Well, the first step is to build a plan of action to make your business a sustainable service provider. However, knowing where to start can be a challenge.

Thankfully EuRA, in collaboration with the Coalition for Greener Mobility, has produced a new white paper covering sustainable development goals for Destination Service Providers (DSPs). This includes details of the framework DSPs should use to develop and meet sustainability goals in all areas of their business.

The aim is to help you create your own Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) programme. It will help your business look beyond financial goals and begin to develop value within society. Part of this includes considering then managing environmental sustainability and social responsibility issues. An effective ESG programme should also describe how you monitor and review your performance and manage your business.

We recommend that ABRA members develop and adopt an ESG programme as a matter of best practice. To get you started, here are our top take aways from each section of the EuRA Sustainability White Paper.

Environmental Sustainability

A good ESG programme should be built into the fabric of your business. Your environmental planning should consider every operational perspective of your business, from the office to service delivery.

Within the office, consider:

  • Power suppliers – choosing suppliers who provide renewable energy has never been easier. This will have an instant impact on your business’s carbon footprint.
  • Paper consumption – the world has never been more digital. It’s worth taking the time to see which of your business practices can be taken fully digital. Moving away from printing unnecessarily will not only protect natural resources, but also save your business money in paper purchases and storage solutions.
  • Training – Ensuring that your team is fully up to date with business policy and best practices will help minimise your carbon footprint.

Service delivery can also have a strong impact on how sustainable your business is:

  • Work with the right people – ensure that you’re working with other companies who share your sustainability goals. If they don’t, provide them with guidelines covering your requirements and support them to become compliant with your needs.
  • Help your assignee – Providing information on public transport, sustainable power suppliers and recycling options will help your assignee start sustainably.
  • Consider how you move – Is it possible to use public transport or even to cycle for your team? Can service delivery occur at the weekend when traffic may be lower? By being conscious and minimising use of fossil fuelled powered vehicles, you can cut carbon emissions and save money.

Social Sustainability

The social side of an ESG programme is where you consider how your business impacts wider society. We’re not just talking about the environment though, this is also about the wellbeing and quality of life of customers, assignees and suppliers.

By considering what impact your business has on the lives of others, you can quickly develop a plan to be a positive force within your community.

  • Take care of your team – look at ensuring your team has a positive work life balance, that vacation means time off, not less calls, and that stress is kept to a minimum. You should also ensure that you’re providing an environment where your staff can develop skills and feel fairly compensated for their time.
  • Financial transparency – create and enforce equal pay and payment best practice policies. Also allocate annual budget to train your team and to achieve the business’s ESG goals.
  • Bring your customers along – inform and educate your customers on sustainability best practices. Making your own ESG programme easily accessible and a prominent part of your messaging can help here too.
  • Encourage your community – by actively engaging with your local community, your business can be a force for good for all. This can take the form of charitable work, sponsorships, internships or encouraging employees to let you know what the business could be involved in.

Governance

All DSPs are subject to checks, best practices, areas of compliance, reporting and policies to ensure their ethical and legal operation. ESG governance ensures accurate reporting, transparency of operations whilst pursuing integrity and diversity within leadership.

Key areas to think about within your business include:

  • Compliance – consider the policies and practices your business needs to follow. This can include GDPR, anti-money laundering and anti-bribery policies.
  • ESG/Sustainability Advocacy and Ownership – The success of any far-reaching policy hinges on consistent implementation. Tasking one or members of your team to own and implement the ESG programme is a great step towards success.
  • Risk Management – it’s crucial that you consider factors inside and outside your own business. Completing risk assessment of suppliers, partners and your own workforce will give you a clearer picture of business vulnerabilities and ways you and others can improve.
  • Write it down – Your entire ESG programme should be documented and available. There’s no point in creating a policy unless everyone who needs it can access and use it.

If you’d like to read the white paper in full, you can request your copy from the EuRA website. The EuRA sustainability framework is a living document, so it doesn’t cover every possible situation. If you think something important is missing, we’d love to hear about it to get it added to future versions.

ABRA is working towards our own ESG programme, which we aim to have in place during 2024. Our Sustainability Committee will define the programme roadmap, and objectives. Once completed, we will pass this on to all members and make it available to all.

If you would like to help with this process, then members may join our Sustainability Committee. If you would like more information, please contact us here.

You also might enjoy EuRA’s Sustainability Training Series, an interactive webinar programme. To find out more, or to access the session recordings, visit EuRA.

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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.”

Cave Syndrome

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.”

Moral Obligation

“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.”

www.pinkrebelrevolution.com

 

 

 

 

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Currently there is a draft program law pending in parliament which will provide this “update” by means of a new tax regime which will apply to “inbound taxpayers and inbound researchers”. As the law still needs to be voted, some changes may still be brought to the draft law during the debates in Parliament.

Employers who employ expats benefiting from the current special tax regime (or who are planning new expatriate hires) should monitor the changes and their impact very closely.

The draft program law uses following abbreviations for the new tax regime(s):

  • For inbound tax payers: BBIB/ RSII, in Dutch: Bijzonder Belastingstelsel voor Ingekomen Belastingplichtigen, in French: Régime Spécial d’Imposition pour les Impatriés;
  • For inbound researchers: BBIO/RSICI, in Dutch: Bijzonder Belastingstelsel voor Ingekomen Onderzoekers, in French: Régime Spécial d’Imposition pour les Chercheurs Impatriés.

As the scope of this article does not allow us to go into all (technical) details of the new regime, we will only highlight the most important changes comparing them to the current special tax regime.

The current special tax regime for foreign executives, known as the “expat status”, has following (well known) characteristics and interesting tax benefits:

  • Belgian nationals are not eligible for the expat status (even if they have double nationality or even when they have lived abroad for a (very) long time);
  • Not-for-profit organisations (VZW/ASBL) are excluded from the regime;
  • Expats who have obtained the special status (and their family) are deemed to be non-residents, even if they live in Belgium; that resulted in the non-application of double tax treaties if the expat was no longer considered a tax resident in his home country;
  • No time limit on the expat status as long as the conditions are continuously fulfilled;
  • A change of employer in Belgium resulted in the loss of the expat tax status (except in special situations of intra-group switches);
  • There are no requirements in terms of salary minimum or diploma as long as it concerned an “executive” function, the decision was based on an analysis of each case at hand;
  • Eligible to the regime are key functions/executives and researchers;
  • The expat is entitled to three major tax benefits:
    • As a non-resident, he is only taxable on Belgian source income;
    • Tax free allowances as reimbursement of costs proper to the employer (up to €11.250 or €29.750 for certain types of costs; unlimited reimbursement for certain types of special costs);
    • Exclusion from the taxable base of that part of the remuneration that corresponds to professional workdays outside of Belgium.

