what they get in return for the employee’s remuneration. But perhaps we should start talking about return-on-time – or ROT – instead of ROI: if you are better able to focus on that report when the house is quiet, then surely that represents better value for the company. However, if your boss rings while you’re showering at 10am because you were working late, they might think you are slacking, even though the opposite is true. It’s hugely important to understand that perspectives differ and a lot of misunderstandings are due to perception.”
Going from the relative peace and quiet (and safety) of your home office to an open plan space with lots of people can be quite stressful. Even more so now that Omicron has made its entry. And you aren’t alone if you’re feeling hesitant about returning to life ‘as before’: a recent study by the American Psychological Association reported that 49 percent of surveyed adults anticipated being uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions when the pandemic ends. It found that 48 percent of those who have received a COVID vaccine said they felt the same way. This sense of anxiety is known as the ‘cave syndrome’ and the back-and-forth between the loosening and tightening of restrictions doesn’t exactly help.
“People are understandably nervous about working in a shared environment,” confirms Willemijn. “Because what is company policy? Vaccination is still a personal choice and (in theory) employers cannot force you to have one. Picture yourself sharing a meeting room with eight people, of whom four are wearing a mask. How does that make you feel? Are they unvaccinated or just anxious? People are becoming increasingly distrustful and judgemental of one another. Are you ‘woke’ or a ‘follower’? Which side of the fence are you on? And how do you address this as a team leader? Can you even address it?”
State Your Policy
“The right to privacy means you aren’t allowed to ask about someone’s vaccination status or beliefs. So what do you do? Are you going to discuss this openly with the team or respect individuals’ right to privacy? There is a case to be made for this because you are legally obliged to provide employees with a safe working environment. The two principles are diametrically opposed, so how can you reassure your team? A lot of organisations are struggling to work out how to deal with this. Because simply following government restrictions (or the lifting of them), isn’t a company policy you can build on. The national advisory group GEMS advises one thing and the politicians decide something else altogether. Understandably, faith in the powers that be is at an all-time low and you need your own company policy to reassure your team.”
In fact, a number of organisations have already openly stated their stance on the matter and you can argue it either way. ZNA announced vaccination to be a prerequisite for all new hires and Leaseplan made vaccination mandatory for its entire staff unless they want to work from home ‘forever’, as have Google and Facebook, to name but a few. This show of strength – get the jab or lose the job – although understandable, isn’t exactly respectful towards the individual and doesn’t make for a fully aligned team. So where do you go from here?
Shades of Grey
“We need to recognise how vulnerable we are all feeling, both as employers and as employees. Everyone is deliberating, trying to work out what is ‘right’ moving forward, but the truth is nobody knows. There is no black or white; only shades of grey. We need to find a way for employers to be both respectful and vulnerable towards their employees and I think HR has a vital role to play. People need to be able to voice what makes them feel (un)safe without fear of being judged. Last year proved how much we missed the cohesion that comes from spending time together – literally ‘teambuilding’ – now it is time to create balance and openness through conversation.”
“The good thing is that we’re seeing a lot of organisations invest in connection and mental wellbeing. And the amount of subsidies available in Belgium mean that you can invest without incurring any cost below the line. In fact, done right, you could even even ‘profit’ on the cost of remuneration – as well as profiting from stronger human capital – making it a win-win situation for all. Everyone knows about the KMO Portefeuille, but lesser known initiatives like ‘werkbaarheidcheques’ and ‘Vlaams opleidingsverlof’ are equally interesting.”
“It’s a shame that it’s so difficult to find your way around the red tape, but I feel employer and employee share the responsibility of finding out what is out there. Take the time to look around, really see what you need, what your people need; be it time management training or a workshop on diet and sleep. So much is available, as an employer, you’re almost morally obliged to take advantage of the opportunities. There really is no excuse to not invest in your people; every single sector is crying out for talent, so why risk losing your most valuable assets? If you’re not preventatively investing in your mental capital, you’re not doing enough to keep them on board.”
“Any period of transition is impactful, but the past two years have been a real-time experiment in mental resilience. Unsurprisingly, stress and burnout are on the rise. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review they became ‘rampant’ in 2020. And right when our energy levels are low, we’re being asked to experiment with hybrid workplaces. When we do go back to the workplace again, that is. Thankfully, employers are becoming more aware and are placing a lot of focus on the employee. If there is one good thing to come from the pandemic, it has to be this new level of understanding of the human factor,” says Elke.
Preparing for Transition
“Evolving into a hybrid workplace is a period of transition. And as with any transition, preparation is key. You need to organise inclusive sessions that explain what the rules and expectations are going to be, and what hybrid working means to your company. Additionally, you want to invite experts who can inspire people and bolster mental resilience; who can talk about how to stay focussed, even when working from home. Change management is a combination of good internal communication, and informing people on the goals and the road to them.”
“It’s important to remember to differentiate between how you work from home and how you work in the workplace. In the office we have regular breaks that allow our brains to recuperate. The proverbial coffee breaks and water cooler chats, sharing lunch at the same table, commuting to and from work; they all give our brains some much-needed time to rest and reset. When you’re working from home, the tendency is to just keep going until whatever you’re working on is finished. But these breaks provide you with the energy to keep going. A lot of what we do is about inspiring people to recognise when they are in a healthy, positive flow or just powering on through by willpower.”
“We’re all responsible for recognising each other’s alarm signals. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes – both mentally and cognitively – from not being able to concentrate properly, or memory loss, to being short tempered. The things that wouldn’t bother us normally become magnified when our brains don’t get the chance to take a little ‘breather’ every once in a while. Equally, physical signs like palpitations, sweating, headaches and neck pains, or trouble sleeping at night are all signs that your resilience is low.”
“If anything, the pandemic has created the momentum to embrace the best of both worlds: seeing each other in person to foster personal connection and working from home to enhance focus when needed most. At the end of the day (or working week), a good balance between these two means you should be feeling more energetic and are enjoying work more. Of course, just as each individual is different, so are their jobs. People who need to work in full focus will benefit more from being away from the busy office floor than someone who has a coordinating role. When preparing your hybrid workplace policy, it’s important to take these difference into account.”
Meeting a few times a week as a team ensures you don’t end up with a situation where who is in the office on which days mushrooms into something wholly uncontrolled. You have to create structure and touch base in person on a regular basis. Additionally, you need to communicate clearly. You’ll often see people are a lot more business-minded during online meetings, whereas meetings in real life allow for the all-important ‘how was your weekend’s’ that help give your brain a break. Allow for time wasted: it’s a lot more valuable than you might think. Chitchat helps foster that human connection, no matter how much people have come to appreciate the efficiency of online meetings. So make sure you integrate them in the digital workplace.”
“Our work persona is just one of our many faces, and the pandemic has taught us that showing more of our authentic persona helps establish better personal connections. We have all changed or grown in different ways these past years. We’ve had time to reflect on what we are doing and where we want to go from here. For myself, the pandemic has shown me the importance of spending quality time with my two young children and I’m now actively choosing to free up more time for them. I suspect a lot of people have gained new insights about their personal and professional lives and how they wish to live them post-COVID. The choice to do something with these insights and change long-standing habits is the Mental Reset we should all make if we want to live happier and more energetic lives.”
For your copy of The Mental Reset visit https://bettermindsatwork.com/en/boeken/
6 Steps Towards Stronger Resilience
- Preparation is key: be clear about what the new workplace is going to look like, what the expectations are, and bring in the experts that will inspire and enthuse your team.
- Learn to recognise the difference between a healthy creative flow and powering through on sheer willpower. Give your brain regular breaks.
- Learn to recognise when your brain is in distress, and don’t be afraid to talk to others when you see them struggling.
- Embrace the best of both worlds and be open to the fact that no two jobs are the same, just as no two people are the same.
- Create structure, but allow for time wasted: build in time to share those personal moments that give your brain a break and re-energise you.
- Take the time to reflect on what you’ve learned about yourself, your priorities, and where you want to go from here.
With the launch of their brand-new multilingual website and series of English language brochures, new ABRA member Toerisme Vlaams-Brabant wants to help expats discover a different side of Belgium explains Fiene Lambrigts, Expat Expert. “Expats are an important audience for us. So many people settle into the region each year and want to get to know their new home country. We want to introduce them to some of the lesser-known natural and cultural gems of our region.”
Between a top selection of 24 inspiring walks, 36 cycling routes for all ages and the ready-made Perfect Sunday daytrips, you’ll be hard-pressed not to fill each weekend with a new and exciting outdoor activity. But it’s not just cyclists and hikers who are catered for. The region boasts 430km of rider and driver routes for equestrians that will take you through the most beautiful forests, magnificent views, castle domains, valleys and hills, stables and picnic areas.
Locals share their best kept secrets on the website, and you can even join guided tours for internationals. Whether you’re a foodie, a culture addict or a nature lover, there’s something for everyone as well as it being a great way to make new friends. Soak up interesting facts while tasting the best of Belgium’s beer, chocolates, or even wine. Yes, you read that right. Not only does Belgium produce wines, they win awards and come from, you guessed it; Flemish Brabant
As well as all the natural and culinary highlights, the region also has a strong cultural heritage, with no less than three individual locations being listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. From castles, abbeys, and medieval city halls to floating steel staircases and interactive experience centres, each outing is sure to transport you into an exciting new world.
You don’t have to venture far afield to enjoy the best of Belgian nature, heritage or culture. The Green Belt around Brussels and Leuven is easily accessible by road and public transport and Toerisme Vlaams-Brabant makes a point of prioritising accessibility by public transport for all of its destinations. Combining a few top attractions with a beautiful walk or bike trip through nature has never been easier with their inspiring tours and routes.
“It’s so easy to get stuck doing the same old things, even locals can be surprised to find out what’s right on their doorstep. Relocation agents do such an amazing job taking care of all the practical arrangements for a move, but a big part of settling into your new home country is getting to know your local area. Feeling at home is one of the vital stages that make or break any foreign assignment. It’s our mission to help everyone – recent arrival or lifelong local – feel welcome and make Belgium feel like home.”
“We’ve just published our newest walking brochure, which is free to download from our website. And our next series of guided tours for internationals starts from April, so we encourage anyone interested in doing ‘something different’ to visit us anytime at all. We’re here to make you feel at home in Belgium.”
To find our flow in our new home country, we should consider our priorities say experienced expats and diplomat wives Carine Bormans and Marie Geukens. Their book ‘Expat Partner: Staying Active & Finding Work’ takes a deep dive into what motivates us in a job. The simple model they have devised divides the whole pie that is our professional career into five parts: identity, salary, financial and social securities, professional skills, social contacts and structure.
Once we start looking at what each individual aspect of our career brings us, it becomes easier to decide which elements are essential to our happiness, and which we might be able to go without. Because chances are that not all five aspects will be perfectly aligned when following a partner abroad. Does that mean you shouldn’t go altogether, or might your chosen activity compensate for the missing pieces in other ways? Which are the aspects you need to focus on, and which can you simply stick in the fridge for the time being?
NetExpat’s Relocating Partner Survey confirms that the potential disruption to a partner’s career is the number one reason for employees not accepting a foreign posting. It also shows that 71% of international assignments failing due to an unhappy, unintegrated partner in the host location. And with any foreign assignment representing a significant financial (and personal) investment, the importance of finding your flow as a trailing partner shouldn’t be underestimated.
Carine and Marie’s book is the perfect guide for anyone considering following their partner abroad. Set out in easy to read chapters, it asks questions such as ‘What should you be mindful of?’ and ‘How do you see yourself in your new situation?’. The book allows you to ask all the right questions, both before, during and after your stay abroad. Interspersed with real life stories from the field, it offers inspiring examples and useful warnings about potential pitfalls. Step by step, you will be able to make the career choices that best suit you at that particular moment.
“It has hit in waves,” says Willemijn. “In March we were blindsided; suddenly this strange and scary new virus had us sheltering in place, adjusting to life in lockdown. You could feel the unrest and insecurity, but we were all in it together. Then life started picking up again. Companies started reboarding staff, making plans for how many people from which teams could come into work on what days. Everybody had their own system. We started feeling positive again. Antwerp went through a lockdown-light in August, but it was effective and we were confident.”
Impact of Restrictions on Wellbeing
Summer may have provided some temporary relief, but face masks, social bubbles and work-from-home or hybrid regimes are firmly back in place again as confirmed cases of the novel corona virus continue to rise. Nobody will deny the importance of human contact and personal interaction for our mental wellbeing, so what effect can we expect these measures to have on us?
“We offered companies a free mental resilience scan earlier this spring to see how people were faring under the lockdown. It was a small-scale study, but the results were highly disconcerting: 42% of respondents were unable to motivate themselves to work from home and 53% felt employers weren’t clearly communicating their expectations. A powerful mix of stressors piled on top of personal, economic and financial insecurities.”
“Every industry has been impacted, and people are feeling under pressure, albeit for different reasons. Temporary workers don’t know if contracts will be renewed. The hospitality and event sectors are struggling to keep their heads above water. Health care workers have barely had time to catch their breath before this second wave hit. We have nowhere near reached the end of the road and I expect more people will start suffering in silence as the months roll on.”
Singles Suffer the Most
“That being said, we have noticed that singles suffer the most,” Willemijn continues. “Families are challenged to effectively work from home whilst teaching the kids and running a household all at the same time, but at least you have someone to hold on to when things get on top of you. Singles rely on colleagues and friends for social cohesion. They really miss the workplace and descend into depression much quicker.”
Getting up every day, getting dressed and motivating yourself to stay focused isn’t always easy. You can cope with the loneliness for a while, but distractions lie at every turn. You do a quick lap with the vacuum cleaner whilst waiting for the washing machine to finish its spin cycle, but then get distracted by something else and before you know it, half the day is gone. You might as well just call it a day and settle in for some Netflix. The lack of structure leads to feelings of guilt and the negative emotional spiral can be crippling believes Willemijn. Prof. Dr. Elke Van Hoof, Expert in the Superior Health Council of Belgium, has been quoted as saying a tsunami of corona burnouts is heading our way. But is it burnout, depression or something else altogether?
Burnout or Depression?
“Great question. Only time will tell I guess, but I personally believe the balance is tilting towards depression. We are social beings and feeling a person’s touch, whether through a handshake or a hug, is a basic human need. Social bonding releases oxytocin (the happy hormone) and without it our cortisol (the stress hormone) levels skyrocket. We can manage short periods of stress (which trigger our natural fight-or-flight response), but when the balance shifts too far in one direction, the body starts sending out distress signals: headaches, a sore neck, heavy legs, tingling in the arm. All symptoms associated with a burnout. But I don’t believe that we should automatically view our body’s response to the stress of adapting to this ‘new normal’ – whatever that might be – as a burnout.”
“We are living through stressful times, and yes, of course work plays a big role. We spend eight hours a day at work, but now we’re working from home and are expected to stay close to home, if not at home, as much as possible. So where can we find the rest and relaxation we need to switch off and give our brains a break? Quite literally, today’s societal disruptions are disrupting our brains and with that, our mental wellbeing.”
A positive mindset can help a great deal of course, but what if you’re naturally prone to worry? Hourly news updates of spiking rates and overrun hospitals, opposing voices on social media and in the news; none of it helps ease the unquiet mind. Even the most resilient amongst us are susceptible to moments of panic confesses Willemijn.
“Quite literally, today’s societal disruptions are disrupting our brains and with that, our mental wellbeing.”
Daily Sources of Stress
“Just recently I was forced to miss my niece’s eighteenth birthday. I’d woken up with a bit of a cough and a light fever and convinced myself it was corona. My dad is a high-risk profile and the whole family was due to meet. From making an appointment with my GP to getting my test results back took ten days. Ten days that I spent making excuses so as to not worry my family, worrying about whom I’d seen in the two preceding weeks, worrying about their families, friends and colleagues. In the end I got the all-clear from the doctor, but those ten days of waiting were incredibly stressful and I ended up missing my niece’s birthday party, which made me feel sad too.”
“Companies are seeing similar worries coming from their employees and find themselves navigating tricky situations on a daily basis. A client’s key sales person had recently returned from honeymoon and the team demanded he got tested before returning to work. So on the one hand we have an entire team flat-out refusing to work with a colleague, and on the other we have our honeymooner, who has no way of getting tested on a Sunday evening and is forced to miss an important meeting. How do you manage this? What’s your company policy going to be? It’s just one of the infinite ways in which COVID-19 not only impacts how we work together, but how we treat each other too.”
“Because let’s be very clear: everything we do right now is a source of stress. Work from home? It brings stress into your safe haven. Reboarding? Places stress on teams and management alike. Going to the shops? Stressful stuff because who last touched that keypad? It begins the moment we get out of bed and you can quite easily drive yourself nuts worrying.”
Soothing the Unquiet Mind
What then is the solution? Do we allow ourselves a five-minute freak-out in the morning and then just get on with things? Ping an elastic band on our wrists every time we catch ourselves spiralling? How do we stop worry getting the better of us? And how can companies instil trust in both teams and process?
“Communication is key,” suggests Willemijn. “Organisations have to be clear about what they expect from their employees and how these expectations – and measures – will be managed. Are you going for a hybrid setup or is everyone WFH until further notice? How long is this likely to last, and what is guiding your decision making? How will you be reboarding people? What kind of support can team members expect?”
“We’ve created an entire series of webinars for our clients as individual employees have different needs. Everything from online yoga classes to brain training sessions to strengthen mental resilience has proven to be hugely popular. But you can’t just rely on tools. Organisations also need to make sure there is room for informal conversations, like you’d normally have while waiting for the kettle to boil. You need to nourish social cohesion, and if that means a weekly online coffee hour or creating a buddy programme where people check in with one another, then that’s what you need to introduce.”