Under the new special tax regime for inbound tax payers and inbound researchers, which will now have a legal basis, the most important features are:

  • Nationality does not have an influence anymore on the eligibility under the new regime, though, a number of conditions are inserted to be eligible:
    • During 60 months (5 years) prior to application for the new expat regime
      • one should not have been considered a Belgian tax resident;
      • one should not have lived within 150km from the Belgian border;
      • one should not have been subject to Belgian non-resident tax in respect of Belgian source professional income;
    • Not-for-profit organisations (VZW/ASBL) are no longer excluded from the regime;
    • Expats who have obtained the expat status (and their family) will be subject to the normal rules on tax residency. An expat who lives in Belgium with his family will therefore normally be treated as tax resident. I the home state continues to consider the expat (and his family) as tax resident, Belgium will treat them as tax non-resident upon the condition of providing an annual tax residency attestation; this means that double tax treaties will have full application under the new regime;
    • There is a time limit on the new expat status: there is an initial period of 5 years, with a possibility for an extension with 3 years (maximum of 8 years);
    • A change of employer in Belgium will no longer automatically result in the loss of the expat status; the new employer will have the possibility to also make an application for the expat status, but there will be no new 5-year term (as the eligibility starts as from the first employment date in Belgium, even with a change of employer, this date remains the anchor point);
    • Eligible to the regime are still key functions/executives and researchers, though the new regime provides for some minimum salary requirements and diploma conditions:
      • As mentioned above the new regime is a system with two sub-regimes: “inbound taxpayers” and “inbound researchers”:
        • BBIB/ RSII – for inbound taxpayers (employees or company directors):
          • the expat must be (i) recruited directly from outside Belgium by a

Belgian company, by the Belgian branch of a foreign company or a not-for-profit organisation, or  (ii) seconded by a foreign company which is part of a multinational group to a Belgian company or Belgian branch of a company within that group, or to a non-for-profit organization;

  • a minimum of €75.000 gross compensation on yearly basis (excl. of the 30% cost allowance – see further);
  • BBIO/RSICI – for researchers (only accessible for employees):
    • the expat must be recruited directly from outside Belgium or seconded to Belgium (see above);
    • no minimum salary level;
    • the expat needs to qualify as researcher:
      • alone or in group, at least 80% of working time is research time (as defined in the law);
      • qualifying diploma or at least 10 years equivalent experience (diploma= doctor or master-level defined science domains).

 

  • The expat is entitled to following tax benefits under the new expat status:
    • Tax free allowances as reimbursement of costs proper to the employer up to 30% of the gross salary (capped at €90.000, possibly indexed as from 2024) paid on top of the contractual salary; the employer’s engagement to use the new 30% system to reimburse costs can thus not be used to reach the €75.000 threshold;
    • A system of additional reimbursement for special costs remains: it concerns costs of moving, cost of decoration and organisation of one’s home and school fees (subject to conditions and with certain limitations). Also these reimbursements are not taken into consideration to reach the salary threshold.

It very important to highlight also the new procedure to obtain the new special expat tax regime and the envisaged date of entry into force.

  • Under the new regime the application will need to be filed electronically within three months after the start of the qualifying employment (today: 6 months) and the tax authorities will need to make a decision within 3 months (in practice often up to 12 months currently).
  • The draft program law has an entry into force date on January 1st, 2022! This is real soon! Eligible employees, directors and researchers starting employment as from that date will fall under the scope of application of the new law if they meet the conditions.

For expats enjoying the tax benefits of the current expat status a complex set of transitional measures will be available. On the basis of “opt-in” or “opt-out” possibilities, the files of the expats enjoying the current special tax regime should be analysed and decisions will need to be made:

  • If on January 1st, 2022 one is benefiting from the current expat status for a period of maximum 5 years and one meets the criteria for the new regime (in a retroactive consideration), an application for the new regime can be filed and such will need to be done ultimately on July 31st, 2022. The new regime can then be applied – as from January 1st, 2022 – for the “remaining period” of 5 (or 8) years. If however upon such a request the answer is negative, the new regime is not acquired, but a transitional measure will allow for the old regime to remain applicable for 2 more years.
  • If on January 1st, 2022 one is benefiting from the current expat status and does not meet the criteria for the new regime, there will be a transition period of 2 years. After these 2 years, the old regime ceases to be applied (whilst also the new regime is not acquired).

Foreign executives currently benefiting from the special tax regime for expatriates and their employers will need to closely monitor on a case-by-case basis the consequences of all the changes brought to the Belgian special tax regime for expats.

At the moment this article was written it was still unclear how the tax-free allowances for costs proper to the employment will be treated for social security purposes. This topic is not inserted in the draft program law and will need separate legislative work if an exemption for social security is to be added to the new tax regime for expats.

 

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We first reported on the rise of conscious capitalism back in 2016, when we interviewed Elisa French of Ceeyana for ReLocate on how this new world view is impacting the way we do business. Joeri Van den Bergh of InSites Consulting confirms that the pandemic has amplified this megatrend, making it tangible across the generations. With offices in seventeen countries worldwide, InSites Consulting is uniquely placed to quantify this global shift in perspective on sustainability. As the firm’s co-founder, Joeri Van den Bergh likes to push boundaries, especially when it comes to market research.

Positive Impact Company
We republish this interview with permission of the Spadel Group, home of Bru and Spa mineral waters, from their sustainability platform Source of Change. Creating a more sustainable world, accelerating the circular economy and joining a climate neutral society are the main drivers for this Belgian family owned organisation that is on track to becoming a Positive Impact Company. As Spadel Group CEO Marc du Bois puts it: “We share an inherent connection with our natural resources and the regions in which we operate. Recognising the power of our actions, we commit to protect, restore and rethink the world around us.”

Climate Protests
In 2019 the fight against climate change dominated the headlines. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, children around the world bunked off school to protest global warming, proving Generation Z won’t be silenced. The ongoing demand to ‘do better’ ensured the climate issue was firmly placed centre stage and in September 7.5 million people took to the streets, frustrated by government inaction and half-hearted corporate promises. That summer, InSites Consulting launched a study to uncover which issues mattered most to our communities.

“84% of Europeans aged 15 or over feel sustainability is ‘important’ or ‘hugely important’,” explains Joeri Van den Bergh. “And this is even higher with the younger generations, with almost 9 out of 10 Millennials (aged 14 to 24) and Gen Zs (aged 25 to 39) ranking it as a top priority. Generation X (aged 40 to 55) tends to be most sceptical; being critical is a typical Gen X response. They often consider corporate sustainability efforts to be a commercial strategy rather than about contributing positively to the environment. Even so, 8 out of 10 feel sustainability is important.”