“Bring structure to your day and alternate between the things that give you energy and those that cost energy.”
Bring Positivity Back
“Personally, I’ve stopped watching the news. There’s no point, it just makes you worry more. I receive a morning push message with the latest statistics. I look at it and then delete it. Tune out the bad news to maintain a positive mindset. Similarly, when I watch a movie or a series, I only watch nice things. Laughter helps release endorphins so watch a good comedy or call a friend and get silly together. I also love watching things that uplift and inspire me, such as TED talks or webinars, and listen to podcasts that put me in a positive mindset.”
“Take yourself out of your comfort zone. You live at home, work from home, maybe the kids are home too, as well as your partner. Even if you have more time now that the daily commute has fallen away, you shouldn’t be using that time to work more. Instead, challenge yourself to do or learn something new. I’ve started studying to become a neuropsychologist. Why not? I have time now. There are so many free apps and classes to be found online. Learn yoga, start doing pilates, lift some bags of sugar for weights… Exercise is essential to a healthy body and mind and there’s so much you can do at home.”
“Card games such as memory are a super simple but effective way of training your brain and keeping concentration and memory skills on point. Whether it’s an online game of solitary or a board game with the family, playing games stops you worrying about things you can’t control. It’s one of the few good things to have come out of all this: people are playing games again and spending more quality time together. Also be sure to stay in touch with the people you care about. Schedule weekly FaceTime or Zoom chats with loved ones near and far.”
“If you’re going to be spending this much time at home, make it nice. Get a floral subscription – I used to get flowers delivered every other week, but have now upgraded it to weekly as fresh flowers really bring me joy – light some candles every evening, read a book, dig in your garden, paint the wall that’s been irritating you for so long, do the things that make you feel good about your environment.”
“Find some time to meditate every day, or even easier: find a theta wave playlist that works for you. Theta waves are hertz waves and the ‘pure’ stuff sounds awful, but some YouTube playlists are almost music-like. Where alpha waves energise, theta waves soothe the brain and relax you. Just stick on your headphones and sit back for twenty minutes or so before you go to bed. It works wonders. You can put it on your speakers while you cook or do yoga, but to get the full benefit, use headphones. Just don’t put it on in the car or you might just doze off,” laughs Willemijn.
“Finally, and perhaps most importantly, bring structure into your daily routine. It’s all good and well adding all these new things into your day, but you need to maintain balance. I’ve used Excel to make a weekly schedule for myself that alternates between the things that give me energy and those that cost energy. Mornings are for studying, then I exercise before doing an online intake or coaching session, after which I meditate. Continuously switch between relaxation and effort, and block off enough time for each in your daily planner.”
Eight Top Tips
• Stop watching the news, a daily push message is enough to keep you updated;
• Watch things that uplift, inspire and make you smile;
• Step out of your comfort zone and learn something new;
• Exercise daily and play games to refocus your mind;
• Stay in touch with your loved ones;
• Create a warm and happy home environment;
• Quiet your mind through meditation or theta waves;
• Bring structure into your day and alternate between effort and energy.
Visit www.pinkrebelrevolution.com for more information on recovering from burnout and for free webinars to help you strengthen your mental resilience.
After all, you usually only fire off the occasional late night email or put the finishing touches to that report before turning off your laptop and settling in for the night. However, this new reality is expected to last anywhere from a few more weeks to eighteen months or more. This means we can expect to be working from home for quite some time to come, and even when the lockdown lifts, it may be reinstated at a future date. And so we thought some lessons from a professional freelancer might be welcome in helping you stay sane in the confines of your home.
Because working from home means lots of distractions, and anything that helps you focus is worth looking into. From the cat meandering into your Zoom meeting to the depressing stain on the wall you are facing, it’s not as easy to be productive as you might have expected. The things we can usually ignore are suddenly magnified as we spend all day confined in our own little bubble.
Time then to give our home office a bit of love. Yes, it matters which way your desk is facing and yes, it’s important to have a good desk chair. You can take my word for it. Desk work is back breaking and you’ll be hard pressed to find a chiropractor willing to take new clients right now. Spend some time online and find that perfect chair; your back and neck will thank you for it. Similarly, move your desk around the room until it feels right. Clear those piles of bills away and make it yours.
Order a pot of paint and a brush, and freshen up that wall. Get rid of the wobbly table that houses your printer and invest in something stylish. You’re going to be looking at it for eight hours a day for the foreseeable future. You might as well treat yourself. Don’t forget to order in fresh flowers to cheer up both yourself and your work space. It’s the small things that make a difference.
Ideally, a decent work space means somewhere you can close the door on. Not just from the kids or the dog for obvious reasons, but where your work is out of your field of vision. It’s ever so tempting to just finish that one small item off your to-do list as dinner is in the oven, but – speaking from experience – you’ll find yourself working late into the night. All this leads to is unrealistic expectations from international clients who suddenly find you are always available, heightened irritability, and of course sleeping in late because you’re exhausted from burning the midnight oil. It’s a slippery slope. Finding and sticking to a healthy rhythm is essential when working from home. Be strict, turn off that computer at the end of the day and don’t touch it again until tomorrow. Oh, and take the weekend off.
Apps like Slack, Trello and Asana can help remote teams stay on track, and are essential when you’re trying to manage projects from home. Holding the middle ground between a digital to-do list, a Whatsapp group and email, they go a long way towards keeping your mailbox free of clutter and help you pool information and resources within the team.
On a side note, please remain vigilant when it comes to strange emails, attachments and other unusual activity. Hackers are having a field day with so many people suddenly working from home computers. So update your software to the latest version, get a good password manager and consider investing in anti-virus software that packs a punch such as Malwarebytes. SafeonWeb also has some great tips to keep you safe online.
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Keep On Keeping On
With movement restricted to just the essentials, you’ll quickly find the walls are closing in on you. And although your dog may be enjoying the extra walks, they’re hardly adding productivity to your day. So, as well as your daily excursion round the block, find an online class you can really get into. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Yoga with Kassandra on YouTube. Her ten to fifteen minute stretch classes are a great way to start your morning, injecting energy and focus into your day. From guided morning meditations to hour-long Vinyasa flows for flexibility, she has something for everyone.
In the name of research I decided to check out overnight global phenomenon Joe Wick, also known as The Body Coach. I enjoyed every second of the 30-minute session, but can tell you my glutes and calves are in agony today. His cheerful delivery and personal shout-outs to the kids online are sure to put a smile on your face and give your day a much-needed boost. It’s not surprising his daily PE class has captured the imagination of parents and kids alike, with week 1 of ‘PE with Joe’ racking up views from 17 million households around the world. Thirty second bursts of HIIT-style exercises include everything from ‘bunny hops’ to ‘Spiderman lunges’ (shooting imaginary webs from your wrists) are live-streamed straight from his living room at 11am CET. So give it a whirl, I’ll be there again tomorrow, cat and dog tripping me up.
After Work Apero
Speaking of internet sensations, the video chat app HouseParty has seen a massive increase in downloads, with Vogue hailing it “the quarantine app you need to download immediately”. Just like with Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp and Google Hangouts, you can video call with friends, but unlike with these, people can just join in the ‘party’ without you needing to add them to the call. This can have surprising benefits, as well as some potential pitfalls.
We’ll leave it to you to decide how and with whom you prefer organising your virtual happy hour, but socialising is key to staying sane when it’s just you and your four walls. So be sure to take some time out to have some fun with family, friends and colleagues, even if it has to remain virtual for now. We’re looking forward to hosting the first virtual ABRA Apero on Friday April 17th from 6pm, an invite will follow separately.
Finally, tempting as it might be to open that bottle of vino and go into holiday modus sometime around midday, know that this too shall pass and we expect things will become busier than ever before when lockdowns around the world lift and borders are reopened. As EuRA’s CEO Tad Zurlinden said last week “Our industry is going to be at the forefront of rebuilding commerce and economies all over the world and we need to be ready to react fast and big when that day comes”.
Deferral of Payment and Guarantees
The banks and the government are very much aware of the difficult situation in which both companies and individuals now find themselves. They want to support and financially support them as much as possible. In this way, they have every opportunity to get through this turbulent period as well as possible and to quickly find a stable financial situation as soon as the corona crisis has subsided.
Together with the Minister of Finance, and with the support of the National Bank of Belgium, the sector has worked out an agreement for viable companies, based on two pillars:
■ The financial sector is committed to viable businesses and the self-employed as well as mortgage borrowers who are at risk of payment problems by postponing the corona crisis until 30 September 2020, and this without charging any costs.
■ The federal government will activate a guarantee scheme for all new loans and credit lines with a maximum term of 12 months, granted by banks to viable non-financial businesses and the self-employed.
These support measures are intended to provide financial flexibility in order to to enable taxpayers to overcome temporary financial difficulties.
a. Which companies?
Natural or legal persons with an enterprise number (ECB/KBO):
∞ regardless of their sector of activity
∞ who are experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the spread of the coronavirus and can demonstrate this (e.g., a decrease in the number of business, a significant drop in orders and/or reservations, chain reaction effects with partner companies, etc.). Support measures may not be granted to undertakings which, regardless of coronavirus, experience structural payment problems.
b. What debts?
∞ Withholding tax (bedrijfsvoorheffing / précompte professionel)
∞ VAT (payment deadlines are extended interest free)
∞ Personal income tax
∞ Corporate income tax
∞ Taxation of legal persons
c. What is the timeframe?
∞ Application to be submitted no later than 30 June 2020
d. What measures?
∞ Payment plan
∞ Exemption from interest on arrears
∞ Remission of fines for non-payment
e. What conditions?
∞ Compliance with the conditions for filing declarations
∞ debts must not result from fraud
Support measures will be withdrawn in the event of:
∞ failure to comply with the payment plan granted, unless the debtor takes
timely contact with the administration
∞ occurrence of collective insolvency proceedings (bankruptcy, judicial reorganisation, …)
f. What steps?
Contact your bookkeeper for further details and the links to the correct documents for your region.
Social Security Contributions
Option 1. Postponement of Payment
Entrepreneurs in main occupation and assisting spouses may apply for deferral of payment of 1 year if they experience difficulties due to the coronavirus. You do not pay any surcharges or interest (in case of timely payment in 2021) and your rights will continue to accrue.
∞ 1st quarter 2020: payment date postponed from 31 March 2020 to 31 March 2021
∞ 2nd quarter 2020: payment date postponed from 30 June 2020 to 30 June 2021
Applications before 15/06/2020 for quarter 1
Applications before 15/06/2020 for quarter 2
How to apply:
Send your bookkeeper an e-mail with the following details and request a postponement:
– Surname and first name
– Place of residence
– Name and seat of your company
– Company number
– Professional activity in which you are active
Please note: direct debit customers must notify the bank themselves. If they fail to do so, social security contributions will still be credited in the event of postponement of payment.
The measure concerning the postponement by one year of the payment of social security contributions for the first two quarters of 2020, as well as the regularisation contributions due on 31 March 2020, is extended to ALL categories of self-employed workers (i.e. not only applicable to self-employed workers in their main profession and assisting spouses). In view of the economic impact of the emergency measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, the application for deferral of the first quarter 2020 contributions may be submitted until 15 June 2020.
Option 2: Reduction of Social Security Contribution
You can have your social contribution reduced to the legal thresholds when your income is reduced. Overview Thresholds: https://www.xerius.be/nl-be/zelfstandigen/sociale-zekerheid/drempelbedragen
Option 3: Temporary Financial Difficulties Exemption
You can request an exemption due to ‘temporary financial difficulties’ for the social security contributions of the 1st and 2nd quarter of 2020. If you want to apply for a waiver of your fees for these two quarters, we recommend that you do so before you receive the statement for the second quarter. An application for future quarters is not possible. This is only available to the full time self-employed and their and assisting spouses in the maxi statute.
If you receive a positive advice, you will not build up any pension rights for these two quarters (this is provisional and can be adjusted due to coronavirus), although your social security (health care) status will not be affected. Also keep in mind that you will have to have been active in this statute for at least 4 quarters. This too may be relaxed, but this is not yet clear.
For the time being, there are no simplified application forms and you have two options: submit directly to the government or as a customer of Xerius via this form. If you have a different social secretariat, please check their website for the relevant paperwork.
However, we are in favour of applying for a postponement of payment first. You can always apply for the exemption later (before the end of 2020).
(overbruggingsrecht or droit passerelle)
YES: ALL self-employed persons in main profession and assisting spouses in maxi statute.
NOT: Self-employed as a secondary profession, pensioners, student self-employed and self-employed persons with equal secondary profession.
Please note: this is considered as a replacement income and cannot be combined with any other benefit (during this break you may also NOT start working as an employee).
Starting date of the entrepreneur does not matter and it is also available to sole proprietors and company managers. The sector in which they are active does not matter either.
The Replacement Income can be combined with the Flemish Nuisance Allowance. If you want to take advantage of this, you must apply for it yourself. Replacement Income is paid out by your social insurance fund (Xerius, Acerta, Liantis, …).
Amount of Payment:
∞ Active in the hospitality industry (even if you do not close your business completely and still offer takeaway meals and close your business for at least one day).
∞ Other sectors (where you are obliged to close your business completely or partially due to the corona virus) and interrupt your activities for at least 7 consecutive days.
∞ Other sectors that close down as a precaution, or because they have too few customers.
They receive a benefit of 1,291.69 euros (or 1,614.10 euros in case of dependants) for either March or April, depending on which month you interrupt your activities for at least 7 consecutive days. Are your activities interrupted for at least 7 consecutive days in both months? Then you can get a replacement income in both March and April.
How to apply and when can you expect your payment?
Option 1: Send an e-mail to your social insurance fund and mention the following in the e-mail:
o Apply for a replacement income because of corona virus,
o your name, first name and place of residence,
o your customer number, which you will find on your statement or on the back of your identity card (your national registration number is also your customer number).
o your company number and the name and registered office of your company,
o the sector in which you are active and briefly outline the reason(s) why you had to interrupt the activities as a result of the coronavirus.
o the period of interruption: the date that you stop your activities and possibly the date that you resume your activities (the latter date is currently not yet estimable for most people, so it is not necessary to indicate this).
o the bank account number to which the payment may be made.
Also answer the following questions in your e-mail:
o Do you have at least one dependant (wife, cohabitant, parent, grandparent, child,…)?
o Do you exercise a professional activity during the cessation or interruption of your self-employed activity? Or are you still a mandatary or working partner in another company?
o Do you receive a replacement income during the period of interruption?
Option 2: Fill in the simplified application form for ‘coronavirus’ replacement income, sign and send it to your social insurance fund.
Please note: Application in both options must be done by yourself. Your accountant of course will assist you if you have any questions about this.
(hinderpremie or prime unique)
The Hindrance Premium is determined on the basis of the establishment unit of the entrepreneur and applies to forced closures of physical locations (excl. pick-up). There is only a premium of 4,000 euros. The premium of 2,000 euros has been abolished in Flanders. Brussels and Wallonia apply different rules (for the time being) – see further down.
– 1 establishment:
o 4,000 euros per forced closure and only for physical locations (excl. collection) – proof by declaration on honour
o Pay at least as main professional or 1 FTE as salary
– Multiple locations:
o You receive the Hindrance Premium for a maximum of 5 locations.
o Paying at least as a main professional or 1 FTE as an employee.
The Flemish Hindrance Premium can be applied for up to and including May 5, so you certainly have plenty of time to submit your application.
What do you need to have at hand?
∞ Your e-ID and your e-ID pin code (or your smartphone if you log on via itsme).
∞ An active Belgian account number of your company on which the premium can be paid (in IBAN format, i.e. consisting of 16 characters starting with BE,
followed by 2 digits and then the 12 digits of your account number)
∞ Check your normal opening days, as they were before the coronavirus measures
∞ Main or secondary profession
∞ In case of a secondary occupation: do you pay social security contributions like a main occupation? Only auxiliary professionals who pay the minimum contributions of a main professional are eligible.
∞ The website address (url) of your company if you have one
∞ Do you have multiple branches? Be sure to select the right branch for which you are applying for the premium.
∞ This premium is tax exempt.
∞ The further promotion of webshops has NO influence on the granting of the premium when a physical location is present.
∞ The Belfius card reader and probably also at other banks can be used as an E-ID reader.
∞ If you do not have an active branch in the KBO or if the position(s) is (are) not correct, you cannot apply for a nuisance bonus (this can possibly still be rectified via the Ondernemingsloket).
a. Tax freeze in Wallonia
For its part, the Walloon government has frozen all regional taxes related to the number of days that the businesses are closed, prorated to the number of days they are closed.
b. Closure Compensation
Compensation of 5,000 euros per closed company in Wallonia The Walloon Government grants a lump-sum compensation of 5,000 euros for each business that has closed or ceased operations during the period of containment. The sectors concerned are horeca, accommodation, travel agencies and reservation services, retail, as well as travel and provision of services (e.g. beauticians). An indemnity of 2,500 euros is also provided for companies with the activity is restricted, including hairdressers.
■ The information number 1890 remains available for entrepreneurs and Walloon independents.
The Brussels government, for its part, has decided to support the treasury of the companies affected through the granting of public guarantees on bank loans for a total of EUR 20 million. It also intends to strengthen support for companies in difficulty via the Centre for Enterprises in Difficulty (CED). Simplification and administrative benevolence towards the companies and businesses affected as well as the anticipation of the treatment and liquidation of economic aid to priority destination for the Horeca, cultural, hotel and event sectors are also applicable.
■ The information number 1819 centralizes all information for companies and entrepreneurs in Brussels.