Global Pandemic
In 2020 a new fight dominated the headlines. This time a global pandemic had us sheltering in place, introducing terms such as social distancing and lockdowns into our vocabulary. So did COVID-19 become more important than climate change? InSites’ second study asked the same questions as in 2019, and more, charting a clear evolution.

 

“During the first lockdown we found that the younger generations were less concerned with their own health, but very much so with that of their parents and grandparents,” says Joeri. “The impact of the virus on the economy and job security were also major concerns, but the health of our planet remained a top priority as the impact of the lockdowns on quality of life and the environment became apparent. With the roads clear of traffic, air quality improved. People started noticing flyaway litter and became aware of the amount of packaging they were using now that everything ended up in the bin at home. Similarly, people made a point of using what was in the fridge rather than letting it go to waste.”

“The leading conclusion to come out of the 2020 study was that none of the issues became less pressing in people’s minds. A number of issues became more important, such as CO2 reduction, but it was the social and local aspects that received the biggest boost. Despite – or precisely because of – the economic downturn consumers realised how important it is to support independent retailers, rather than the big chains. Seeing how dependent we are on the global supply chain also made people think about becoming more self-sufficient. Topics like the circular economy and buying locally have gained a lot of traction thanks to COVID.”

Understanding Sustainability
“Sustainability is a broad issue,” continues Joeri. “It becomes clearer when you divide it into three components: better for me (organic, natural, additive free, etc.), better for the planet (recycling, packaging, emissions, biodiversity, etc.) and better for society (fair wages, child labour, gender equality, etc.). If you look at the top 5 spontaneous associations with sustainability, you’ll see they are all linked to what’s better for our planet.”

“Sustainability can be confusing for the average consumer. When we buy organic cotton, we think we are doing the right thing as it is farmed without pesticides. But cotton needs huge amounts of fresh water; a limited resource. Perhaps it’s been imported from the other side of the world, creating emissions. Or workers may not have been paid a fair wage, making it a lot less sustainable than a traditional cotton produced locally. So it might be better for yourself, but it isn’t necessarily better for the planet or for society. We expect an organic label to mean sustainably produced at a fair wage – or fair trade to mean organically produced and good for the environment – but these are three entirely different things.”

“Enjoying brand preference and receiving ‘license to play’ a role in consumers lives will depend on whether or not you are sustainable.”

Conscious Consumers
About half of Europeans believe they live a sustainable lifestyle, with the other half saying they don’t. The top reasons for this being ‘I don’t know what I can do’; ‘the subject is too complex’; ‘it takes too much effort’; or ‘it’s expensive’. Education on these topics is an important part of creating a more conscious consumer believes Joeri, as well as making sustainable choices easily accessible.

“It’s important for brands to invest in sustainability. It positively reflects on your brand, with over half of consumers – across all generations – agreeing sustainable brands are more up to date. Seven out of ten admit to thinking more positively of companies and brands that actively reduce their ecological footprint. Additionally, consumers believe sustainable products to be better quality. Finally, it’s a big part of employer branding. People want to work for employers that share their personal values, and purposeful work helps attract young talent.”

The InSites study not only confirms the importance of taking a sustainable approach to business, but also serves to highlight quite how deeply ingrained the desire for a better world has become across the generations. Understanding all aspects of sustainability – better for me, better for the planet, better for society – is simply the first step in becoming a company with a positive impact.

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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.”

left: Antwerp right: Brussels

“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:

Brussels and Antwerp: Pathways to a Competitive Future

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The Forces Shaping the Future

“The pace of change is accelerating. Competition for the right talent is fierce. And ‘talent’ no longer means the same as ten years ago; many of the roles, skills and job titles of tomorrow are unknown to us today,” says Carol Stubbings, Global Leader People and Organisation, PwC, in her foreword. “How can organisations prepare for a future that few of us can define? How will your talent needs change? How can you attract, keep and motivate the people you need? And what does all this mean for HR? The ‘Four Worlds of Work’ for 2030 report aims to kickstart your thinking about the many possible scenarios that could develop, and how to best prepare for the future. Remember that your starting point matters as much as your destination; the best response may mean radical change, or perhaps just a few steps from where you are today.”

MEGATRENDS

The megatrends are the tremendous forces reshaping society and with it, the world of work: the economic shifts that are redistributing power, wealth, competition and opportunity around the globe; the disruptive innovations, radical thinking, new business models and resource scarcity that are impacting every sector. Businesses need a clear and meaningful purpose and mandate to attract and retain employees, customers and partners in the decade ahead. How humans respond to the challenges and opportunities which the megatrends bring will determine the worlds in which the future of work plays out.

∞ Technological Breakthroughs
Automation, robotics and AI are advancing quickly, dramatically changing the nature and number of jobs available. Technology has the power to improve our lives, raising productivity, living standards and average life span, and free people to focus on personal fulfilment.
∞ Demographic Shifts
With a few regional exceptions the world’s population is ageing, putting pressure on business, social institutions and economies. Our longer life span will affect business models, talent ambitions and pension costs.
∞ Rapid Urbanisation
By 2030, the UN projects that 4.9 billion people will be urban dwellers and, by 2050, the world’s urban population will have increased by some 72%. Already, many of the largest cities have GDPs larger than mid-size countries.
∞ Shifts in Global Economic Power
The rapidly developing nations, particularly those with a large working-age population, that embrace a business ethos, attract investment and improve their education system will gain the most. Emerging nations face the biggest challenge as technology increases the gulf with the developed world.
∞ Resource Scarcity and Climate Change
Demand for energy and water is forecast to increase by as much as 50% and 40% respectively by 2030. New types of jobs in alternative energy, new engineering processes, product design and waste management and re-use will need to be created to deal with these needs.

HOW WILL THESE MEGATRENDS SHAPE OUR WORLD?

■ The Red World: a perfect incubator for innovation with few rules
New products and business models develop at lightning speed, far more quickly than regulators can control. Big business is outflanked in a digital-enabled world that’s teeming with small entrepreneurial companies. Digital platforms match worker with employer, skills with demand, capital with innovator, and consumer with supplier. This allows serial entrepreneurs to reach far beyond their size in terms of influence and scale. Anxious to compete, larger employers fragment to create their own internal markets and networks to cut through old-style hierarchies. Specialism is highly prized in the Red World and a career, rather than being defined by an employer or institution, is built from individual blocks of skills, experience and networks. The most sought-after skills mean the biggest reward package and workers move frequently, staying only as long as the project or business lasts.