Compensation Premium Entrepreneurs
As of last week, the Flemish government is providing an additional support measure for entrepreneurs who are not obliged to close down (and therefore cannot apply in conjunction with the Nuisance Premium), but who are still experiencing a large loss of turnover due to the Corona crisis. This is the Compensation Premium. They are still working on the application and correct modalities, for now you can find the latest information on the VLAIO website.
This new premium is aimed at companies and their suppliers who are allowed to continue working or shops that remain open but have a large loss of sales due to the restrictive measures, which can show that they have a loss of sales of -60% in the period between 15 March 2020 and 30 April compared to the same period last year.
For start-ups, a decrease in turnover of -60% compared to the financial plan laid down will be taken into account. NPOs are also eligible, provided that at least one person is employed full time.
Examples: companies in the events sector that also employ many freelancers; (para-) medical professions such as physiotherapists, dentists, psychologists or speech therapists who are only allowed to carry out urgent interventions; companies that provide essential food services such as praline shops or liquor traders, but still suffer a heavy loss of turnover due to lack of passage or tourists; painters or plumbers who are only allowed to carry out urgent repair work; farmers who work specifically for hotel and catering customers, etc….
Amount of Aid
∞ The aid includes a one-off compensation premium of €3,000;
∞ There is a maximum of 5 premiums per company if there are more than one operating seat per company.
∞ Self-employed persons in a secondary occupation, who pay social security contributions as a self-employed person in their main occupation due to the level of income, can also receive the compensation premium of € 3,000;
∞ Self-employed persons in secondary occupation who have an income between € 6,996.89 and € 13,993.78 can claim a compensation premium of € 1,500. This premium also applies to self-employed persons in a secondary occupation who are obliged to close, but does not apply to self-employed persons in a secondary occupation who combine this with a job as an employee of 80% or more.
More information is not yet available at time of publication and so we advise you to refer to the VLAIO website where the application will shortly be made available.
Under certain conditions, you can apply for temporary unemployment for the employees you can no longer employ full or part time due to the Corona crisis. By introducing this temporary unemployment benefit, you temporarily suspend the employee’s employment contract. The Belgian government has introduced a simplified procedure, which originally ran until 6 April but has since been extended until 31 May 2020. Please note that this is only one measure taken by the Belgian government and that there are still measures to which you may have recourse. Furthermore, we cannot stress enough that the Belgian government regularly adapts these measures.
Not every employer can claim this temporary unemployment. Only those employers who are directly affected by Covid-19, as a result of which the employees can no longer perform their duties at all or only partially, can make use of this specific procedure. Examples are: a shop has been closed, sales representatives can no longer visit customers and do not have enough tasks to perform at home, orders are no longer coming in,…
Not all employment contracts should be suspended. Only those employees who cannot work more or less because of their position are eligible for this. If, as an employer, you wish to apply for temporary unemployment, you can do so via a simplified procedure until 31 May 2020. This means that you let your Payroll Business Partner know which days the employees will work and which days they will be unemployed. Pro-Pay takes care of the necessary electronic declaration of these days of unemployment so that the NEO knows to which benefit the employee is entitled.
It is possible to suspend the employment contracts either completely (the employee no longer works) or partially (the employee still works one or more days per week). If partial unemployment is chosen, the employer determines how many days the employee can still work. The employees do not have to agree to this. Of course, they do have to be informed about the days they still have to work and which days they will be unemployed. This notification to the employees can take any form, an e-mail may be sufficient in some cases.
Workers who are temporarily unemployed must contact either their trade union (if they are affiliated to it) or the “Unemployment benefits fund” in order to open a file and obtain unemployment benefits. You can open a file at the “Unemployment benefits fund” online. The union or the help fund will then pay the unemployment benefits into the worker’s bank account on a monthly basis. Unemployment benefits amount to 70% of the gross monthly salary. However, the gross wage is limited to EUR 2,754.76. In addition, the unemployment office pays EUR 5.63 per day of unemployment. On both amounts 26.75% withholding tax is withheld.
In some sectors, there is an additional obligation to pay a supplement on top of this unemployment benefit. In addition, it is possible to pay a supplement voluntarily. This supplement can be granted free of social security contributions on condition that the total of the unemployment benefit + the supplement(s) does not exceed the taxable salary that the employee would have earned if he had worked.
If the employees are partially unemployed, they receive their normal salary for the days they work. Temporary unemployment days will be assimilated for pension purposes. Currently, there is no equivalence for the accrual of holidays and holiday pay, but according to various press releases, there would be a legislative initiative to put this on an equal footing.
With regard to the assimilation of end-of-year bonuses and other benefits granted at sectoral level, it will be necessary to examine what has been agreed within the Joint Committee. It cannot be ruled out that agreements will still be concluded in the sectors to assimilate this exceptional period to effective performance if this was not already the case.
Attention: if the employees only work at home and previously received an expense allowance because they had a mobile function, this expense allowance can no longer be granted. Instead, the government has increased the monthly reimbursement for office expenses (see further down).
The authorities grant a two-month deferment of payment of the withholding tax on earned income.
• Payment period withholding tax on earnings February 2020 extended to May 13, 2020
• Payment period withholding tax on earnings March 2020 extended to June 15, 2020
• Payment period withholding tax on earnings April 2020 extended to July 15, 2020
• Payment period withholding tax on earnings 1st quarter 2020 extended to June 15, 2020
In addition to this deferral, you can also apply to receive an exemption from default interest or remission of fines, or request a repayment plan. Such an application must be submitted before June 30, 2020. Note: this does not happen automatically! Contact your Payroll Business Partner for assistance.
As far as the employer’s contributions for social security are concerned, different support measures apply. Companies that are closed on government order can benefit from an automatic deferment of payment of social security contributions until December 15, 2020.
Companies that are not obliged to close but that suffer from the Corona crisis economically can apply for a deferment of payment of social security contributions until December 15, 2020 provided they submit a motivated application file with the social security authorities. Apart from the deferment of payment, an amicable payment plan is another option offered by the NSSO to companies in difficulties.
Office Costs and NSSO
Employees who work from home on a structural and regular basis can receive compensation from their employer for this. Since the costs related to working from home are relatively small and difficult to prove, the NSSO accepts that these costs are estimated on a flat-rate basis. For a number of costs, including the compensation for homeworking, the NSSO itself has fixed lump sums, as well as the conditions that apply to the granting of these lump sums.
The fixed compensation that the NSSO uses for office costs covers the costs of heating, electricity, small office equipment, insurances,… The allowance may be granted to employees who do not have a workplace with the employer or – if they do have a workplace with the employer – when their position shows that they work from home on a regular basis.
Employees who previously did not work from home, but are now forced to do so by the Covid-19 measures, can also be granted this compensation without the employer having to conclude a formal teleworking agreement with the employee. This is also possible if the employee works partly from home and is temporarily unemployed.
In addition to this maximum amount of €129.48, the employer can also compensate the following matters on a lump-sum basis:
∞ €20 per month if the employee uses his/her own PC for professional purposes;
∞ €20 per month if the employee uses his/her private internet connection for professional purposes.
Of course, these lump sums can only be granted if the office and internet costs are not reimbursed to the employee in any other way. Please note that the NSSO also uses other fixed amounts for forms of teleworking and homeworking besides the fixed amount for office costs, which are not discussed in this newsletter.
The Tax Authorities
The reimbursement of €129.48 for office expenses can be granted free of social security contributions if the conditions for granting the allowance have been met. The tax authorities do not have a similar official position regarding a fixed amount for office costs, but often follow the position of the NSSO on this matter.
However, if you want certainty from a tax point of view about the application of a fixed amount for the reimbursement of office costs, a ruling must be requested from the tax administration. The ruling service of the tax authorities has provided a simplified procedure specifically for obtaining a ruling for the reimbursement of telework during the corona crisis.
Up until then, Belgian employers did not have a tax withholding or reporting obligation for remuneration granted by a foreign parent or affiliated company, if the Belgian employer was not involved in granting that remuneration. The only exception to this rule was the obligation to report stock options meeting the conditions of the Stock Option Law of March 26, 1999. The employee, however, was obliged to report the foreign income in his personal tax return.
The current introduction of the withholding obligation with the taxes being paid at source through payroll is part of the battle against social and tax fraud. Where in the past, Belgian employers sometimes weren’t even aware of foreign remuneration (mostly equity) being granted to their employees by a foreign affiliated company, more communication between the Belgian employer and its foreign affiliated companies will be necessary in the future.
Starting retroactively on March 1, 2019, all taxable remuneration paid by foreign parent companies and/or affiliates will need to be taxed through payroll as it becomes subject to withholding taxes. Withholding taxes are to be declared on a monthly basis and to be paid on a monthly or a quarterly basis. Given the fact that the Law has entered into force on March 1, 2019, there is no withholding obligation for the foreign remuneration granted in January and February 2019. Please note however, that the taxable benefits of these months will need to be reported in the 2019 tax forms that need to be submitted to the Belgian tax authorities before March 1, 2020.
All remuneration paid by foreign parent companies and/or affiliates to Belgian employees will need to be reported by the Belgian employer to whom the foreign company is linked. The reporting will take place via the yearly tax form 281. This form includes the taxable earnings of employees/directors. The employer is obliged to provide the form to his staff, that should use the details mentioned on the form to file their tax returns.
Belgian Social Security on Foreign Remuneration
As a general principle in the Belgian legislation, social charges are due on salary. One of the conditions that needs to be fulfilled for a benefit to be considered as salary is the fact that the benefit needs to be chargeable to the employer. This condition is laid down in the Act of 1965 on the protection of salary. Up to the 3rd quarter of 2018, the Belgian social security authorities believed that benefits were not “chargeable to the employer”, if the employee could not claim the benefit from the Belgian employer in a financial or a legal way (e.g. because the right to the benefit was contractually agreed upon). In other words: if the advantage was granted to the employee by a foreign affiliated company without any intervention of the Belgian employer, no social charges were due.
However, according to the administrative instructions of the National Social Security Office (NSSO) issued in the 3rd quarter of 2018, social security contributions are now due on all benefits that relate to the work performed by the employee in the execution of his/her employment contract with the employer or that relate to the function of the employee carried out for the employer. This principle applies even without any intervention of the (Belgian) employer in the payment/grant of the benefit.
According to most of the Belgian authors specialized in the matter, this point of view of the NSSO is too much, as it interferes with the definition and notion of salary as laid down in the Act of 1965 on the protection of salary. However, as this new point of view has been published in its recent instructions, chances are that the NSSO will enforce its point of view and that we’ll have to wait for the first court cases before any changes might be introduced.
■ Belgian employers should inform their foreign headquarters or affiliated companies of the change in the Belgian regulations even if they are currently not aware of any remuneration granted or paid to their Belgian employees by a foreign affiliated company;
■ Employers should inform Pro‐Pay or their payroll office of the foreign remuneration that will be subject to withholding taxes. In case of doubt about the taxability of certain remuneration or the timing of taxation, employers should seek the advice of a specialized tax consultant;
■ Employers need to inform Pro‐Pay or their payroll office of the remuneration paid by a foreign linked company to the Belgian employees in January and February 2019, in order to ensure correct reporting on the tax form 281.
Pro‐Pay is an independent payroll provider in Belgium offering services to Belgian companies and international companies with employees in Belgium. Find out more at: www.propay.be/en/
What led you to develop this platform?
“Thousands of expats move to Europe every single day and most of them do this without support from their employer. They’ll ask family, friends and acquaintances who have relocated before them for advice or end up on Google. And much as they’ll receive useful information, a lot of it will be contradictory and can be hugely confusing.”
“In fact, the platform is a great solution for expats who are already living here too. To give an example, I’ve been living in Belgium for 10 years, but when I recently wanted to look into extra dental cover, I was lost. There’s a sea of information out there, but if you search for ‘dental cover plans Belgium’ you end up with a list of dentists and articles on social security. All I wanted to know was which providers offer which plans. Imagine how confusing it is for new arrivals. Where do you even begin looking?”
“This is the problem we want to solve with Xpatris.com. We’ve carefully selected the market’s service providers, filtering them for dedicated expat services where possible. The clear overview not only lets users compare different plans and providers, but directs them to the most relevant pages. Trying to find the right dental plan via Google took me more than ten clicks, whereas the platform let me filter, select and sign up for the dental coverage I was looking for within three clicks.”
Is this the new way to relocate?
“Expats are increasingly expected to relocate themselves, but no, we’re definitely not a relocation service provider. The platform is complementary. The same client company that sends over a VIP CEO sends over junior profiles who don’t get the same level of support. Instead of spending unpaid time explaining the difference between Telenet and Belgacom, relocators can simply direct expats to the platform. We see Xpatris as a support tool for everyone active in the global mobility industry; it’s a daily solution that saves time and money. Time that you can spend focussing on delivering the personalised services that clients pay for.”
You’ve been live for just over a month, how has the platform been received?
“Initial response has been better than we dared hope: over 500 unique users registered during the first week, and we hadn’t even started our social media pages yet. We’ve already received the support of some really important players such as BNP Paribas, Radisson, Everis… Their HR departments are delighted with the platform. We’d love to see everyone using our platform and are very happy to collaborate. If you’d like to partner up with us, get in touch! That said, we’re not resellers: we are completely objective and every service provider is given the same amount of visibility. The platform is free for both users and providers. And because users can rate and review providers we ensure the quality and competitiveness of services offered remains high. Think of Xpatris as the Tripadvisor for expats.”
Who is behind the platform?
“Xpatris is the culmination of our own experiences as expats in many different countries and now in Belgium. We are two cofounders – Salvatore from Italy and Pari from India – who put our combined knowledge at your service. Pari used to work in Silicon Valley and combined with my experience in the financial world, it makes for a strong business and development background. Not to mention our personal experiences: we’re expats helping other expats get the most out of their new life in Belgium. We’re supported by a Buddy Community as well; all volunteers who have come to Belgium as foreign nationals. And then of course we have strategic partners such as ABRA, International House Leuven, Commissioner. Brussels and other institutions who are helping us power the platform.”
“We’ve chosen to focus on Brussels, Antwerp, Leuven and Ghent as these are the most popular Belgian destinations with expats, but we’re looking forward to going international, penetrating new markets and developing new technology.”
There are a number of types of insurance coverage that you are legally required to take out as a business, such as occupational accidents and general civil liability. Then there are the additional covers which will differ per organisation, and are dependent on risk. At the very least, you need a good general liability insurance to insure against all cases of non-contractual damage to third parties. How extensive it should be will depend on the type of business and the activity.
Spill water on a client’s laptop and it’s covered by your general liability insurance. If you’re serving snacks at an event and one of the suppliers has suffered from a salmonella outbreak, they’ll want to have product liability coverage. In addition to a good fire insurance, consequential loss insurance is also useful to compensate for turnover and loss of profit immediately after the fire or water damage.
For intellectual and liberal professions, contractual professional liability is often added. When there are employees, an occupational accident insurance policy is mandatory and every company car requires motor insurance. You can supplement this with comprehensive insurance and assistance.
GDPR and data processing agreements can hold large contractual liabilities, so what if you lose a client’s documents and accidentally disclose private data? Private liability insurance can mean the difference between bankruptcy and the survival of your business. After all, professional liability does not always require an error to have been made, simply failing a contractual obligation can be sufficient to trigger your contractual liability with a client.
Similarly, cyber crime is on the rise and a sudden attack by ransomware can see you held liable by your clients for not meeting your contractual obligations.
It can be interesting to insure the directors of the company under a directors’ liability insurance. An inexpensive insurance policy, it guarantees legal representation and assistance when the business owner (accidentally) causes damage to his business or a staff member. Under the new company law this is seen as not only a business accident but also falls under your personal liability because you are at fault. A business owner can, if he is not insured, lose everything. Not only is his business declared bankrupt, but his house can be taken too. We’ve seen it happen before.
Succinctly put: insurances are a form of precaution. They require you to take a closer look at all your possible risks so you can try to eliminate or reduce them. You transfer the residual risks to an insurance company in exchange for payment of a premium. The better your own precautions, the cheaper your insurance will be. So critically assess your risks and get advice from a specialist insurance broker.
“A good insurance package is not just an accumulation of policies. One policy must strengthen the other, not weaken it. Ask for guidance from an independent broker who can guide you through your risk assessments.” – Filip Declerq, Expat & Co
It’s hugely important that all the insurance policies included in a package are aligned. One policy must strengthen the other, not weaken it. Imagine your insurances for civil liability and legal assistance are under the same company. Now let’s suppose you have a civil liability car insurance with company A and company A is the market leader in Belgium. If you cause an accident, there is a good chance that the person involved is with the same insurance company. This creates a conflict of interest. Company A must represent both persons, without the control of a counter company. The tendency to compensate the customer with the smallest damage could be high.
If you’re the party who has suffered the greatest damage and are convinced that you are in your right, you can lodge an objection by appealing through legal aid. But, if that legal assistance is with Company A again, you have a problem. The legal assistance at A thus weakens the civil liability guarantee. It’s therefore best to take out legal assistance insurance with an independent legal assistance company. Of course, the disadvantage here is the cost. Separate legal assistance costs much more, but you are guaranteed that your files will always be handled correctly.
An example of reinforcement would be if your consequential loss insurance is with the same company as your fire insurance. Suppose a fire starts in your office, requiring you to close it for a longer period of time and on top of that a discussion has arisen with the damage expert. If you place the business damage insurance policy with the same company, the expertise becomes more urgent to the covering insurer. The longer the expert discusses details, the longer your company will suffer consequential damage. As a result, the insurance company will have to pay more for the loss of profit and the rental of replacement offices. It is therefore in the insurer’s own interest to reimburse you as quickly and effectively as possible.