■ The Blue World: capitalism reigns supreme
In the Blue World, companies see their size and influence as the best way to protect their prized profit margins against intense competition from their peers and aggressive new market entrants. Corporations grow to such a scale, and exert such influence, that some become more powerful than nation states. Workforces are lean and exceptional talent is in high demand – employers secure a core group of pivotal high-performers by offering excellent rewards but otherwise buy in flexible talent and skills as and when they’re needed. Human effort, automation, analytics and innovation combine to push performance in the workplace to its limits; human effort is maximised through sophisticated use of physical and medical enhancement techniques and equipment, and workers’ performance and wellbeing are measured, monitored and analysed at every step. A new breed of elite super-workers emerges.

■ The Green World: companies have to care
In the Green World, corporate responsibility isn’t just a nice-to-have – it’s a business imperative. Companies are open, collaborative organisations that see themselves as playing an essential role in developing their employees and supporting local communities. Reacting to public opinion, increasingly scarce natural resources and stringent international regulations, companies push a strong ethical and green agenda. This is characterised by a strong social conscience, a sense of environmental responsibility, a focus on diversity, human rights and fairness of all kinds and a recognition that business has an impact that goes well beyond the financial. Employees enjoy family-friendly, flexible hours and are encouraged to take part in socially useful projects.

■ The Yellow World: we’re all in this together
In the Yellow World, workers and companies seek out greater meaning and relevance in what they do. A strong desire for ‘fairness’ in the distribution of wealth, resources and privilege drives public policy. Workers find flexibility, autonomy and fulfilment, working for organisations with a strong social and ethical record. This is the collective response to business fragmentation; the desire to do good, for the common good. Technology helps by lowering barriers to entry by providing easy access to crowdfunded capital and a worldwide market. The Yellow World is the perfect breeding ground for the emergence of new worker Guilds that develop in order to protect, support and connect independent workers, often providing training and other benefits that have traditionally been supplied by employers.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR JOBS?

PwC’s Four Worlds of Work are each markedly different, but through each runs the vein of automation and the implications of robotics and AI. It’s clear that automation will result in a massive reclassification and rebalancing of work. Some sectors and roles, even entire sections of the workforce will lose out but others will be created. Automation will not only alter the types of jobs available but their number and perceived value. By replacing workers doing routine, methodical tasks, machines can amplify the comparative advantage of those workers with problem-solving, leadership, EQ (Emotional Intelligence), empathy and creativity skills. This view is supported by business leaders worldwide who responded to PwC’s most recent CEO survey. While CEOs are keen to maximise the benefits of automation – 52% told us that they’re already exploring the benefits of humans and machines working together and 39% are considering the impact of AI on their future skills needs – the majority (52%) were also planning to increase headcount in the coming 12 months. Finding the skills they need has become the biggest threat to their business, they say, but the skills they’re looking for are particularly telling: problem-solving, adaptability, collaboration, leadership, creativity and innovation top the list.

For the full report, please visit the PwC website:
https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/services/people-organisation/publications/workforce-of-the-future.html

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So what exactly is burnout? Stress. Plain and simple. Stress in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing: after all it’s one of our oldest survival instincts.  It is important however that the goal is clear and attainable and the person feels supported. Stress only turns to burnout when a variety of factors build up over a long period of time, creating an imbalance between capacity and load, with no end in sight.

A match burns bright before it burns out, and similarly a person with burnout will have put a lot of passion and energy into his or her work. That’s the upside. It also means there’s a lot of ‘self’ involved, with emotional exhaustion, cynicism and a feeling of failure in the end when that ‘self’ isn’t rewarded every now and then.

Causes and Effects
For a long time burnout was ascribed to personality only. It’s true that certain characteristics make a person more susceptible to suffering from burnout. Interestingly enough the majority of these characteristics are what makes the candidate stand out for the job in the first place.  Character traits such as a strong sense of responsibility, perfectionism, idealism, not wanting to disappoint, needing to feel useful and easily offering help, are all highly attractive to an employer.  Balance these out however with the characteristics that are less easily spotted, such as trouble asking for help, introversion and an inclination to depression, and the need to safeguard a careful balance between a healthy amount of stress and unmanageable pressure becomes more obvious.

Where workaholism was worn like a badge of honour back in the 80’s and 90’s, today we are starting to realise it is not the basis for a sustainable lifestyle in the slightest.  There are a number of reasons for this particular swing of the pendulum, most notably the fact that we no longer feel in control. We don’t decide to come in first and leave last because we want to hit that sales target, but because cut-backs mean we have to do the job of three others.  Add to this an increasing expectation to be “always switched on” and it becomes easy to see how work related stress can spiral out of control.

Researchers agree that changes in society account for a large part of the problem. The flexible job market creates uncertainty; the balance between work and private life, especially when working partners also have to take care of a sick family member; (too) high expectations from both ends of the job; an increase in emotional load and openness about stress on the work floor mean we can easily become overloaded to the point of not being able to function anymore.

Workable Work
Despite recent legislation demanding that employers have a clear policy in place that protects workers from stress and burnout, only 15% of Flemish companies actually have one. Or, in the words of neuro-psychologist Elke Geraerts: “This century holds a lot of challenges: changing work-processes, technology that surpasses our mental capacity, the undermining of social structures. Self-knowledge and self-empowerment are necessary for survival.”

Research by the Flemish Stichting Innovatie en Arbeid shows that in 2016 a paltry 51% of employees on the Flemish job market had a job that earned the quality seal ‘werkbaar werk’ (workable work). This means a job that doesn’t cause undue levels of stress, over-straining or illness, that is interesting and motivating, that offers opportunity to learn and develop, and that leaves enough room for family and private life.

Long-term absenteeism is on the rise, mainly due to psycho-social factors.
One in three employees experienced work related stress the previous year.
Estimated yearly cost: 4 billion euro.

Hitting the Wall
Brussels-based psychologist Ioana Cirstea shares her thoughts on the subject. “I used to work for a bank and I currently treat a lot of people who work for multinationals. I notice more and more people are suffering from burnout. After the financial crisis it got worse. The crisis was used as an excuse for reorganisation. Companies concerns for profits dominated, meaning no new hires, causing the remaining employees to do the work of three others. Employees hit a wall when they don’t feel recognised for their work. They are tired, disillusioned, disappointed, have a sense of injustice and feel helpless because they feel their voice is not heard by management. People need encouragement, acknowledgment or even a raise in salary. The bottom line is: people feel faced with a big mountain and become demotivated when they’re not seen as people.”

Expats, high risk demographic?
The obvious question within the context of ReLocate is: are expats at an increased risk of burning out? After all, the pressure is on when an employer has invested so much in bringing you over.  We asked psychologist Ioana Cirstea, who sees a lot of expats in her practice.

“I’m an international myself. I left Romania thirteen years ago to study and live in the Netherlands, Spain, the USA and Belgium. International people in general are a special group and I like working with them, we share similarities. It is helpful for them to see someone who can relate to their problems. Of course it’s not difficult to find international clients in Brussels,” she laughs.

“It’s important to understand that culture shock can happen to anyone, no matter how short the distance moved is perceived to be.  Missing your family and friends, the (often extensive) travelling, … International people often lack a local support system, the network of people who can help them (both in and outside the job). They easily feel isolated, especially when there’s a language barrier. Visa and working permits also cause a lot of insecurity when they are temporary. In general the complexity is higher for expats, but anyone can suffer from a pressure overload.”

Yet expats are ambitious people, which makes them both resilient and receptive. “They set high objectives, they want to succeed and are willing to go great lengths to do so. At the same time they are more alone in life. Work becomes so important – it’s what they have here. So yes, maybe they are at higher risk for burnout or other stress related problems as they will probably not stop, even when their body gives them signals, because they have less options than locals. It’s not easy to change jobs unless you also want to change country which is an additional stress factor.”

Nevertheless, Cirstea sees a solution, including for expats: “Talk! Looking for a different job should be your last option. People who are suffering from burnout are more negative, both about themselves and the world around them. For internationals the possibility of having to go home, a failure, adds even more pressure. It would be great if companies would promote job mobility instead of having people stuck at the same position for three years.”

It’s the system, stupid!
Why all parties involved should make an effort
You can overcome your burnout, but if the system doesn’t change around you, there’s a large risk of it happening again, especially if the causes were predominantly context related. So what can we do? How can we start burning with passion instead of burning out? Governments, employers and employees share equal responsibility. The good news is that the taboo surrounding burnout is breaking down now that the problem has, quite frankly, become too big to ignore. Belgium acknowledging this by means of law in 2014 is an important step forward.

But more is needed, ideally in the form of awareness campaigns, a burnout prevention plan for every company, better access to cheaper psychological help (psychotherapy isn’t recognised as medical help in Belgium, making it very expensive and patients often feel a sense of shame about needing this help), and lots of training for individuals, including learning how to be a better worker.

As individuals we have to make an effort too, which includes asking for help when you need it, but management can help a great deal, starting by taking burnout seriously and installing a prevention plan that might include providing a clear job description for every new task the flexible, multi-available employee gets; providing space and time for tasks that need silence and concentration; team building activities to stimulate a sense of community; no emails over the weekend; respecting breaks; nap-rooms; holding meetings standing up to keep them short and effective; autonomy; challenge; support; feedback; addressing different skills; offering development of talents and skills. “Skills such as mindfulness, presence, active listening, and recognition and acknowledgement of emotions are the very skills that encourage teamwork, connection with colleagues, and recognition of common purpose,” the Institute for Healthcare Excellence website tells us.

The Psychologist’s View
“For me there were times when it was very difficult”, Ioana Cirstea shares her personal experience. “Even though I had nice colleagues and job security, being an employee in big company was not my calling. Fortunately, I found people who understood my difficulties and I was able to change jobs.”

“For Europeans life is easier because they don’t need a visa etcetera. This encourages working abroad and meeting other likeminded people.” To companies she’d like to say: “The intake is very important because the first month is difficult, help is needed with paperwork, registration. On the job itself I suggest coaching, training, whatever is needed for a smooth journey. People shouldn’t be thrown into the job but have a follow-up, a manager who listens to the employees and doesn’t minimize problems, who sees them as persons. Within the company freedom of expression, less competition, doing things together, talking about the challenges of the job, should all be normal.”

She admits it won’t be easy. “One person by himself cannot fix this. The employee can play a role but the problem is related to the way the work is organised, the culture, the management style.”

Does this mean it’s unhealthy to work far from home? “Moving around is becoming more normal. As long as the work is rewarding and the expat enjoys what he or she does it’s fine. To stay in your own country and not like what you do isn’t much of an option either. Instead, working abroad can be glamorous when you start out and ticks those all-important learning and experience boxes. Although once the honeymoon period is over reality can set in with a bump,” Cirstea confesses. “But you find ways to adapt. To answer the question, I don’t think it’s unhealthy to live and work abroad, on the contrary, I think it opens new horizons, you become more tolerant. Living and working abroad is enriching, but not easy.”

Sources:

Elke Geraerts, ‘Mentaal Kapitaal’, Lannoo, 2015
Elke Geraerts is neuropsychologist with her own practice, author of two best-selling books and CEO of Better Minds at Work, helping companies detecting and preventing burn-out amongst employees. | www.bettermindsatwork.com

Presentation by Provikmo, part of ADMB preventie, a service for companies to help them with durable welfare policy. | www.admb.be/nl/provikmo

Thank you Ioana Cirstea! | www.coach-psychologist.eu

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Thanks to Leuven University, Europe’s eldest, the city has long been an international hub for students, researchers and companies. Their presence has done the region good, but it doesn’t mean the people who want more for Leuven can sit back and rest on their laurels. That’s why, in 2016, Mohamed Ridouani (alderman for SP.A) initiated Leuven MindGate, a network of local institutions, government bodies and industry sectors joining forces to guarantee long-term sustainable development, innovation and welfare in the region. How? By creating optimal circumstances for businesses (e.g. attractive tax conditions), research & development, studying and living.

Research + White Paper
Everything starts with people. With the aforementioned survey Leuven MindGate wanted to “investigate what makes Leuven an attractive place to live and work and where there’s room for improvement. A special taskforce was created to come up with practical recommendations and to specify the right actions required to establish this high-level living and working climate within the region”. The results are bundled in a white paper titled ‘Towards An Outstanding Working and Living Environment: needs and practices for supporting international knowledge workers’.

To start with a general conclusion: success boils down to integration. Not surprisingly these are the paper’s three main focus points: integration of the worker in his or her job, the family or partner into the new environment, and both of them into the Leuven community. In spite of the abundance of help on a wide variety of subjects that is offered by relocators and other specialists, several gaps in the supply of information for newcomers kept surfacing. It is here that the city has decided to step up and take responsibility.

A selection of conclusions from the report:
• The knowledge workers were least happy with the help offered in the search for a daytime activity (e.g. a job) for the partner, a school or day-care for the children and cultural integration;
• The partner’s wellbeing often seems to be the determining factor for a longer or even permanent stay in the Leuven region. Fewer than half (42%) of international staff currently feel part of the local community, 45% of partners who want to work in Belgium experience difficulties;
• The City of Leuven plays a vital role in the integration of international knowledge workers, but their initiatives are scattered and not all accessible;
• [Most] people want the City of Leuven to inform them about administration and registration, activities and healthcare;
• The gap-analysis between the importance rated and the quality of the support shows that in the future the greatest improvement (high importance combined with current low quality) can be made with actions targeting partner job search, housing, relocation, schools and childcare and tax matters;
• 54% of respondents indicate that more information from the City of Leuven about cultural and social activities would be useful.”