“Focus on risk management and apply prevention measures.” – Alain Voets, Concordia Insurances
Of course, there is no insurance to help reduce insurance claims. A company can take measures, such as working with a prevention advisor, to reduce and manage the risk of, for example, accidents in the workplace. With less accidents, you suffer less damages and less damages helps lower your premium. Companies that work with machines, for example, receive additional conditions imposed by insurers in order to limit certain risks. After a year, these are revised and adjusted if necessary to ensure that the premium doesn’t need to be increased. You might also offer employees an incentive if there are less accidents than the previous year; this makes staff more alert for accidents.
“On the one hand there is the element of chance, but on the other there are risks that you can assess and limit. If you’re organising an event or managing a project from A to Z, there are a myriad of things that can go wrong, before, during and after the event. ” – Alain Voets, Concordia
The number of things that can go wrong at any time are endless, but when we find ourselves needing to claim, we’re often quick to blame the insurer when we don’t receive the compensation (we think) we deserve. However, it’s important to note that this isn’t always due to the insurance company, but may also be attributed to the customer or the broker.
When things do go wrong with the insurer this is often to do with conflicts of interest, where the insurance company decides to pay out the lesser of two claims as previously discussed. A form of abuse of power then plays a role. The insurance company has an entire army of good lawyers at its fingertips, which the client usually doesn’t.
“Some customers try to cheat the insurer by not disclosing all the facts, but they usually end up deceiving themselves.” – Filip Declerq, Expat & Co
Things can go wrong from the customer’s side when they are careless or don’t receive specialist guidance by their broker. It’s easy to forget something, and accidents are quick to happen. If something happens, and you are not, or not sufficiently insured, you pay for the costs yourself. You cannot blame your insurer for your carelessness, negligence or oblivion, irregular control or follow-up.
Incomplete transparency can be contributed to the customer. Some customers try to cheat the insurance company by not disclosing all the facts. But they usually end up deceiving themselves, because insurers leave little to chance. The same applies for brokers. They too sometimes forget something. Nothing human is alien to them. But they do have professional liability insurance for this. If damage is caused by their fault or negligence, the client will be reimbursed under their professional liability insurance.
“The onus is on clients to inform us of changes. If you’ve bought a new car, you need to let us know so we can insure it. Companies evolve and communication between the insurer and insuree is hugely important.” Laurent Martin, ALLIA Insurance
SOME USEFUL TIPS TO ENSURE A SUCCESSFUL CLAIM RESOLUTION
∞ Submit your claims in time
Many contracts have a limited time span after the accident or incident to submit your claim. If that time is up, the insurance company does not have to reimburse you.
∞ Be honest, correct and complete
Make sure your first version of the facts is always the correct version. People who change their version afterwards, when they feel things aren’t turning out the way they want, are always considered suspicious. Companies have the right to call in detectives to find out the truth. A well-known trick is to visit the neighbors: they’ll often share more than the customer would like. Anyone caught for fraud, concealment or misrepresentation of the facts can be sentenced and loses all entitlement to compensation.
∞ Ensure order in your own file
If you make a mess of your file, you can’t expect your insurance company to process it within the agreed time. Claims Adjustors are not your personal secretary. Also, don’t forget that you’re not the only customer. If we were to give priority to messy, and therefore time-consuming, files, we would build up more backlog. As a result, we would also have more dissatisfied customers. Priority is given to as many satisfied customers as possible and therefore to orderly files.
COMPLETING YOUR FILE CORRECTLY:
∞ complete in one file per insured person (not all insured persons mixed together), possibly clearly grouped into one large file;
∞ make sure your documents are arranged by date;
∞ avoid mixing invoices or supporting documents from previous files with new ones;
∞ report your form filled in as completely as possible: describe the cause of the accident, the diagnosis of the disease and such as accurately as possible, supplemented by witness statements, medical reports or other evidence;
∞ don’t forget to mention the account number on which the reimbursement can be deposited.
So why place data and technology at the top of our trends list? Relocation is a people business and few (if any) of our members are likely to be looking into AI or data mining to grow their businesses anytime soon. But we think it’s important you understand the most influential disruptor of the decade that impacts absolutely everything, right down to our weekly food shop. So here goes.
DATA & TECHNOLOGY
1. Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and GDPR
Artificial intelligence is essentially the kind of task that, if humans performed it, we’d say they had to apply intelligence to execute the task. AI is not simply chatbots on a customer service helpdesk. It’s about machine learning and data analysis. Every query you make and every decision you take helps the system give a better, more personalised response as it learns to anticipate your requirements. And Waze telling you the best route in view of the current traffic situation or Facebook’s algorithm deciding which posts show up in your newsfeed, is just the start of it. No matter what you might principally believe about AI, chances are you are already relying on it.
Similarly, as a company, you possess data. There is personally identifiable data, or PPI (home address, dates of birth, work visas and more), and non-personally identifiable information (such as gender, age range or nationality). GDPR has changed the way we look at data from a business and personal perspective, and it’s a good thing. However, it’s the massive amounts of non-PPI data, also known as Big Data, that are currently driving marketing efforts around the globe as ROI becomes ever more measurable. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the counterweight to all this machine driven activity is a powerful need for a more human connection, more on which later.
2. Smart Speakers and Long Tail Keywords
The never-ending quest to rank well in search engines continues as before but has now gained an additional facet with the rise of Alexa, Google Assistant and other AI powered devices (hello, machine learning). The very nature of online searches is changing drastically, with ComScore estimating that half of all search queries will be voice-based by 2020. Deloitte recently predicted the smart speaker will really breakthrough in 2019. So what might this mean for your business?
Imagine you are considering moving halfway around the world on a foreign assignment. You’ve told your boss you’ll have to talk to your partner before coming back with a firm decision, and so whilst cooking dinner you ask Siri about international schools in the Brussels area or residential neighbourhoods in Waterloo. Siri will only give you a handful of answers, maybe even just one, instead of the 79.2 million that a Google web search will. To cater to this new technology you need to start including long tail keywords to bolster your online presence; highly specific multi-word phrases that answer the very specific questions someone might ask their smart speaker.
“I predict that storytelling will be one of the major differentiators between brands that get noticed and those that don’t. The market will continue to get noisier and brands that create human connections through the art of story will rise. This means that now more than ever, becoming a prolific writer and communicator is a key characteristic of effective marketers.” – Holly Tate, Vanderbloemen Search Group
STORYTELLING AND THE HUMAN TOUCH
3. Social Purpose, Authenticity and Brand Storytelling
We’ve spoken about the importance of purpose in previous issues of ReLocate and this continues to be the case in 2019. In fact, it is going to drive more decisions than ever before. No longer can we simply sell a service or a product, we have to lead with our business purpose to convince customers of our proposition.
“Social purpose is rising up the corporate agenda as consumers look for companies demonstrating (not just talking about) shared values. Watch out for brands taking Iceland’s orangutan lead and placing accountable leadership at the heart of their organisational strategies – and social media – to drive company value over the long-term,” says Sarah Hall of Sarah Hall Consulting. Supermarket chain Delhaize lost a lot of credit in the public eye just a few weeks ago for plastic wrapping the plastic wrapping on a plastic toy giveaway a week after their pledge to minimise use of plastics.
Authenticity is key and as such your brand story should be the solid ground on which all your communications are built. The Stackla Report tells us that 86% of consumers feel authenticity is an important factor when deciding what brands to support. This number is even higher among millennials. No matter how big or small your organisation, customers and employees alike are increasingly expecting your mission, vision and values to be more than just words. Driving your strategy, it is what you do and how you do it.
“Consumers used to accept that their favorite brands were neutral. “Don’t pick sides, and avoid topics and statements that alienate any audiences” were the common PR marching orders,” says Deirdre Breakenridge of Pure Performance Communications. “Today, there is a different set of consumer expectations. Businesses are required to have a voice and to take a stance for their customers on important topics. Maybe it is climate change, politics or other social issues? Social media and the citizen journalist have ignited brand purpose and social activism. There are businesses not only ready to join the conversation and be the voice, but that are also helping to create the change their customer wants to see.”
4. Influencer Marketing and Content Marketing
Advertisement fatigue is real and with 30% of all internet users expected to be using ad blockers by the end of the year, marketers are having to come up with creative new ways to reach target audiences. Sponsored articles (also known as native advertising) and user generated content are great ways of doing this. Their main strengths are that they entertain and inform audiences and – when done right – feel natural and authentic. GoPro for example almost solely relies on user generated content as a quick trip to their website will show you. Asking users to send in their best clips, they offer cash awards and promotions for the footage they use.
“In 2019, brands are going to find it increasingly difficult to attract and retain their audience’s attention on social media. The brands that develop creative content strategies that tap into themes that are culturally relevant (and topical) to their audiences, will win. People don’t go on social to see content about your brand, they don’t care about you or your brand. They want to be educated, entertained and inspired. The sooner you realise that and start creating content that fulfils those needs, the better.” states Dan Knowlton of KPS Digital Marketing
Similarly, influencer marketing is enjoying a meteoric rise. “For years we’ve been reviewing and rating products and services, which has paved the way for the rise of influencer marketing. Offering companies and brands a new way to survive, it looks like this trend is here to stay,” says Carol Lamarque of Duval Innovative Marketing. “People will always be receptive to recommendations by others. Think back to the last conversation you had with a friend about a new restaurant. If they enjoyed it, you’re highly likely to book there too. Social media have only strengthened this process as they offer committed influencers a great platform. You can’t underestimate the impact of a micro-influencer with a few hundred followers. Because they’re so small people see them as an individual, not a medium. It’s how they instil confidence.”
“Stories have redefined the way brands communicate on Instagram, and creative marketers are now learning to use this format to address each stage of the customer journey, from awareness to direct purchase. We’ll see even more investments in this channel in 2019.” – Todd Grossman, Talkwalker
5. Social Stories, Takeovers and Video Marketing
With 3.196 billion global social media users, equating to 42% market penetration (We are Social), social media’s significance to society cannot be ignored. Offering companies with limited resources access to powerful marketing tools, platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are adjusting their advertisement models to make marketing more effective for companies.
In this, video and social stories are leading the way. Done well, video marketing produces amazing results. According to HubSpot, simply adding a video to an email boosts click-through rate by a staggering 200-300 percent, and putting one on a landing page increases conversion rate by 80 percent. Forbes research supports this, reporting that 65% of executives visit the marketer’s website and 39% will call a vendor after viewing a video.
Thankfully, including video in your communication strategy doesn’t require a multimillion euro budget. Think about allowing team members to ‘take over’ your social media pages for a fresh new view. From interviews, demos and ‘behind the scenes’ glimpses of events, life in the office and more, thanks to smart phone technology, video is easily integrated. Use photographs and short video clips to create ‘stories’ on your newsfeed, and as they will only stay up for a limited amount of time, they serve to create a sense of excitement with followers. The more savvy marketers make use of the interactive options provided in stories such as ‘vote yes or no’, ‘click here to discover more’ and so on.
6. Personalised Content
If you want to stand out in 2019, you need to personalise your marketing – and that means personalised content, products, emails, and more. With the availability of data-like purchase history, consumer behaviour and links clicked, custom content has never been easier. In fact, Evergage reports that 96% of marketers believe that personalisation advances customer relationships. And it’s not just marketing that is driving this trend. Infosys found that 74% of customers feel frustrated when website content is not personalised. According to Forrester, 77% of consumers have chosen, recommended, or paid more for a brand that provides a personalised service or experience. And Digital Trends tells us that seventy-three percent of consumers prefer to do business with brands that use personal information to make their experiences more relevant. Time to start looking at your customer data then.
When done correctly, using personalised marketing in digital and print business-critical documents can help you effectively reach your customers and yield a high ROI. In addition to revenue opportunities, personalised document marketing can help create a better customer experience by delivering content unique to an individual’s specific needs. Businesses like Netflix and Amazon are already leveraging the power of personalisation. Logging on to your Netflix account, for example, immediately shows you the evidence of this: the banner, carousels, order, artwork, text and search are all personalised for you. As Kevin George, Head of Marketing at EmailMonks, puts it: “The future of e-mail is real-time, behaviour-based personalisation. A study by Marketo shows that personalised, triggered e-mails based on behaviour are 3x better than batch-and-blast e-mails.”
7. Employee Engagement and Positive Experiences
From communicating with your target audience to communicating with your team, employee engagement is where all of the above comes together. Your corporate story is built on your strategy, which in turn is what brings your mission, vision and values to life. Your company culture needs to inspire and engage, as the business benefits of getting this right are impressive. Harvard Business Review reports that organisations that boast a clear and inspiring company culture can expect to achieve 20-30% better business results than their competitors. Michael Hartland wrote about the importance of delivering a positive employee experience in HR News last year, and we couldn’t agree more.
“An increased focus on building positive employee experience will be a core goal of internal communications plans. The benefits in improved customer experience and retention of top staff performers are undeniable. But while the value may be understood now, practical implementation has lagged behind. Nearly 80% of executives rate employee experience as important, but only 22% believe that their companies are building a genuinely different employee experience. In fact, employee engagement generally has been flat in recent years. One cause for this lies in our increasingly complex workplaces. Virtual teams, dispersed staff, technology, and multi-generations and cultures have all added to this complexity.”
8. One Tool to Rule Them All
This, in turn, segways into our final point quite nicely. We live and work in an increasingly mobile world. Over half of all internet usage is done on mobile, compared to just 31% three years ago. And although businesses have recognised the importance of a ‘mobile first’ mentality, the implications – and opportunities – for internal communications are both technical and physical. Witness the growing popularity of programmes such as OneNote, Google Docs and other cloud-based applications that facilitate team input and creativity.
Technological innovations have also opened the door for company apps as a new way to strengthen employee communication, engagement and loyalty. Allowing you to manage projects, assign tasks and keep other team members updated, free apps such as Slack, Trello and Asana offer a modern and convenient way of working within a team environment, irrespective of physical location. Holding the middle ground between a digital to-do list, a Whatsapp group and email, they go a long way towards keeping your mailbox free of clutter and help you pool information and resources within the team.
The most frequent questions immigration providers receive from clients are:
∞ What Brexit scenario should we prepare for?
∞ When should we start preparing?
∞ How should we prepare?
Answering these questions is difficult, but not impossible.
Preparing for a soft or a hard Brexit?
So what scenario should you prepare for? To answer this question, companies should look at what decision makers are currently doing. Both in the UK and in the EU (at EU and at national level) decision makers keep highlighting their commitment to finding a deal. However at the same time, everyone is also preparing for a no-deal scenario. For example, the French government published a draft law in November 2018 to create a no-deal legal framework. Other countries, such as Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Czech Republic have made public their no deal preparations as of the beginning of 2019. In addition, the European Commission published three communications last year – one in July, one in November and one in December – urging all stakeholders, from national administrations to citizens and economic operators, to prepare for a hard Brexit.
This is indeed the most cautious thing to do. On the one hand, possible disturbances caused by a hard Brexit could be very costly for companies. On the other hand, all the efforts put into preparing for a hard Brexit would not be wasted if, eventually, a soft Brexit occurs. Why? Because the hard Brexit and the soft Brexit scenarios are in the end not so different from each.
Three main aspects distinguish them. The first one is the two year transition period (30th of March 2019 – 1st of January 2021) which would be implemented only if the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified and enters into force by 30th of March 2019 (soft Brexit).
The second one is the level of protection to be granted to UK/EU nationals residing in the EU/UK prior to the Brexit day (less generous in case of a hard Brexit). And the third one is the nature of the future EU-UK relationship. In a hard Brexit scenario there would be no time to negotiate. So, from an immigration perspective, we would fall back immediately on already existing immigration schemes (GATS mode IV, EU permits, national permits) as of 30th of March 2019. This does not mean however that, in the future, this could not be re-negotiated and amended. In a soft Brexit scenario, there would certainly be talks about the future arrangements during the transition period, and some more ambitious schemes could be put in place.
Nevertheless, understanding what impact Brexit will have on current employees and future employees is crucial for all businesses. And some of this analysis will be the same in both scenarios. The major consequences will be felt only two years later if there is a soft Brexit. Yet, the sooner companies start preparing, the better chances they stand to avoid all possible disruptions and negative consequences on their employees.
When should companies start preparing?
Ideally, preparations should already be on-going. Although there is still a lot of uncertainty, companies and employees can already take steps to protect their rights and prepare for the future, irrespective of what the future will look like. All concerned people must make sure they are making use of all existing tools and schemes already in place and that they are ready for when new ones will be available for them.
How should companies prepare?
The first thing to do is classify the stakeholders within the company who will be impacted. Some of the stakeholders are easy to identify: EU nationals locally hired in the UK or UK nationals locally hired in an EU country. But Brexit might also have an impact on cross border workers, business travellers, employees temporarily assigned in the UK or an EU country, and even third country nationals in some situations. Moreover, Brexit will also impact future employees. Therefore, recruiters and HR departments must be aware of how their work will be influenced by Brexit.
Once the stakeholders are identified, it is crucial to put a communication strategy in place with tailored messages to all groups of stakeholders. Employers should reassure employees to make sure they retain them. In addition, they should train recruiters and HR specialists to help them understand the implications of a soft or a hard Brexit.
The third step – not necessarily in a chronological order as some of these steps can be taken simultaneously – would be to collect data about the impacted employees. It is no longer sufficient to know who they are. Companies must also have information about their length of stay in the host country, nationality of their family members, type of employment, employment conditions, education, etc. All of this data is necessary to create preparedness strategies and contingency plans.