Leuven, hidden pearl (policy)
Alderman Mohamed Ridouani makes it his personal matter to address these issues. From an interesting but rather unusual portfolio containing (among others) economy, education and real estate, he works on the internationalisation of Leuven. Again integration is key here. “I try to make it one of my assets, because a city with a high quality of living – liveable, tolerant, bustling – is an attractive city. I visited Shanghai during the course of our research for MindGate, and found they’re experiencing trouble attracting knowledge workers partly because of the smog.”

Like many innovations, Leuven MindGate and the dream of an International House originate in frustration. Ridouani: “Leuven has and offers a great deal of opportunities. Everyone knows it as university town, but it’s much less known that we’re also leading in research. Because of that we’re only reaching part of the international talent that might be interested in working here, which means less companies, and less European research funds.”

Ridouani wants the world to see Leuven for what it is: a pearl. In order to do this Leuven MindGate has set two main goals. One: putting the city on the map for health, hi-tech and creativity (Did you know Teno-fovir, one of the most frequently used medications to treat AIDS was developed there?). Two: Combining forces for a larger (social) coherence. “There’s research going on at IMEC (world renowned nano-electronics research centre), there’s research going on at the university hospital, combine those two and you get biotech. This in turn opens up a world of possibilities for start-ups, investments and so forth,” Ridouani enthusiastically explains.

“The university is good for six hundred years of scientific development and gaining knowledge,” Riduani continues, “twenty years of transforming that into products and solutions lead to companies like IMEC that brought wealth to our region. And I don’t just mean financially, with 156 nationalities in one city we can speak of cultural wealth as well. The next step is to make sure we attract and foster activity and business for more prosperity, more jobs, an even higher quality of life. We can only make that happen if people stay.”

Laying the Foundations
When asked about remarkable conclusions that came out of the Leuven MindGate research, Ridouani says: “I was surprised to learn that such a large percentage of respondents like to live here, but they don’t feel integrated. I think 80% of the respondents said they don’t know who their neighbours are. In fact a very important reason for people to leave Leuven is their partners’ lack of activities and integration. I was also surprised that the city’s offerings like cultural activities, schooling, child day care, etcetera are hardly known. It supports my conviction that social cohesion starts on a very local level.” That’s where the International House comes in. Besides investing in affordable workspace and housing, issues like schools for accompanying children are a necessary means to remove the barrier to come to Leuven. In Ridouani’s words: “integration into the local society is a top priority”.

Even though the idea of one location where everything the expat needs is concentrated under one roof was a product of his own imagination, Ridouani is humble enough to admit that he might not be the only one to have had this thought. Research took him to Denmark, to the International House in Copenhagen. The house accommodates public authorities, public services, private services and the University International Staff Mobility team. It offers support before, during and after relocation and integration. “We also visited the International House in Eindhoven. Each has it’s own specialties, but the basic offer is the same: an overview of online resources and forms to prepare the expat’s stay and help in his or her search for accommodation. Once they arrive they will be guided through their emigration process. The International House will be a home base where expats can find all possible information they need to integrate as quickly as possible: information on schools, (cultural) activities, volunteering, job markets. Besides practical and administrative help, we are planning to organise events and a festive International Day. What I think will be unique in the Leuven International House is the integration of the International Primary School that is currently situated in Heverlee.”

“We already have 17.000 international workers in Leuven. I want them to feel at home, to break the barrier between them and the Flemish community, something the people from Leuven would like as well.” Ridouani sounds inspired. “The International House should become the central place for all affairs international, but I hope it will also become a symbol or flagship for Leuven’s international aura and ambition.” By no means is Ridouani planning to replace the service providers that are currently operating in Leuven: instead he’d like to join forces. As far as integration goes Ridouani is thinking big. “Think of all the local applications that research could lead to: city planning, mobility, safety, air quality…”

It looks like 2017 is the year in which many a relocator, expat and employer’s dream finally comes true: Belgium’s first International House is well on its way to becoming a reality. We highly recommend reading the report. Find it here:
www.leuvenmindgate.be/en/news-press/hr-event

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2004. The Flemish government observes the need for a new paradigm in order to become the creative, innovative region they aspire to be. Until that time innovation was considered something exclusively technological, but around 2004 it started to become clear that new business models were needed and technology was no longer sufficient when handling ever more complex societal issues. A second insight, they couldn’t do it alone, led to the formation of a group of people with diverse, creative backgrounds.

“It started with a conference in Leuven appropriately called ‘Creative Districts Meet at Flanders’”, Pascal Cools, director of Flanders DC, recalls. “Representatives from nine different innovative regions worldwide were invited. The internet has proven to be a great tool to find interesting start-ups and policy surrounding them, how else can you know what’s happening in South-Africa and Israel? Of course there are several organisations, like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), that look into those types of initiatives too.”

The attendees agreed that the initiative to exchange best practices and experiences with trans-regional and trans-disciplinary collaborations was worth fostering and the DC Network, the international branch of Flanders DC, was born. The Districts of Creativity Network currently unites thirteen regions spread across the globe from China, to Brazil, Finland, India, the USA as well as several European hubs. DC Network organises two annual activities: the Reverse Mission, a delegation of entrepreneurs, policy makers, educators, sector-representatives, pays a study visit to one of the member-regions, and the Creativity World Forum, a conference organised by one of the members focused on multidisciplinary collaboration, which takes place in one of the member regions. CWF returns to Flanders every three years..

Stimulating Creativity and Innovation
So why did a government decide to stimulate creativity and innovation in business, culture and education? Not only on a domestic level but across borders too? What are the benefits? And, what’s in it for Flanders? Pascal Cools explains why creativity is such a magical ingredient. “Think about services like Uber or Airbnb. Those are typical concepts from creative sectors, combined with technology and a nose for business. The key to their success: user centric design. This might sound very logical but 90% of companies don’t take the perspective of their customers. My cliché example would be Apple that made computer technology easy, beautiful and fun. They wouldn’t have succeeded with just engineers who think much more linearly.”

Cools also has something to say about the broader value of bringing creatives into your company than just enhancing the saleability of your product. “Competition is not only next door but across the globe. It’s impossible for a Flemish company to compete with a ‘Made in China’ aluminium window frame that’s 40% cheaper. Meaning if we want to assure jobs in the future we will have to make sure companies have a chance of surviving. And that means they need to innovate. The Fortune 500 includes businesses that were able to adapt to circumstances, that reinvented themselves, companies like, again, Apple, Microsoft, Google.”

Besides the commercial necessity there’s also a moral aspect to the need to innovate. “There are societal challenges that ask for a creative solution: climate changes, hunger, diversity”, says Cools. “We need to use the full potential, not just stick to the laboratory. I’m convinced that creatives, meaning people with artistic creativity as their raw material, can contribute to solutions because they perceive the world differently.”

Study into the Success of Thinking Outside the Box

Whether the ‘box’ be a department, a company or an industry, in an economy that can only grow by means of inspiration and creativity, staying within your own walls doesn’t suffice anymore. Flanders DC asked Vlerick Business School (an internationally oriented independent school) to look into what components make innovating across sectors a success. The study was finished in 2015 and then translated into a convenient ready-to-use online tool for managers. www.innovatiefsamenwerken.be

Born Global
Though internationalisation is a large chunk of Flanders DC’s operations, they mainly operate on home ground. Daily business revolves around what Cools calls a ‘Disney slogan’: making entrepreneurial Flanders more creative and making creative Flanders more entrepreneurial. “After twelve years of focussing mostly on the first aspect, the government has asked us to concentrate on the latter,” Cools says. “(Would-be) entrepreneurs from twelve different creative industries like fashion, gaming, design, film and architecture can knock on our door for a broad range of topics such as advice on finance, business models, inspiration and network. We have a special focus on fashion, gaming and design because these three face the same challenges. Companies within these sectors are intrinsically internationally oriented. In fact they need to be ‘born global’, meaning they have to start operating on the international market right away because Flanders and Belgium alone are too limited for them to succeed. We help them with issues such as ‘I want to go to Hong-Kong, but how do I go about it? Do I go there, or de we go to special fairs for design, fashion and gaming?’”

The website cici.flandersdc.be features 32 projects that originated in the 2013 en 2014 Open Call for Innovation with Creative Industries (cici). These projects were selected as they have a possible impact on Belgian science, industry and/or society. One example is the wireless brain scanner developed by the Gent University Hospital that researches brain functions without the patient having to sit still in a hospital ward for days looking like Frankenstein’s hat maker. Patients, and especially kids, wouldn’t wear the helmet, which meant data-gathering was difficult. The cici-project united scientists, designers and a specialised CAD drawer who together realised a comfortable, nice-looking headband. The longer a child wears the band, the more points he or she collects, which is where the game comes in. Pascal Cools reckons this is where its success lies: “The question is not how can we make the machine wearable, the question is how do we make patients want to wear it.” Other examples are wooden interior design objects made from orchard waste, a mobile lab full of technical novelties to introduce children to technique, science and art and a food pairing app that helps you discover flavour combinations previously unheard of.

The Freedom to Feed Creativity
Flanders DC was instigated by the government, but isn’t a governmental organisation. Cools: “They always said they’re interested in results and an increase in revenues, but apart from some of the guidelines I mentioned earlier, they don’t really care how we get there. We have the luxury of great mutual trust. Of course we’re monitored to see if we spend their money efficiently, but the political interference is limited to that.”

Freedom is something Cools offers his people, not surprisingly a multi-disciplinary team, too. Creativity can flourish when there are as few as possible restrictions in how employers reach their targets. How they stay inspired? Cools: “Keeping our antennas activated at all times, keep our finger on the pulse. I think we’re one of very few companies that recognizes the need to be on Facebook and Twitter during working hours, this is where many new ideas are introduced.”

The world is continuously in motion and that’s a fact. Since 2004 many organisations and companies have discovered the benefits of cross fertilisation between disciplines, of injecting a dose of external creativity into their workflow. We might even say it’s becoming mainstream. Does that mean Flanders DC’s job is done? “It’s true we’re facing a new challenge,” acknowledges Pascal Cools. “We have to strive for redundancy, as this would mean we’ve completed our task successfully. It goes against commercial logic, but from a societal point of view it’s the only direction we can take. From a personal perspective it will obviously be a shame if our work ends, but I don’t think we’re finished yet. It’s going to take time before creatives are considered equal to and by the rest of the market.“

www.flandersdc.be
www.districtsofcreativity.org

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ReLocate does away with all the drama and takes a “stiff upper lip” look at Brexit. We’ve  consulted leading immigration law firms Fieldfisher and Fragomen, who in preparing their own clients for change during and after Brexit negotiations, have shared a few practical steps with us to keep us on the straight and narrow.

Overview of Outcomes
Yes, uncertainty is set to reign until negotiations commence in early 2017. Considering that the European Treaty established a negotiation period of at least two years in case of an exit, it is unlikely that there will be any immediate changes in the near future.

These negotiations could have a wide range of outcomes:
• The Norwegian, Icelandic and Lichtenstein model: the UK would remain subject to the majority of EU legislation, however there would be no role played in the decision-making process and no right to veto, including no independence from EU legislation nor the European Court of Justice;
• the Swiss model: ability to develop mutual agreements with the EU;
• the Turkish model: remaining part of the Customs Union;
• the “sui generis” model*: a completely new approach to UK / EU relations;
• total withdrawal from the EU*: if this is to occur, there would be swift changes to UK legislation.

From an International Business Perspective – Fieldfisher
Companies are best advised to anticipate change and ensure they are in a position to identify possible issues that need to be addressed as they arise. In doing so they can reassure staff on all levels. So what could possibly change? Establishing which regulations may be the most heavily impacted can be difficult, Fieldfisher has broken down the main points to be addressed into three main areas to be assessed within internationally operating companies: social security/welfare, employment law and of course, immigration. Fieldfisher has highlighted the existing regulations that may be affected, and what the knock-on effects of these changes may be.

1. SOCIAL SECURITY / WELFARE
883/2004 and 987/2009: regulates the social security scheme applicable to internationally mobile workers

Changes?
These regulations are likely to be repealed once the UK leaves the EU, and the mutual treaties previously established between countries will once again be activated.

Knock-on effects:
• The original mutual treaties limit the determination of the social security/welfare scheme to be applied and benefits covered therein;
• they do not provide for any regulation on simultaneous employment (two or more social security/welfare schemes operating at the same time);
• they do not systematically provide for regulations on accumulation of social security/welfare benefits/entitlements;
• they do not systematically provide guaranteed rights in respect of health/sickness costs.

2. EMPLOYMENT LAW
593/2008: determines the law applicable to employment contracts in a cross-border situation

Changes?
Employment contracts between EU and UK will no longer be viewed in the frame of the “free movement of workers” principle.

Knock-on effects
UK legislation will have to be rigorously applied in cases of EU staff employed in the UK being brought before a UK court with an extraneous element, and vice-versa. When UK employers employ staff on EU territory, they will have to rigorously apply the legislation of that EU state.