And lastly, get ready to implement these strategies and plans. Brexit is an ever changing landscape and is very difficult to keep up with. There are no exact deadlines, no exact timelines, no precise outcome. Companies must be flexible. They must make sure they have all the necessary resources and are ready to act at any time. With all the uncertainty around Brexit, only one thing is certain. As cliché as this may seem, companies should definitely hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
With thanks to Andreia Ghimis, Senior Consultant EU Government and Client Advisory at Fragomen
“We’re here for anyone who wants to express themselves in English,” CHS board member Michael Penning tells us. “Our Helpline is staffed by volunteers who offer a listening ear to anyone who needs information or is struggling with a problem. The calls we receive vary as widely as the support we offer. A lot of our calls are fairly straightforward requests for information. Where to find a notary who understands the difference between Belgian, American or Indian legislation. Where to find a GP or medical specialist who speaks English – it’s so important that you can clearly express what the problem is, especially if you’re not confident in your adoptive language – phone numbers for emergency electricians, plumbers or locksmiths … we’ve built up quite an extensive database since we first opened our ears in 1971!”
Offering a 24/7 Helpline, a Mental Health Centre and an Educational Testing Programme, CHS has grown to an organisation which comprises 18 multilingual therapists and some 40 volunteers, as well as a board of trustees. And although English is the main language spoken, some ten languages are spoken by the team of therapists, ensuring clients from all over the world are offered the very best of support. Where the Helpline is staffed by a team of trained and dedicated volunteers, the Mental Health Centre is staffed by a team of health care professionals – psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists – who are there for adults, adolescents and children alike.
“We receive a lot of calls from people who find themselves at a loss when they first move to Belgium. Rather than drinking their evenings away at the local Irish pub, they want to play cards with likeminded people, join a cricket or tennis club or some other kind of activity. On the other end of the spectrum, we also deal with more pressing calls for help. Very occasionally we’re confronted with someone who is thinking about ending it all. Thankfully, when someone reaches out to you, they’re usually looking for a way out in the positive sense of the word. Much as they might maintain the rope is ready in the garage, the fact that they are calling means they just want to be heard. There are a lot of lonely people out there and lending a listening ear can really help make the difference.”
“We’re making a concerted effort to reach out to more youngsters and adolescents by going out to schools, and they are increasingly finding their way to us too. Youngsters today get so tied up with their smartphones and video games that they crave a personal exchange. They don’t want to talk to their parents, teacher or friends – convinced they won’t understand them anyway or embarrassed to say what’s bothering them – and just want a little guidance.”
The Educational Testing Programme in particular has proven to be popular with CHS clients, as the psycho-educational assessment programme is the only one of its kind in the Benelux. Aimed at children between the ages of 3 and 18, it is there for children who are experiencing difficulty in the classroom, struggle with homework or finding it difficult to pay attention in class. “We understand parents would like to have their child tested before the start of the new school year, but you have to match the right therapist with the child. It all depends on the problems they’re experiencing,” explains Michael. “Interestingly, we sometimes see that when a child has for example been found to suffer from attention deficit disorder, the parents want to get tested too! If you are struggling with any type of question at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out to CHS. Their team of highly trained volunteers and therapists are on hand to help you understand and adjust to the demands of life as an expatriate. It can take just one comforting phone call to help someone through a crisis or set up a course of therapeutic treatment.”
“Relying on the support of volunteers to ‘woman or man’ the phone lines and run the administrative office, CHS needs help too,” Michael tells us. “We don’t ask for much, but the time people are able to give us is very valuable. Whether they want to help on the Helpline or are happier doing administrative tasks, or even helping with our fundraising efforts, we’d love to hear from anyone who can spare a few hours during the week or weekend. It’s important our volunteers are good listeners and have a fluent grasp of the English language.”
The Community Help Service annual calendar is much more than a calendar. It’s full of useful, practical and sometimes ‘out-of–the-way’ information for both newcomers to Brussels and long-term residents. Costing €10 each, sales are an important way of raising funds. CHS is offering a discount on multiple purchases for readers of ReLocate and for ABRA members who would like to include them in their welcome packs and a sale-or-return arrangement can be discussed.
Helpline (24/7) – 02 648 4014
Book an appointment – 02 647 6780
ReLocate spoke with professor Greg Clark, urbanist and Senior Fellow at the Urban Land Institute Europe, to find out more. He is a widely published author on city development and investment issues and advises a wide array of international organisations. In May 2016 he presented a new report analysing the competitiveness of Brussels and Antwerp. Where most analyses of a city’s competitiveness rely on economic performance, The Urban Land Institute report looks at a much wider range of issues. Ranging from liveability to geopolitical risk and sustainability, these are the things that influence a city’s attractiveness to residents and companies alike.
Brussels and Antwerp are very different in nature: how did you approach the comparison?
“We put together two benchmarking groups, ran workshops, visited the cities and conducted a ton of interviews before running this comparative analysis in which we measured Brussels and Antwerp against groups of peer cities to arrive at an assessment of their competitiveness,” explains Greg Clark. “We didn’t just look at economic performance, but at other issues that impact a city’s attractiveness to residents too. Matters such as liveability, governance, geopolitical risk and sustainability are just as important in urban life. Brussels was tested against well established capitals such as London and Paris, cities that provide tough competition. Antwerp on the other hand was held up against peer cities that are reinventing themselves – some of them port cities – like Hamburg and Amsterdam, and other (former) industry greats such as Manchester and Liverpool.”
Antwerp has a huge opportunity to build a central role for itself as part of a regional system of cities.
What are their main selling points?
“Both cities have very good fundamentals, and their own, unique attractions. Antwerp is compelling for its extraordinary DNA. It has always been one of the world’s greatest trading cities and has invented many ideas about the connection between trade, innovation and discovery. Antwerp knows how to build a city around a port. Located within a north-western European economy of roughly 100 million people with a huge GDP, it’s well connected with Belgian, Dutch, Northern French and German cities on all sides. Antwerp has a huge opportunity to build a central role for itself as part of a regional system of cities.”
“The Antwerp port is embracing innovation in terms of how goods are managed, how energy is used and what technology is applied. They’re building an innovative port and energy complex, with a big focus on the circular economy, which is important and fascinating. Of course, the city of Antwerp is synonymous with the craft and design of high-quality goods. From the diamond industry to its fashion sector, Antwerpians know how to make items of high value work in the market place. This mercantilist attitude means it is truly open for business.”
“Boasting a young and vibrant population that is committed to taking the city forward, Antwerp is further boosted by a government with big ambitions. From building a canopy over the ring road to creating more public spaces and developing the left bank, the city is redesigning its urban fabric to make a future-proof city. Smart citizen initiatives activate people to act as the eyes and ears of the city, giving feedback on the quality of bicycle lanes or roads and public facilities that might need maintenance. These distinctive edges of Antwerp amount to things that are quite exciting considering its small size. Thinking about the business opportunities that arise from disruption runs deep within the Antwerp DNA.”
Brussels’ youthful population and great cosmopolitan mixity give rise to a highly scientific, entrepreneurial labour force that is willing to work in all sorts of industries.
“Brussels on the other hand is distinctive in a completely different way,” Greg continues. “It is a major capital city, and as home to the various European institutions and NATO it has an influential presence on the global stage, although it is yet to leverage it to its full potential. It’s interesting when you compare Brussels with cities like Washington DC or Singapore, which play an influential role by hosting global institutions, international summits and other gatherings that really work for the city.”
“It has a youthful population and great cosmopolitan mixity giving rise to a highly scientific, entrepreneurial labour force that is willing to work in all sorts of industries. The high calibre of educational institutes in Brussels is somewhat obscured by the presence of international institutions such as the EU and NATO, but the educational cluster has enormous potential thanks to leadership in fields such as IT, life sciences, or medicine. Most obviously it has enormous potential to be a global school of government, public policy and management.”
“When you look at productivity progress in Brussels a lot of it is to do with the dynamism of the labour market and its liquidity. People want to spend time in Brussels, partly because of its influence, but then find they want to stay and do other things too. It’s important to remember that government institutions feed and support a huge cluster of other kinds of decision making and communication activities. There are very big, positive spill-overs and multipliers that you can leverage into other industries. If you thought a government town can only ever be a government town, you’d be wrong.”
All attractive qualities indeed, surely there must be some drawbacks?
“They also both suffer from a number of challenges,” agrees Greg. “Part of this is that they are located in Belgium, and, great as Belgium may be, it is not a country that enjoys a clear institutional framework. Both Brussels and Antwerp struggle to build their identity and present themselves in a way that cities in less confusing countries do not. Brussels has far greater assets than say Vienna or Zurich, yet these cities have fewer difficulties presenting and promoting themselves on an international stage. Similarly, whilst Antwerp has greater or equivalent assets to Liverpool, Lyon, Genoa, and Turin, it has difficulty articulating what it is, where it is, and why.”
“They’re also rather late to the urbanisation agenda compared to other European cities. Citizens in Brussels and Antwerp are highly dependent on their cars and prefer the suburbs to the city centre. The Belgians tend to sub optimise the use of land and real estate, which translates into low levels of densification and very few mixed-use development projects. It also means there has been very little focus on transport and connectivity as a way of embracing and spurring on urbanism. The third thing that seems to be true for both of them – although each city has a slightly different version of this – is that they have had some difficulty creating the right geographical and institutional space through which to apply leadership to the city.”
“Brussels Capital Region struggles due to the way it is defined; geographically it’s too small for the – much larger – Brussels metropolitan area and then of course there is the fragmentation of having 19 separate municipalities, which rather effectively prevents an integrated governance model. You need a leadership platform for the whole area, otherwise you end up with different policies being pursued in different parts of the region, which is not particularly helpful. For Antwerp it was more of a question of leadership appetite in the past, although I think this is now being addressed. The current leadership has the appetite to succeed and a vision for moving the city forward. It’s just been slow getting there.”
“The public sector almost has a monopoly on leadership control in Belgium. Other sectors, such as business, cultural and higher education, have not played active civic leadership roles like they do in other cities of comparable sizes. There’s been too much waiting around for city government to put things right, rather than civic leadership working hand in hand with city governments to create forward momentum. I suppose you could say both cities have become somewhat institutionalised. This is now being addressed in Antwerp where civil and trade movements are working together with the city towards creating a more sustainable future for the city.”
Both cities need to build a strong brand and identity. Getting together with organisations that will back the city and help create a new global story will help put them on the map.
How can Brussels and Antwerp improve on their competitiveness?
“We focused on three main areas for our recommendations on addressing these weaknesses,” Greg tells us. “First, Brussels and Antwerp need to start embracing urbanisation. This means being proactive in extending and developing public transport as a way of reducing car dependence. By strengthening the urban mix, you create excitement and vibrancy. Creating exciting city centres and sub centres, together with a more active transport mix, helps attract and retain corporate investment and the dynamic workforce needed by these companies.”
“Secondly, the institutional frameworks have to be right. This creates room for city leadership that is continuously thinking about their city as somewhere people will want to live and work, rather than getting stuck in Belgian politics. Thinking about public and private partnerships on a city level is a big part of this, just look at how Antwerp is involving its citizens in the maintenance of its city.”
“This in turn leads into our third point: the promotion of Brussels and Antwerp. Both cities need to build a strong brand and identity. Getting together an alliance of organisations that will back the city and help create a new global story will help put them on the map. This is certainly happening in Antwerp, and I believe efforts are underfoot in Brussels now too.”
“Finally, both cities have really creative industries which are part of the impact of the cosmopolitan diversity of the city. You should be able to really use that cosmopolitan diversity as a driver of creative endeavour. The idea isthat diversity creates competitive advantage through interaction. To realise that, you’ve got to address the challenges of social exclusion and segregation. Brussels has two cosmopolitan populations: one is the elite that services the global institutions, the other is the population of migrants who have come from a poorer set of countries in search of a better life. Somehow, you’ve got to make those two kinds of populations work together.”
To read the full report, visit the Urban Land Institute website:
Public holidays in 2019
|New Year’s Day||Tuesday, January 1st 2019|
|Easter Monday||Monday, April 22nd 2019|
|Labour Day||Wednesday, May 1st 2019|
|Ascension Day||Thursday, May 30th 2019|
|Whit Monday||Monday, June 10th 2019|
|Belgian National Holiday||Sunday, July 21st 2019|
|Assumption Day||Thursday, August 15th 2019|
|All Saints’ Day||Friday, November 1st 2019|
|Armistice Day||Monday, November 11th 2019|
|Christmas||Wednesday, December 25th 2019|
When a public holiday falls on a Sunday or another day which is normally a non-working day (usually a Saturday), it must be replaced by a replacement day on a normal working day. In theory, in Belgium, employees cannot be required to work on public holidays. The employer however is obliged to pay the employee a normal salary for that holiday. In the list above, the public holidays that fall on a non-working day in the course of 2019 have been marked in bold. Employees are entitled to one replacement day in 2019, for the Belgian National Holiday (Sunday, July 21st).
The law of January 4, 1974 provides for the manner in which replacement days should be determined. In theory, the Joint industrial Committee competent for each sector may decide when replacement days shall fall, but in practice we don’t see this very often. If the Joint industrial Committee has not taken its decision before October 1, 2018, each company may decide for itself when the replacement days for its employees will fall. The company may take that decision in one of the following ways:
– By the Works Council.
– If the company has no Works Council, by agreement between the union representatives and the employer.
– If the company has a Works Council nor union representatives, by agreement between all the employees and the employer.
– If no agreement can be reached for the whole company, individual agreements may be drawn up between the employer and each employee.
If replacement days cannot be decided upon using one of the solutions above, they automatically fall on the next normal working day following the public holiday (usually a Monday).
Employers must inform their employees of the replacement days for 2019 by displaying a signed and dated document on the company premises before December 15, 2018.
More interesting news can be found on the news page of Pro-Pay
“What makes you feel at home?” Iliv, the Belgian information platform on daily life at home, asked over 2000 respondents last year. Exactly half of these respondents feel it is imperative that the people they love live there too. And over thirty percent listed ‘my things’, ‘decoration’ and ‘crockery’. Almost a third felt a pet was an essential part of home life and over a quarter feels a garden or terrace and own furniture are important, just as connections with friends, family and furniture play a role in how at home we feel. In short: it’s both our favourite people and our favourite things that turn a house into a home.
“It is both our favourite people and our favourite things that turn a house into a home.”
That we like having our favourite people around seems obvious. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy living together. Creating a warm and stable home for your family is essential according to the Flemish child- and youth psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssens. Last year he wrote a book entitled ‘Nesten’ in which he attempts to answer the question of what makes a family home. “It’s a work in progress,” he feels. “A house becomes a home when each family member feels free to be themselves, and where there is noticeable effort to form a unit. A nest really. And seeing as you can’t just buy one, nor create one from one day to the next, nesting equals some serious work,” he writes in his introduction.
Adriaenssens pleads for slow and steady creation, a critical view and including the children in the process of furnishing the home. “A house takes care of our physical needs, as it provides warmth, quiet and a safe haven. But nesting is only possible when you are free to turn your house into your own.” Inspiration, he says, can be found anywhere: in your own past and the house you grew up in, through talking to family members, from other families, or from magazines and books, but putting your own stamp on it is essential.
“Interior magazines shouldn’t dictate how you create your home. That the lamp by designer X works so well with the table of Y is a possibility, one of a thousand. But we wouldn’t wish a life in an interior upon any family with young children. We shouldn’t begrudge them life in a living, breathing environment; we should allow them to experience a real home.”
That we should want to keep our favourite things close by, as shown by the Iliv survey, makes sense according to Ruth Mugge. Ruth is an associate professor at the Industrial Design Faculty of the Technical University Delft and researches product attachment; the strength of the bond that we feel with a product. “An object that we feel an affinity to conjures up emotions. People can feel happy, proud or warm towards their favourite things. Or sad in regard to an heirloom. An object to which you are attached has a special meaning that brings about feelings of protection.”
“People can feel happy, proud or warm towards favourite objects.”
“These are also the things we take along when we move house.” Her research shows there are four main reasons for attaching to an object: because they give expression to your own identity, because they bind you to a group, because you enjoy them or because they remind you of something or someone. “Of these reasons, memories are the strongest binding factor, as they make an object irreplaceable. Logically this is the most important reason to keep them with you or to display them in your home.”
“Moving often means a change of identity, whether it’s becoming a resident of a new town or a new country. If you want to keep your old identity intact, then it’s important to give the objects that show your identity an important place in your home. But if you’re looking forward to a ‘new you’ then they will be less important,” And, Ruth Mugge admits: “Extreme expats, people who move regularly for professional reasons, have one of two strategies: either they are less likely to bond with objects than others would as they know it is only temporary. Or they will take a little bit of ‘home’ with them with each move.” A kind of survival kit that can easily be integrated into a property, essentially.
This product attachment may partially explain why we are seeing so many display cabinets in furniture catalogues these last few years, both in high-end and high-street design. The still life’s you can create here are literally that; they bring instant life to a home. Only recently British interior magazine Elle Decoration devoted no less than six pages to ‘the art of display’; smart ideas for modern-day still life’s in trendy colours.
“An absolute must for any home is a great sofa; somewhere you can retreat to and relax.”
“An absolute must for any home is a great sofa; somewhere you can retreat to and relax,” says Katja van Putten, project manager at Iliv. “It’s surprising how many people find this indispensable to feeling at home somewhere,” she stresses. And then of course there are the tricks of the trade that will make any house feel warm and welcoming.
In her book ‘Home is where the heart is’ interior design specialist Ilse Crawford highlights the most important ones. “There are certain basic things that make us feel safe – and have for centuries. They are irrational and independent of style: drawers and doors that close with a sturdy clunk (why else would car manufacturers add the noise digitally?); high back furniture; overscale tables, beds and lamps; things that resonate of home, and help us create a new and deeper sense of domestic comfort.”
She feels it makes sense that we should like vintage furniture, as it reminds us of childhoods spent at parents’ and grandparents’ homes, and she knows that our bodies much prefer rounded shapes. That we should love rocking chairs, sheepskin rugs, traditional textiles and cosy corners to sit in is logical, as is a warm environment with mood lighting and healthy, clean air. It’s hardly surprising to her that comfort and decoration have become important again in the world of interior design. “Patterns, wallpapers and artisanal items bring more intimacy, privacy, sensuality and beauty and offer a counterbalance to the more clinical designs. “Home,” she writes, “ is a mental state as well as a place.”
Five easy suggestions that will ensure you feel at home instantly:
• ensure you have somewhere to retreat to;
• make sure your house is warm, literally, but also through the use of warm colours, materials
and mood lighting;
• involve all housemates in the decorating and be flexible;
• put together a survival kit of your most precious items when moving house;
• have a display cabinet with favourite photographs, memories and meaningful objects.
The Recognised European License
Member countries of the European Union give out a European model driving license. These driving licenses are recognised throughout the European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) as well as many other locations around the world. In broad strokes, if you have a European driving license and are living in Belgium you need to exchange it before it runs out, or if you are settling here on a more permanent basis (exchange within 2 years of settling in Belgium).
Although you can drive here with your Guadeloupian license (yes, as an overseas department of France it’s part of the EU), it may be worth considering exchanging it for a Belgian one if you plan on being here for a while. At the very least you should get your license registered with your local commune, so that if you were to lose or damage it you can easily request a replacement. So far, so good. The matter gets somewhat more complex however as we venture further afield.
The Recognised non-European License
If you are the proud owner of a recognised non-European driving license then according to the conventions of Vienna and Geneva you may legally drive your car here. However, this only holds true providing you do not possess either a Belgian ID card, or an A, B, C, D, E, F, E+ or F+ card.
As soon as you are officially registered as living here you receive your Identification Number of the National Register (rijksregisternummer/numero national). Your newly acquired residential status automatically means you will need to exchange your license for a Belgian one as you are now a Belgian resident. This in theory should be a straight-forward exchange of licenses.
The non-Recognised non-European License
The same system applies with a non-recognised non-European driving license: you can legally drive here with your foreign driving license until you are awarded residential status. As soon as you have received your national number you will need to exchange your driving license for a Belgian one.
However, as your license is not recognised here, you will need to sit both theory and practical exams before it can be considered for exchange. Unfortunately, a letter from your embassy attesting to the validity of your license is of absolutely no value in this process.
The International Driving License
If you are here on a business trip visa (90 days max) then you may want to request an international driving license from your home country to cover the duration of your stay. Check with your home country whether you need an international driving license to go with your national license in Belgium. This will differ from country to country, but your embassy will be able to advise you.
The international driving license has no actual legal value in Europe. It merely serves as an additional document to go with your national license. An international driving license is valid for one year only and must be collected in person from your home municipality, which means you should have obtained it before coming over.
The Exchange Process
The process of exchange is simple in theory: you go to your local municipality with your current driving license and your Belgian ID card and request an exchange. Your license is sent off for a check and then exchanged for a Belgian one.
It is important that your license meets the following requirements: you have the same nationality as your license – or you can prove you were residing in that country for at least 185 days in the year you received it – you received it before moving here, it is valid, and the categories awarded are recognised here.
If your license is not in one of the recognised national languages, you may need to have it translated by a sworn translator before it can be considered, especially if it is not in our Latin alphabet. If your country does not follow the Gregorian calendar (as we do in Europe) then the valid from/to dates will also need translating. Some embassies provide standard translations of national driving licenses, so it is worth checking with your embassy.
Your license is then sent off to the FOD Mobiliteit en Vervoer who will verify that your driving license is not counterfeit. Providing your license is real and you do not need to sit any additional tests it will be exchanged for a Belgian one. This usually takes between six and eight weeks. The commune essentially acts as a letterbox, so how quickly they send it on to the Ministry can also depend on their own backlog.
If you have to sit both theory and practical tests, then you will need to pass these before your license can be exchanged for a Belgian one. Larger cities such as Brussels and Antwerp offer driving tests in a number of different languages, or you can bring a sworn translator along at your own expense.
Again, much depends on how long it takes for you to book (and sit) your exams and receive your test results. Bring your results along with your national license (and any translations) to your local commune and ask for the exchange process to be initiated. You should have your new license within 6 – 8 weeks.
Good to know: a national foreign license (whether recognised or non-recognised) always exempts you from driving lessons, providing you are requesting a license with the same categories (AM, A, B, C, D, G) given out in Belgium. You may however still need to take theory and practical tests, depending on the license you hold.
You can start taking theory lessons online even before you arrive in Belgium and can book your exams the day you receive your national number. Sending off proof of passing with your current license gets things moving as quickly as possible.
We have to remind expats that driving without a license is illegal in Belgium and leaves you open to fines if you are stopped by the police, and worse: potentially uninsured should something happen. Although some communes provide a document stating your license has been sent off for exchange, we are told this has no legal value at present.
You can request your national license back when you leave Belgian territory and give up your residential status. Should you come back again in future years, you will have to start the exchange process again. Until you have physically received your Belgian license you can still change your mind and request your national license back.
List of recognised EU and EEA driving licenses:
List of recognised non-EU and EEA driving licenses:
FOD directive on exchanging European driving licenses:
FOD directive on exchanging foreign driving licenses:
Exams with an interpreter:
When an expat moves to Belgium they are legally required to exchange their national driving license for a Belgian one. Although the FOD Mobiliteit en Vervoer provides us with a list of countries that award recognised non-European driving licenses (countries not listed are not recognised), and although each and every local commune has received exactly the same directive when it comes to handling foreign licenses, many members report long delays, lengthy processes and conflicting instructions.
One thing is clear: you can drive here with your foreign license as long as you are not registered as a Belgian resident. As soon as you are registered, you need to exchange your license for a Belgian (European model) driving license. It’s this registration process where some of the perceived delay comes from: whereas you can get registered within 2 weeks in a smaller commune such as Waterloo, it can take up to 5 months in a busy commune such as Brussels city centre. Going back to the commune to initiate your driving license exchange after you’ve already been living and working here for five months can feel like red tape for the sake of it.
It is also clear that legally you may not drive without a valid driving license. If your current license has been sent off for exchange, you cannot drive until you have received your Belgian one. Quite simply because under Belgian law you cannot be insured without a valid driving license. The question is at which point your foreign license becomes invalid: is this as soon as it is sent off or only once you’ve received your new one?
“Getting stopped by the police for a routine control and being fined is a risk that some people are willing to take,” Eric explains. “However, it’s not the fine that’s the problem, the problem is if an accident happens. We know of companies that ask their employees to return their car keys to HR on the day they receive their Belgian ID cards. The car stays in lock-up until they have received their Belgian license, it’s a strict policy. A few years ago an expat had an accident while his license had been sent off for exchange and the lease company refused to cover the accident. Thankfully it was mostly material damage to the car, but imagine if you seriously injured someone. You’d be paying both financially and emotionally for the rest of your life.”
“Some communes provide the expat with a document they can show the police in case they are stopped,” adds Koen. “Unfortunately, we’re not sure what the legal validity of this is, even if it is provided by the commune itself. Whether or not this document will get you out of a fine may depend on the policeman who stops you, but you have to take into account your insurer as well. Will they cover you if you drive with a document that certifies your license is being processed? Many brokers will, but you never know for certain until something happens. And finally, the Ministry tells us that such a document holds no legal value. It’s a very murky situation with a lot of grey areas. The expat thinks they are covered and upholding the law, but in actual fact they may not be.”
With the exchange of a foreign driving license taking around six to eight weeks on average it is easy to see why expats, employers and relocators alike would like to see this process speeded up. ABRA’s relocation committee has been exploring the options.
“There are a number of different avenues we have been exploring,” Eric tells us. “The very best outcome would be a faster process altogether. But we understand there are just two people at the Ministry to cover all the driving license exchanges, which means there is an immense backlog. More funds to process foreign arrivals isn’t exactly a popular request.”
“As an interim measure we would like the Ministry to ratify a standard document nationwide that covers expats during the exchange process,” Koen continues. “This of course is a big challenge and one we can use help with. Finally, this document needs to be accepted by insurance and car lease companies, although insurance coverage is for a large part the employer’s responsibility. But it would be good to be able to advise clients which insurance companies will accept such a ‘covering’ document.”
“We have a few client companies who have already expressed an interest in supporting our efforts for this interim document and a faster exchange process. ABRA members – and ReLocate readers – can be of great help here: the more companies that get behind our cause, the stronger our voice will be as we lobby the government. So please ask your clients if they would be willing to attest to the impact of the exchange process on their business. Companies make a serious investment every time they bring over an expat and for them to then have to turn around and say ‘sorry boss, I can’t drive until January’ is problematic to say the least.”
If you would like to get behind our cause and help us lobby for a faster driving license exchange process as well as an official interim document for drivers, then please contact Eric Klitsch or Koen Reekmans via: email@example.com
What kind of preparations are recommended before relocating to Belgium in regards to immigration and visas?
“It is key to find out if you need a Belgian visa or permit to visit, live, work or study in Belgium. The Belgian legislation applicable to the employment of foreigners makes a distinction in the rules applicable to the right to enter and stay and the rules applicable to the right to work. EU/EEA and Swiss citizens can work without a work permit in Belgium. Third-country nationals, however, will typically need a work permit to engage in economic activities.”
What is the Blue Card System? Why is it necessary to differentiate between highly-skilled / highly-paid workers and everyone else?
“In 2000 the European Council met in Lisbon to define the strategic plan that could help the Union’s competitive position in the global market in terms of employment, economic reform and social cohesion as part of a knowledge-based economy. In that meeting the Union set the strategy to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.
In order to establish this goal the EU established measures to attract highly skilled employees from outside of the EU, one of those being the European Blue Card. Why exactly was it deemed so important to put the focus on this? At the time the Council concluded that the growth of the EU would be at stake because of the lack of highly qualified and skilled human capital. Therefore, special schemes and measures had to be put in place to increase Europe’s attractiveness towards highly-educated and talented foreigners to help build this competitive knowledge-based economy.”
There are three types of work permit:
Type-A work permits allow you to work for any employer indefinitely;
Type-B work permits allow you to work for a specific employer for up to a year (renewable);
Type-C work permits allow those staying in Belgium only temporarily – such as students – to work for any employer for up to a year (also renewable).
There has recently been some reform to the “Blue Card System”, have the changes benefited workers or have they made the process more difficult and restrictive?
The EU Blue Card scheme has been in operation since 2009. The scheme was proven unsuccessful for a number of reasons, including more attractive national parallel schemes, limited associated rights and its limited ability to attract young talent. The European Commission adopted a proposal to review the EU Blue Card scheme to address those weaknesses and to improve the EU’s ability to attract and retain highly skilled workers in 2016. It foresees more flexible admission criteria, extended labour market access and intra-EU mobility rights for EU Blue Card holders and facilitated access to EU long-term residency. The Commission’s proposal is currently discussed between the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council and will hopefully be adopted in the course of 2018.
What are the most common queries that your team deals with in regards to visa processes in Belgium?
- Can my spouse work? Not automatically. “The spouse of a foreign worker does not have an immediate right to work on the basis of the dependent residence permit. They still require a work permit B sponsored by an employer. The good news on the other hand is that the status of dependent spouse offers access to a work permit B category with more relaxed eligibility criteria.”
- Can we expedite the procedure? “Unfortunately it is not possible to opt for an expedited procedure in Belgium. The relevant authorities usually handle applications on a first come first serve basis and strive to deliver in a consistent manner against stable processing times (2-4 weeks for work permit applications and 5-15 working days for visa applications).”
- Does the embassy keep my passport? “Some of our clients who have a very busy travel schedule are terrified of having to surrender their passport at the Embassy while applying for their visa. Luckily we often have good news as most embassies quite cooperative towards the requests from applicants to to give the passport back if they can substantiate the urgent need for this (eg. Business travel).”
- Does the EU Blue Card offer me the right to work in the entire EU? “Unfortunately this is not yet the case. The EU Blue Card only grants work rights in the member state that has issued the EU Blue Card. I have to explain to our clients that they still require work authorisation if they would go to work in any of the other member states.”
- Can my (non-married) partner come with me? Again, not necessarily. “This often creates a “reality shock” for non-married couples as they are forced to make a choice to apply for family reunification by either marrying (abroad or in Belgium) or concluding legal cohabitation upon arrival in Belgium (subject to various eligibility requirements).”
- My work visa is about to expire, should I renew my visa even when I’m already in Belgium and have a residence permit? “The work visa is “transferred” into the residence permit upon completing the town hall registration procedure. The legal status of the foreigner in Belgium is not defined by the visa as soon as they have the valid residence permit. Their status is 100% compliant and covered when they have a valid work and residence permit.”
What is the process from work permit (A, B or C,) to residency (D) to citizenship?
- To apply for unlimited residency you have resided legally in Belgium for an uninterrupted period of five years.
- If you hold a Blue Card from another EU-member state, and have lived elsewhere in the EU, this can count towards your five-year period.
- Acquiring citizenship requires the applicant to have a permanent residency status.
- Once permanent residency is acquired it then follows a ‘Nationality Declaration’ track.
- Nationality Declaration:
– Legal residence of between five and 10 years in Belgium;
– Be able to prove that you speak one of the three main languages;
– You are socially and economically integrated.
Want to acquire citizenship through marriage to a Belgian national?
- You must have been living together for three years;
- Still fulfil the five-year residence requirement;
- Also have knowledge of one of the three main languages.
Are entrepreneurs able to apply for a Professional Card without holding any other visa for residency in Belgium? Are the visa and immigration rules different for entrepreneurs?
“As a rule, a foreign national exercising a self-employed activity in Belgium needs to be in possession of a Professional Card. Some foreign nationals are exempt from this requirement, such as foreign nationals who come to Belgium on a business trip, provided that the trip does not exceed three consecutive months. Whether the entrepreneur needs a visa and/or Belgian residence permit will depend on their nationality and duration of stay in Belgium. The general rules apply which are similar for foreign employees and self-employed.”
What is the EU Intra-Corporate Transfers directive and when do you think it will be transposed into Belgian legislation?
“The EU ICT directive harmonises the conditions of entry and residence for third-country nationals amongst the EU Member States (excluding UK, Ireland and Denmark) in the framework of an intra-corporate transfer (ICT). An ICT is the temporary secondment of a third-country national who resides outside the EU, from a company established outside the EU to which the employee is bound by an employment contract to a group company located in a Member State. This directive introduces for the first time a European ICT work permit that enables the third-country national to work under certain conditions in EU Member States other than the one that issued the EU ICT permit.
Given the intra-EU mobility rights associated with this new EU ICT permit, it is crucial that Belgium implements the European Directive as soon as possible. Not doing so places Belgium at a significant competitive disadvantage not only in attracting this type of skilled worker but investment as a whole. It creates an obstacle for economic growth and strategic planning for multinational companies that have their regional headquarters in Belgium and have positions with pan-European duties or have to develop skills in a multicultural international environment. The transposition of the Single Permit and the EU ICT permit is anticipated for the second half of 2018.”
The European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) was adopted by the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs on 19 October 2017. What does this mean for travellers?
ETIAS is an electronic monitoring system and will be compulsory for third country nationals who do not need visas to travel the Schengen Area. It will be the equivalent of ESTA (similar system in the US) and it will aim to ensure that people travelling to the EU do not threaten the security of the Schengen countries and to impede irregular migration.
Legislation setting ETIAS up is being discussed internally in the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. Once both institutions agree upon their respective position, discussions in trialogues between the European Parliament, Council and European Commission will begin.
The European Union has postponed the launch of the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) for another six months to November 2023.
With thanks to Jo Antoons, Alexander De Nys, Christine Sullivan, Andreia Ghimis and Rimma Abadjan of Fragomen.
Choose your Platforms
First things first. There is no point in trying to be on every single platform out there. Unless you can put someone on this (almost) full-time, you will have to decide which channels are the most interesting to you and then carefully consider which of these will be your main priority. At a guess, for most of you this will be LinkedIn. Facebook may have more users globally, but broadly speaking most people will use this for their more personal updates: holiday photos, inspirational quotes, lighter news topics – and lest we forget – the “silly” stuff such as memes and name games. As such it is unlikely that you will be drumming up a lot of serious business here anytime soon.
That doesn’t mean to say you should forsake your Facebook Company Page entirely: it’s a great platform for quick updates that catch your followers’ eye and that will drive them to your website or LinkedIn profile when they are actively looking for your professional support. Use your Facebook page for the more personal approach and keep the updates coming regularly. As a general rule of thumb your content here should be around 80% industry relevant news, expert tips & advice, relevant articles, memes, videos and other entertaining content. Just 20% of your posts should include product updates, special offers, contests, and the like, if you want followers to stay invested in your story.
LinkedIn on the other hand is where businesses and decision makers hang out. This is where we go to find out about industry relevant news, making it an essential part of any company’s social media presence. As the number one* social medium for lead generation, it is the perfect place to showcase your expertise and industry knowledge, so make sure you post regular updates that stand out from the newsfeed.
Use your LinkedIn page to ask questions, post articles and industry insights, conduct polls and research, press releases and other items that you would like to share with a business audience and that showcases your expertise.
Of course, you want to ensure that anything you publish is seen by as many people as possible. The best thing to do is to publish company content through the company page and then repost it to your personal newsfeed to share with your personal contacts. Ask team members to repost the content as well, so that it can pass by their followers’ newsfeeds too. And finally, make sure to share your content with the ABRA Groups for maximum visibility.
A Professional Profile
Most likely you will already have a personal profile on LinkedIn (which of course has a professional looking headshot instead of a holiday picture with your partner cut off), but do you have a company page as well? If not, then this is the place to start.
Your company profile should feature a clear description of your services, aims, and company philosophy, as well as your contact details. Employees should link themselves to the company profile page so that “2-10 employees” doesn’t just look like an empty statement, but actually shows the people behind the organisation. We all prefer doing business with actual people, and this is a quick and easy way to give your company that personal touch. Share your most important content across different platforms for a quick and easy way to keep that newsfeed moving: with a small tweak that industry report might work for Facebook and Twitter too. Most importantly: don’t give up. There is no magic pill for instant social media success, instead it’s very much a case of try and try again before you hit the perfect note that will have new clients knocking on your door.
For ABRA Members only: Knowledge Sharing
That being said, we want to help get you the attention you deserve. Our members deliver the highest levels of service and professionalism and are each experts in their field. And with our combined knowledge base being the most extensive in the Belgian industry, we want to maximise our impact.
As well as articles published by ABRA, we want to invite you, our members, to share your expertise with our readership through the newsfeed on the ABRA website, as well as through our Group pages. If you have published a white paper, conducted industry related research or have a well-researched answer to a particular topic or current affair, then please do share it with us so we can help spread the word.
Find out what the EuRA panel had to say on leveraging the power of social media by visiting their YouTube channel.
GREAT NEWS! ABRA members receive a free best practice guide to social media sharing. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org for your free copy.
* “For B2B companies, LinkedIn is one of the most powerful social media channels available. …research of more than 5,000 companies has shown that LinkedIn is 277% more effective at generating leads than Facebook and Twitter.” – MarketingLand
Looking across the business world, approximately 70% of family-owned businesses fail or are sold before the second generation gets a chance to take over. A mere 10% remain active, privately held companies that continue to operate under the leadership of the third generation. In stark contrast to publicly owned firms (in which CEO’s hold the reins for an average of six years) many family businesses have the same leaders for 20 or 25 years, and these lengthy and established leadership tenures can make it harder to cope with shifts in technology, business models, and consumer behaviour. Today family firms in emerging markets face new threats from globalisation. In many ways, leading a family-owned business has never been harder.So what is the answer? Stay put or sell out? ReLocate has consulted the experts in both these fields and brings you the best ways to do either.
Tips for Growing a Family Business
Offering your offspring a fallback option
Many owner/operators of family businesses built their dreams on the idea that their children would work together with them, that they would create something lasting that would provide for their offspring in the years that follow their retirement or passing. In some situations this creates a positive and profitable collaboration as the child is familiar with the running of the business and knows the product or service back to front by the time that they take over. In other family businesses, where the business is quite successful from the beginning, the children are raised in a wealthy atmosphere and may indulge in more frivolous pursuits in their late teens and early twenties. So by the time they need to get serious and settle into their role of proprietor, they are unprepared for the task and due to lack of experience the business fails in the hands of the second generation.
Ensure essential screening and training is employed
Following on from the two situations explained above, ensuring that those family members that do join in the efforts of the family business are experienced, educated and qualified to do so, is essential to the continuation of achieving profits and developing the nature of the business. Simply being born into a family that runs its own enterprise is not qualification enough to take the lead, or even a management role. There are many family businesses that employ best practices such as ensuring their offspring have attained the proper education required of such positions (in the outside world) such as a diploma, degree or even masters. This is also coupled at times with enough relevant experience in a business outside the family business. Some families even go to the extent of having their family members apply for the vacant positions alongside non-family members.
“Everybody thinks about ‘The Succession Plan’. I had great ideas, but no successor.” Patrick Oman, Chairman, Irish Relocation Services
The family expands more quickly than the business
Quite interestingly, some families expand more quickly than the business does. Growing a business can take a few decades, and dealing with economic highs and lows, market dips and competition can take its toll. In contrast to a growing family, a business expands and shrinks with the flow of economic growth and decline. When a business founder has a few children, and each of those children take a spouse and have children of their own, each of whom are interested in taking on a role within the business, employee supply can outweigh demand. Ensure that you do not merely take family members on as staff to please spouses or continue interest from grandchildren. The business must continue to operate as a business and not cater to the emotions of growing families.
Plan for growth to include the growing family
The first two tips are about planning to avoid failure. You want to ensure there is genuine interest from family members, and that this is complimented with a solid education that meets the experience requirements from the hiring company (yours). This is about developing strategies to grow the business and create roles for the ever-increasing family members. For example: two brothers who took over the family business from their father anticipated handing leadership to their combined seven children. The brothers realised that their business would need to expand to accommodate their children to the extent that enough high-level roles could be created within the business. As their offspring completed their education and found the relevant experience to join the family business, the fathers employed the strategy of purchasing two other companies in the surrounding area with the intent of dispatching members of the next generation to run things in the other locations. This in turn generated the revenue required to support the newly employed family members as well as offering enough operational roles for them to fulfil.
Bloodline determining job function when joining the business
It happens quite often in family owned businesses: the tendency for parent and child to specialise in the same aspect of the business. This could be finance, operations, marketing or sales. However comforting this may be for the parent to teach the child their specialty and for the child to feel they are “stepping into the shoes” of the parent, this can cause problems within the business. The first issue this raises is by staying in specialised silos: managers in the next generation do not gain the cross-functional expertise required for overall operational leadership. Secondly, there can be negative consequences of close family members supervising one another. Personal dynamics come into play and this can interfere with coaching and the candid feedback that’s necessary for career evolution.
Engage the services of non-family mentors
A great way to avoid this situation is to appoint mentors that are not part of the family. Even in circumstances where the business is quite small and family members need to supervise one another, ensuring there is input from an interested external party means they can provide objective performance evaluation.
It is important to recognise that family owned and run businesses will always operate differently to publicly owned firms. There are many positive elements of working closely with your family, in an industry that could possibly define the character and nature of those family members. However, to survive the long-haul, family businesses must ensure that they adopt formal policy and strategy on employment, promotion, growth and investment interests. In that way they can ensure that the business continues to be passed from one generation to the next.
Tips for Mergers and Acquisitions
In the event that there are no family members to pass the business on to, or the next generation are uninterested, uneducated or unavailable, the inevitable decision to merge with another business or to sell your business on may have to be made. Or, it could be the case that you want to increase your stronghold in your industry or expand your business to include more family members and you want to acquire another company. In general terms, more than 50 percent of mergers and acquisitions fail and more than 80 percent fail to enhance shareholder value. Let’s review some ideas on the best way to ensure the upcoming change in your business is a positive one.
There is more than just one way to merge, or acquire. Depending on the unique characteristics of your business and the business you are about to engage with, you may want to consider the following:
A buys B
B buys A
A trades shares in A for shares in B
B as above
C is created and shares provided to shareholders in A & B
In all cases, there are a few points to consider and taking note of these before you take the plunge can help you avoid the pitfalls of a joining of enterprises.
What are your motives?
Growing the business for the good of your family is a wonderful motive for merging with or acquiring another business. Selling your business due to lack of interest or lack of family personnel to take over is also a solid reason. However, be honest with yourself. Is it a good time to make this change? What is the economic climate at present? Would it be a better choice to wait a few years to grow, instead of buckling to family pressure right now? If you need to delay due to a difficult market you could ask your children to take some more time to invest in their education or experience. Making a rash choice due to family concerns is not business-savvy. If facing a merger or acquisition your role in the organisation may change entirely, so you need to be clear with yourself what you expect and what you want to get out of the new union.
“We saw the industry changing and knew we’d have to make an investment in order to stay ahead of the curve. But making such an investment at our age had us asking ‘when will we see the return?’ The time was right personally and professionally.” Dean Foster, Executive Strategic Consultant, Dwellworks
You’re building something entirely new
Building your company from scratch is something sole proprietors should be proud of. You are used to making the decisions entirely on your own and taking sole responsibility for them. Taking on a new company with a history and operational structure of its own is a big task and getting two teams of people to work together and accept the new leadership structure takes some planning. You can consider the following to pre-empt any difficulties that may arise:
• From the get-go clearly define your new role: and the role of each member of the executive team. Clarity is crucial in the early days as this will prevent any niggling concerns and enable the team to focus on the big picture.
• Be exact about the new leadership structure: as you now command a larger team than previously, ensuring a representative from each area of the new business is involved in the integration of the two entities encourages cohesion and constant communication amongst team members.
• Pre-empt concerns: more people in the staffing structure means more feedback and possible complaint about decisions that need to be made. Being mindful of the reasons behind taking the chosen course of action and being able to readily explain them can take the sting out of criticism during the changeover.
“I was keen for Patrick [Oman] to stick around for a while and he was keen to stay too, but you have to lay out the ground rules of how that relationship is going to continue. There has to be clarity of roles.” Dan Sennet, Managing Director, Irish Relocation Services
It’s all about the integration of the two businesses. When those involved are too distracted by the completion date and possible payouts, the new entity itself loses focus and can fail right from the start. It can be a lengthy and sometimes dull process when ironing out the logistics of the deal, however losing sight of what the two business are going to become once joined is quite dangerous. Be clear with your staff, ensure they have no unreal expectations of how much better (or worse) the new working structure is going to be, and be honest – some questions they have may not be able to be answered for a while.
Preparation for change
Those staff employed in family run businesses (be it family members or non-family members) are used to a particular way of working. Just like a family, with its traditions and preferences for let’s say, a particular supplier or a brand of soap in the bathroom, a family business can become accustomed to a particular way of operating. When change occurs, this can be confronting for both family and staff members. Getting together with the leadership team and realistically setting out possible risks and downsides to the upcoming deal ensures you’re not caught out when having to face emotional responses to change. Have a plan and you will find those tricky moments are settled more quickly than you expect.
On the same page
Making sure not only the leadership team, but also the staff themselves are on the same page is crucial to what happens after the deal has been done. You have to look ahead to after the dust has settled and agree on common goals for the future of the business. Success is more easily achieved when everyone involved is aware of what needs to be accomplished. Set down some milestones and ways of measuring attainment of these goals. Short-term goals keep the energy levels up and push you onwards towards the long-term goals.
Find out more about what the EuRA panel had to say on their personal experiences in merging and acquiring their various companies by visiting the EuRA YouTube channel.
The idea of “work” and “working spaces” is changing rapidly, and a business needs to keep abreast of what attracts new staff and what keeps them content to ensure their business stays afloat. ReLocate brings you an amalgamation of two reports, both entailing information crucial to the attraction and retention of staff. The first report being a survey on students and young professional expats by BNP Paribas Fortis, understanding the motivations behind their want or need to relocate based on their job prospects gives businesses an insight on how to position themselves to attract the best staff. The second report is a Global Talent Trends Study from Mercer, an innovative group that uses analysis and insights as catalysts for change within organisations. Their report details the steps employers need to take to ensure they are retaining the best employees and explains how we are moving forward into an era of fierce competition between businesses for talent like we’ve never seen before.
Looking back: what motivates students and young professional expats to relocate? – BNP Paribas Fortis
Understanding what motivates students and young professionals to up sticks and move their whole lives to another country is key in attracting the best talent. Knowing what the driving factors behind their decisions are enables companies to put in place the most effective recruitment campaigns and attractive employment policies. “Millennials are the driving force behind this contemporary intra-European mobility, with more and more young expats in Europe seeking new academic and professional experiences elsewhere,” states Salvatore Orlando, Head of Expatriates at BNP Paribas Fortis. Despite big changes in UK and American approaches to immigration these past months, the professional market in Europe is still open to vast levels of mobility. The survey was executed by the Think Young think tank, founded in 2007 and focuses entirely on young people, providing decision makers with high quality research on key issues affecting millennials.
MOTIVATION TO RELOCATE – MOST SPECIFICALLY TO BELGIUM
Just over half of students polled stated that the main reason for leaving their home country and relocating to Belgium was dependent on the opportunity offered by university or school in their home country. A further 39% cited experiencing another culture was enough for them to want to leave home. Learning a new language or developing existing language skills was the key factor in motivating 39% of those who responded. The final outstanding motivating factor in students deciding to relocate to Belgium was that they felt that the move would have a positive impact on their CV and would then in turn maximise their career opportunities.
The results of this survey on young professionals are much more defined, with a massive 80% of respondents stating that the move to Belgium was wholly based on the career opportunities here. Half of those surveyed cite personal development as a driving factor in their decision to move. While motivations such as learning another language, the standard of living or quality of life and indeed even financial reasons are way further down on the list. Andrea Gerosa, founder of ThinkYoung sees the clarity in the results: “It’s a meaningful move, driven not by the desire to have fun but by the willingness to learn more, improve skills, and enhance career opportunities.”
What does this mean for employers and educational institutions?
Employers and educational institutions have the hard task of pre-empting students and young professional’s career aspirations, and ensuring that they provide clear opportunities for career progression.
Educational institutions need to ensure that the courses they offer contain the latest curriculum developments, and that these are transferable should their students wish to change track – as students often do. Universities and colleges should do their best to attract the best teaching staff that employ modern teaching methods that are also tried and tested. It is also important to offer a wide variety of extra-curricular programmes where students can employ their talents in a more practical environment, gaining them valuable experience for their future in the workforce. Scholarships also ensure that students from a wide variety of backgrounds are given the opportunity to learn, providing the learning environment with a variety of opinions and perspectives.
Employers can use this information to entice the best young professionals to their organisation. Providing potential young employees with clear paths of career progression through well thought-out organisational structures, allows each employee the chance to climb the ladder or explore other areas of the business. Progression isn’t always up, it can be left or right, and when employers offer flexibility, such as secondments to other departments, or other locations – this can be the deciding factor for a young professional full of enthusiasm.
Looking forward: what practices can we put in place to retain the best talent? – Mercer
There’s no denying that 2016 was a trying year in more than one area. With the uncertainty faced by the Brexit vote, the big change in American politics and constant conflict in the Middle East it is crucial that companies shift their focus onto their workforce, to care for the health and wellbeing of their staff. Technological advancements are also having a massive impact on the workplace, how we work, where we work and how we can balance that with enough “down time” are all changing our view of the world of work. On top of all this, Mercer reports that 92% of employers expect an increase in the competition for talent this year.
According to Mercer, these are the top six ways in which they feel companies are going to respond to these new challenges:
1. Attracting top talent externally
2. Developing leaders for succession
3. Identifying high potentials
4. Building skills across the workforce
5. Supporting employees’ career growth
6. Increasing employee engagement
FOUR TRENDS TO WATCH FOR IN 2017
1. Growth by design
It’s all about transforming the internal structure of organisations and ensuring that the “people agenda” is not overlooked. In Mercer’s Global Talent Trends Study they state that 93% of organisations are geared up for a reorganisation in the next two years. Those who aren’t already in the throes of redesign may be left behind.
2. A shift in what we value
If an employee feels undervalued, it is likely that their output will decrease and they will eventually look elsewhere when deciding upon their professional future. Mercer’s study reports that 97% of employees want to be recognized and rewarded for a wide range of professional contributions, not just sales targets or financial results. The rewards employees are seeking are not just fair and competitive compensation, they want more flexible work options, they want opportunities to get promoted, they want leaders who set clear direction, as well as peers that will challenge them and help set the tone for the future of the company. Knowing how to reward employees is key to holding on to them.
3. A workplace for me
When an employee feels that they are not just a number, they are more likely to produce work of a higher quality and also more likely to stay within your organisation. Being able to personalise your employees’ experience will bring significant advantages to your output and staff retention levels. One way for your employees to personalise their working experience is to introduce flexible working options. Mercer’s study showed that the majority of employees want more flexibility within their roles, however not all organisations are as flexible as their employees would like. 1 in 3 employees indicated that they had requested a flexible work arrangement in the past, however they were turned down. Further to this, 1 in 2 employees expressed some concern that working part-time or remotely would negatively impact their promotion opportunities. There is clearly more work to be done here.
4. The quest for insight
Companies are collecting more data from both candidates and employees than ever before, Mercer questions how this data can be better used to gain actionable insights – we don’t seem to be using the data to the best of its abilities. Mercer states that even though many organisations around the globe are collecting data, very few are able to translate the data into predictive insights. Just 1 in 4 are able to produce basic descriptive reporting and historical trend analysis. Looking forwards, predictive analytics – such as identifying which employees are likely to leave – would be incredibly valuable however less than 35% of HR leaders are able to provide this information.
It is an exciting time for the employment market. Organisations are redefining and redesigning their internal structures and the results will eventually be a complete overhaul of employment and work in general as we know it. Concurrently, employees are demanding more of their employers and the more vocal they are the better. The more transparent employment processes are employees can be assured of a better fit within the organisation and employers will then benefit from loyal, happy, engaged and steady employees. Workplaces are becoming not just a place where we feel obliged to show up to within certain timeframes, they are morphing into fluid and flexible spaces where our talents are nurtured, our contributions are valued and we work together towards a future that we are all content to be a part of.
TOP TIPS TO WIN THE TALENT WAR
• Promote a contribution culture where everyone feels welcome to give input;
• Focus on the “whole person agenda”, including health and wealth benefits;
• Define exciting career paths for a positive impact on retention;
• Take a chance on non-traditional talent who have potential but not experience;
• Mitigate risk by building a diverse port-folio of skills and a culture of innovation;
• Create a sense of belonging that resonates with your diverse workforce.
Expats and internationals must rely on reputation, information and intuition when making the big choice. Instead of a list of top tips, let’s look at some important questions you can pose when contemplating a new school for your child(ren).
What accreditations does the school have?
Some schools are accredited by the Council of International Schools, some by the European Union, others are accredited by the Council of British International Schools. Whichever accreditation you rely on, these bodies have been set up to ensure the schools adhere to solid educational policies.
Where is the school located?
Sometimes we have the opportunity to choose the school first, then set up sticks based on that. The school run can be a thing of joy or a daily disaster depending on journey times, traffic, whether the school operates a bus service or is equipped for before or after school care. Take the time to research public transport links, travel time and the specifics of the bus services a school offers and incorporate those into your decision making process.
“Moving to a big city where spaces are limited and classes are overcrowded? Look for alternatives in the countryside: studying in a healthy environment might be more easily accessible than you think.”
Erica Di Maccio – European School MOL
How much will it cost?
For those parents who are paying the school fees out of their own purse, there are a few points to consider:
• What is included in the actual school fees?
• What application fees need to be paid?
• Are there annual administrative fees?
• What extracurricular activities are included in the school fees?
• If there are optional school trips, what are the costs of those?
• If the school has a cafeteria, how much does the food cost?
How does the school prepare my child for possible future transitions?
Yes, you have just moved, or are preparing to move and aren’t keen on the prospect of calling the movers again anytime soon, however this point is key for those families that move about quite a bit. This question refers to future schools they will attend on your next assignment, commission or project, or the next phase of their school lives, be it secondary or tertiary. These times of transition can be hard on children, and schools offering inclusion support can make a difference to how quickly your child adapts to their present school, and any schools, colleges or universities they may attend in the future. Some schools take a great interest in helping children cope with change. Ensure you cover this with the admissions team when sizing up a school, they are there to help answer your queries and address your concerns.
What curriculum does the school follow? And to what extent?
Schools differ greatly in the curricula that they offer. Some are broad-based and are adaptable to a number of educational possibilities in other countries. Others offer a curriculum set by a specific country that enables your child to continue their education or transition back to their home land more easily. Others yet again follow a curriculum set out by a country however they do not follow it to the letter. This is more particularly a consideration for parents of secondary school children, each year the children progress the more important it becomes to be aware of the subjects on offer and the public examinations that the school can prepare the students for.
“The curriculum will be key, as is the choice of subjects for example. Does the school offer A Levels, IB, vocational BTEC courses or a mix of all three?”
Kim Burgess – British School of Brussels
What are the class sizes?
This one can be a deal breaker, depending on the personality of your child. Large class sizes are great for children who excel in situations where the learning environment is lively, fast paced, independent and utilise group-work due to less one-on-one time from teachers. Other students prefer a quieter, more structured and more supportive classroom experience. This is often a more productive environment for those students attending a new school in a new language. Large and small class sizes have both advantages and disadvantages, knowing what best suits your child’s approach to learning goes a long way in helping to decide on the right school, and nurturing their learning styles.
What assistance can the school provide in cases of special educational needs?
Parents of a child with special educational needs require extra support. Some schools have a comprehensive approach to ensuring your child progresses and enjoys their time at school. A few more questions for these parents could be:
• does the school have a special learning programme tailored to suit my child’s needs?
• will my child receive extra help from a teacher or teacher’s assistant?
• will there be possibilities to work in smaller groups?
• how much feedback can I expect from the school?
• and for those children with special physical needs, is there support with physical or personal care difficulties, e.g. eating, getting around school safely or using the toilet?
What if my child does not speak English yet, or doesn’t speak it well?
Especially in cases where you are moving your child from a non-English speaking school to an English speaking school, bilingual school or immersion school, the support that the school offers for English as an Additional Language (EAL), reading, spelling or writing support can be crucial to your child’s English language development. Schools promoting EAL extracurricular activities, learning support groups and specialised teaching expertise are open to fielding questions you have on this topic. Don’t be afraid to ask the specifics of what they offer and ensure you are aware how they not only can assist but also motivate and encourage your little learner.
What’s the difference between bilingual and immersion schools?
Most especially in a country like Belgium, where there are three official languages, the options available for bilingual learning and immersion learning are broad and it can be difficult to differentiate. Here’s a quick breakdown:
• Bilingual learning: a school offers academic content in two languages. The split between the time spent in each language can vary from school to school. 30%-70% or 50%-50%. The schools offering bilingual programmes will expect that your child is a native speaker of one of the languages offered and can speak the second language fluently.
• Immersion learning: these programs are designed to help native and non-native speakers become bilingual and biliterate. There are many support structures in place to help your child learn the second target language and develop their skills across all subjects.
Is there a parent support association or network?
Moving to a new city or country is a big step for the whole family. Some schools have vast communities and networks where parents can share information and give each other support. They can offer support via weekly catch-ups, through social media, or operating a buddy system. These big changes can often be quite daunting for spouses, who can only benefit from making a new network of friends. These school communities help families feel more quickly at ease in their new surroundings and enable parents to be a more stable source of support for their children.
What extracurricular activities are on offer?
Again, these vary greatly from school to school. These activities offer opportunities for your child to broaden their social networks, gain experience in sports, the arts and languages and generally enrich their international schooling experience.
Questions answered, what next?
Once you have collated the answers to these questions, the next step is to arrange a visit to the school to get a feel for the teaching styles, compare the proximity of the school to where you live, and generally soak up the atmosphere.
There are massive differences between schools regarding school visits. Some schools require a non-refundable payment of the administration fees before you can even set foot on the grounds – others may invite you to check out classes in action and even eat lunch in the cafeteria. Ensure you are clear about school visits and how these are carried out.
Some schools offer the option of “transition days” or “step-in days” where your child can experience what it will be like at their new school before the new academic year or term begins. This can be a great advantage to nervous students and take the edge off the sometimes overwhelming feeling on the first day.
“Meet the head teacher! You can tell a lot about a school from a quick chat with the head. After all, you are going to be leaving your precious children in their care every day. Ask them what they believe in, what they value and what their vision is for the school and then sit back and listen for 10 minutes.”
Brett Neilson – St Paul’s British Primary School
It’s also a great idea to take the time to speak to families already enrolled at the school. The school should be able to put you in contact with the established community networks. Families are usually open to discussing their views on the school and how their children respond to the teaching style and curriculum.
Choosing the right school is never an easy task, but we hope the above guide will help set you off on the right foot with this important decision.
A special thank you goes out to all our member schools who contributed to this article. You can find a full list of our members (and member schools) by visiting us online:
“This machine is not a space ship; it’s a time machine. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It lets us travel the way a child travels: round and around and back home again to a place we know we are loved.”
The compelling ‘Mad Men’ character Don Draper, creative director at a New York advertising company, pitches a campaign for a slide carousel to Kodak. While projecting pictures of his family and reminiscing on his mentor, he smartly interweaves his personal story with Kodak’s new technology and their wish to become a household name.
In every season of the Emmy Award winning television series one pitch stands out. The common denominator is the personal experience that helps sell a product. In Don Drapers words: “Trying to establish a deeper bond with the product – it’s delicate but potent.” Or, as Peggy Olson puts it during a pitch for Burger Chef: “Every great ad tells a story.”
And although we’re referencing a drama series, the show’s appeal lies in how relatable not only the characters are, but the stories they are selling too. People tell business stories to communicate and connect with employees, customers, colleagues, partners, suppliers, and the media. Business stories differ from regular stories, in that you tell them with an objective, goal, or desired outcome in mind, rather than for entertainment.
When you tell a story well, it can create an intense, personal connection between your audience and your message. Effective stories can change our opinions, they can inspire us to achieve goals that we didn’t think were possible, and they can show us how we can change things for the better.
Things to Sell and Stories to Tell
“Entertainment and corporate communications have intertwined for as long as there have been things to sell and stories to tell,” writes Alan Berkson from Freshdesk in a zdnet.com blogpost.
If traditional advertising is dead, brand storytelling is experiencing a meteoric rise, proving that although times may change, human nature does not. The easiest way to someone’s heart is through a perceived personal connection. Whether it’s your ‘about us’ page, your Twitter feed, LinkedIn profile or Facebook page – even the tone of voice of your internal communications – your ‘story’ is what turns your stakeholders into believers. Authentic, transparent and relevant communication holds the key to your success.
Thankfully, great communication isn’t exactly rocket science. From your clients and suppliers right down to your team members, you’ve already built a relationship. Strengthening that bond is simply a matter of combining all the ingredients you already have lying around to create your narrative:
mission + vision + values + strategy = brand story
In Alan Berkson’s words: “It’s what your company stands for, and how it’s making the world a better place. It’s a story that comprises your strengths AND your weaknesses.”
According to Incite’s Summit White Paper 2016 on Corporate Storytelling “your brand story extends beyond your marketing campaign and defines your company holistically. People buy into that story, not your product. They are alienated when you don’t live up to that story, and they are increasingly loyal and passionate when you do. Customers have plenty of choice nowadays. Yours is not the only option. You want them to choose to associate with you, not the competition.”
And it’s not just customers either, employees too want to know the ‘why’ of the company they work in, they want to feel connected and inspired. Chances are you chose your employees and suppliers conscientiously and without them your business wouldn’t be the same. By making them an important part of your narrative you are able to show how much you value and appreciate them.
“It [storytelling] is especially useful for leaders, for example when leading people into the future, taking them through change, influencing, unifying people towards a common purpose, transmitting values, motivating and inspiring. Incorporating stories into your messages helps to develop a shared sense of identity.” says Vera Woodhead, coach and brand developer, on allthingsic.com.
Some more sound advice from Alan Berkson: “Companies and their brand managers need to come to terms with the reality that they are no longer the only voices in the conversation. It begins with listening. You need to have the right tools and processes in place to hear and, most importantly, understand the consumer and then weave them into you corporate story. [That story] needs to be infused into everything, from marketing, PR and customer service, to HR, product development.”
It’s easy to miss an opportunity to connect so you want to be both selective and aware of your approach. In order to engage your audience your message needs to be concise, memorable, understandable, differentiating. A proper strategy is key. Your story is made up of different elements and not all of those are suitable for every channel. Once you’ve formulated your story and plan of action it’s time to share your message wherever, whenever you can.
We’ve all been there: we’ve dedicated time to keeping our lines of communication open, have raved about our great new services and special offers to clients and have shared our best photographs and most titillating insights on social media, only to find that we’ve failed to garner the reactions that we were hoping for. Our audience has failed to connect, our message has simply passed them by.
In fact, it’s your corporate storyline that ties everything together and not making use of what you already have is quite simply a missed opportunity. In order to build a dedicated following you need to make sure that your narrative holds across the many communication channels you utilise.
Messages have to reflect your vision in order to stand out from the crowd. Simply reposting interesting articles that are relevant to your field of business won’t do anymore. Where is your company’s view on the matter? Why should people care what you’re up to? What does your team have say? Get your story straight and your audience will start feeling that personal connection you’ve been seeking.
Not everyone gets away with Don Draper’s charades, but if you stay aware of pitfalls and keep it real, your story will surely be one of success.
Our top picks from Incite’s White Paper:
1. Determine where your brand story will come from. The main lesson here? Don’t manufacture something from nothing. Pick something you’re already doing. This can be aspirational (a “campaign for real beauty”), it can be a legacy point (the rich history of…), it can be based on sustainability and corporate responsibility, or it can come from your employees.
2. Don’t tell it yourself. This is beyond marketing and communications. You want to accentuate a message that’s already out there. Twenty percent of marketers say customers have more power to define your brand than anyone else. Your employees are a good bet, too.
3. Make sure you can tell it persuasively. If you’re going to ascribe the responsibility to tell the story to employees instead of the marketing and communications departments, you’ll need a different set of processes to sign off. You can’t strangle a story by running it past legal every time you have an opportunity to propagate it.
4. Ensure that this is for the long term. A brand story is most emphatically not a campaign with an end date. It’s far more wide-reaching than that. You need to plan further ahead and build foundations that last longer than any typical marketing campaign planning process you’ve done before. That means getting employee buy-in (which is why we talk not about creating a story, but about accentuating an existing one). This isn’t a paint job – it’s something people sign up for.
5. Use the story with more than just your customer base. Your brand story will help engage and build morale with your workforce, too. Use it to do so.
Master of the Universe
Where last year content was king, this year it has officially become Master of the Universe. Keyword-laden websites and articles have been in the doghouse ever since Google’s 2011 Panda update, and with the rolling-out of the Hummingbird platform in 2013 even more attention is being paid to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query – the whole sentence or conversation or meaning – is taken into account, rather than just particular words. The idea being that pages matching the meaning do better in search engines, rather than pages matching just a few words. This has put the onus squarely on producing relevant, interesting content that engages audiences across the board.
Additionally, consumers have become significantly better at spotting the meaninglessness of ‘cheap’ content, recognizing a lack of purpose in your message within seconds and excluding you from the content they wish to consume. Sharper positioning of your brand, the focus of your message, cutting through the clutter, condensed and more to-the-point content is the key to communicating online in 2016. Connecting your inner value system holistically with your audience will increasingly provide guidance and direction for how you create your content: authentic, engaging and from the inside out.
Another big trend in the world of corporate communications is brand storytelling. According to the Brand Storytelling Report 2015 by Headstream, more than a half of consumers are more likely to buy a product if they really love the brand story. People want to hear stories about real humans, stories they can relate to. Relevant stories that speak to consumers make brands meaningful. On top of that, they can go viral, giving brands organic recommendations that are more trustworthy than any other corporate messages. Emotional marketing helps businesses to stand out in the highly competitive market.
Apple, for example, don’t sell computers. They offer a way of thinking and a challenge to the status quo by making their products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. It just so happens that they fulfil this vision by making computers. Coke doesn’t sell softdrinks, they offer happiness, Samsung doesn’t sell mobile phones, they give you emotions and moments. Redefining your marketing strategy in 2016 can change the way people perceive your brand and bring them around to your offer.
Rise of the Social Influencer
That said, customers often trust peer recommendations more than a company’s sales message and curating user generated content (UGC) will become an increasingly important marketing activity. Internet users are more willing to trust a favourite blogger rather than a recommendation from a brand, making bloggers and other social influencers exceptionally powerful in the shaping of consumer opinions. Of course, word of mouth has always been a valuable source for customer acquisition and retention. However, with social media development it moved to a different level.
The traditional sales message is not the only way to gain attention for your brand as we move beyond the traditional publisher/advertiser relationship in 2016. By sponsoring great content, wherever it lives, brands are no longer reliant on display ads and banners to generate awareness. Instead, they can be associated with genuinely engaging videos, imagery and interactives which work on the platforms their audiences are using. Sponsoring content associates a brand with the site and topic at hand. Native advertising allows brands to develop their own content which looks and feels like a piece of journalism.
We’ll also see more companies partnering with industry peers and organisations with common goals to share know-ledge, start conversations, work on projects and campaigns together, and to generally increase the breadth of communications within the world they operate in.
Hot on the brand story’s heels is the increasing priority of thought leadership. Thought leadership is a newer marketing trend where business leaders and companies position themselves as experts in their area of business, which in turn serves as a great framework for related PR tactics and campaigns. From the publishing of white papers to appearing as a keynote speaker or putting yourself out there on LinkedIn with well-written opinion pieces, thought leadership is fast becoming a great way to get yourself and your company noticed, so make sure you get your story straight, keep your content original and most of all, be engaging.
Continued Shift Towards Mobile
With more communication taking place over the web, traditional communication tools have become increasingly obsolete. In addition to ensuring your business contacts’ information is available at all times, the real benefits of mobile devices are seen in the applications that they run.
According to Techcrunch there are now over 2 billion deskless workers in the global workforce, outnumbering desk workers 3 to 1. Collaboration platforms and productivity applications are supporting this trend towards remote working by allowing staff members to conduct business on the go as long as they have internet access.
These types of tools give employees access to business data and CRM platforms via almost any mobile device. Thanks to the power and versatility of mobile platforms and devices, the increased adoption of enterprise mobility is able to continue without hindering any business processes or negatively impacting employee performance.
Increased Reliance on Cloud-Based Solutions
This increased mobility provides an opportunity for cloud-based communication solutions to prove their worth. Many companies are already employing cloud technology because of its reduced cost and easy implementation. However, leveraging this technology’s capabilities will become necessary for companies who want to remain competitive.
Hosted real-time communications provide a superior business communication solution and integrating this technology with existing CRM software gives client-facing employees, such as sales staff, customer representatives, or office executives, a single place to access client data to manage customer interactions seamlessly. This level of service enhances customer experience while improving business efficiency. It also offers the added benefit of allowing employees to log onto the back-end systems on any device, even if their company-issued hardware is not accessible at that time.
Bigger Emphasis Placed on Enterprise and Cloud Security
While this notion is nothing new, maintaining enterprise-grade security will be as important as ever in 2016. With organizations continuing to migrate towards mobile and cloud solutions, the increased number of associated devices means more potential breakpoints.
Recent high-profile cyber-attacks have highlighted just how exposed any system network can be. The technological progress that continues to provide us with new business tools means that new opportunities continually arise for hackers. Each new technology has its vulnerabilities that must be identified and secured, and the rapidly-changing threats to communication applications require dedicated efforts to ensure the continued integrity of sensitive business communications.
And finally, we predict this won’t be the last set of trend predictions you come across this year!
Sources: smartinsights.com; newsweaver.com; tech.co;
addison-group.net; forbes.com; cotap.com; headstream.com; brandaffairs.com; hotwire.pr.us