3. IMMIGRATION – from a business perspective
Changes?
This is still a hot topic of speculation. The UK Government could implement a points system not unlike that of Australia, although there have been indications that this is not preferred by the May administration. The UK borders are unlikely to close completely, however the UK Government is expected to implement some forms of restriction before the “divorce date” to limit a massive influx of people.

Knock-on effects
The knock-on effects of changes to immigration between UK and the EU are wholly dependent on the outcome of the negotiations. If the right to free movement ceases to apply or is restricted, those businesses built on sourcing international talent will then have to look to the new immigration and employment rulings for guidance regarding any future employment. Attempts to limit net immigration to tens of thousands will then result in severe restrictions to the pool of potential employees in the UK.
Fieldfisher’s advice on handling these potential changes within businesses:
• “Nominate a person or team of people who are responsible for monitoring employment issues. Ensure all staff have a contact person to whom they can address questions or express concerns in all the countries in which the organisation operates. This will ensure that all staff, wherever located get the same consistent message which in turn will give reassurance that the organisation knows what it is doing and what needs to be done as we approach Brexit.”
• “Staff may feel unsettled and anxious about how restriction to free movement may affect their right to live and work in the UK or other EU member states. Given the fact some EU legislation will be repealed, international mobility policies may need to be assessed and adapted, and ensure specialist advice is utilised.”
• “Encourage workers to list their entitlements to pension and other social welfare benefits when starting to work outside the UK.”

“The criteria for nationality applications are not always more demanding than those for long-term or permanent residency, and nationality is the more secure option to guarantee residence rights in the long term.” – Jo Antoons, Fragomen

From an Individual’s Perspective – Fragomen

Companies and individuals are naturally concerned about what Brexit will mean for EU nationals living in the UK and for UK nationals who are residing in another EU country. While UK politicians figure out what approach they will propose for those affected, individuals are wondering what actions they can take now. Fragomen suggest three key points of consideration for UK citizens currently living, working or studying in an EU member state who wish to take measures to safeguard their mobility rights.

1. REGISTER YOUR RESIDENCE IN THE HOST COUNTRY
According to Fragomen the first action step is to register your residence if this was not already done. UK citizens without a residence document who have been residing for more than three months in an EU member state should be encouraged to contact the national authorities and obtain one. Not all EU countries impose registration regulations on EU nationals, and in this case obtaining an official residence document before a divorce date is the safest way to avoid grey areas and maintain your right to reside in the EU even after a formal separation.

2. APPLY FOR PERMANENT RESIDENCE
Permanent residence rights and regulations vary from EU state to EU state. Some require five years of legal residence, some (including Belgium) request only three years when specific conditions are met. Fragomen suggest this action step with two reasons in mind:
• This confirms that you fulfill the requirements for the right to permanent residence, useful in cases of long absences from the EU member state where you currently reside;
• this maintains as many other rights as possible after Brexit. British EU permanent residence holders may have their status automatically transformed to that of non-EU nationals, whereby they are granted long-term residence for the whole of the EU or just the country where they currently reside.

EU or national long-term residence does not boast the same breadth of rights as EU permanent residence, however it does guarantee the right to continue residing in the host member state.

3. APPLY FOR NATIONALITY – but only if it is the right option for you
Obtaining the nationality of the EU country where you have been residing may appear to be the obvious option, however, before taking on an additional nationality, ensure that you’ve considered what is involved in the application process:
• Is dual citizenship allowed in your host country?
• What knock-on effects may a change in nationality have on your taxation status?
• Would this lead to a loss of rights? For example, some EU states grant less generous family reunification rights to citizens as opposed to those granted by EU free movement legislation.

That said, criteria for nationality applications are not always more demanding than those for long-term or permanent residency, and nationality is the more secure option to guarantee residence rights in the long term. Nationality can only be revoked in exceptional circumstances, while residency can be lost after two consecutive years of absence from the host country.

It is essential for businesses to maintain their own sense of structure and identity in this time of uncertainty. When approaching Brexit from an individual’s perspective, each unique personal situation must also be taken into consideration before making a decision. If we are able to maintain a sense of order, promote clarity and adaptability within organisations and keep open channels of communication we will ensure the best outcomes are achieved and business operations and lives carry on as calmly as possible.

With thanks to Stefan Nerinckx of Fieldfisher and Jo Antoons of Fragomen.
You can download their whitepapers by following these links:

www.fieldfisher.com
www.fragomen.com

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If we feel hard done by, we’re quick to share our displeasure with the world.  Today’s media is abound with public relations disasters such as sackings being tweeted live through the company account and disgraced public figures who said one thing and did another altogether, effectively ending their careers.

We have a strong sense of justice and fairness and as a society, we crave a more meaningful life.  This means that aligning our personal and professional values is becoming increasingly important to both our success and our happiness.

So how does this translate into the global mobility sector?  As a people oriented business the majority of the relocation industry is quick to see the benefit of strong customer relations, but with a continued pressure on cost and speed it is easy to lose sight of the rest of our stakeholders’ interests.

Elisa French, partner and founder of Ceeyana, brought to life how easily and quickly we can integrate our personal philosophy into professional practice. With over 2 decades in Executive Coaching and Strategic Management behind her, Elisa is actively involved with the Relocation Professionals Coaching Program in cooperation with Oxford Brookes University and has transformed lives for a wide range of clients from small businesses to large corporations around the world.

The Conscious Capitalist
“Capitalism has served us well,” posits Elisa, “but is has come at a great cost. We now own more mobile phones than toothbrushes and our world is being disrupted at a greater speed than ever before.  As consumers we have more choices, but they don’t necessarily make us happier. We don’t always feel heard or appreciated by our peers.  Depression, burn-out, loneliness; they’re all signs of our time and very much on the rise.”

“Businesses need to acknowledge that it is their role to serve society, and as business people we need to see opportunity in this,” she continues.  “We all prefer doing business with organisations that have a philosophy we can relate to, but it takes courage and commitment to change for good.”

“Typically organisations sense that they would like to take a more conscious approach to their day-to-day dealings, but it’s not easy turning such a big ship around.  Compliance and governance are big hurdles to overcome, but we don’t rea-lise how many easy and small things already set us on track towards creating a more fulfilling life in a better world.” Elisa adds when we catch up after the conference.

Most of us will already have made a start towards positive change without even being aware of it. Whether you’re recycling your printer cartridges or just making sure that you don’t print out every single email, taking those first steps towards instilling a more conscious approach throughout your organisation isn’t as daunting as you might expect.

Improving Lives
“For the vast majority of us money is not our driving force.  Whether your company mission is to have fun along the way, to make a personal difference to the families you relocate, or to support a local charity, for most of us work involves wanting to improve life in one way or another.”

It’s finding this higher purpose that helps take your company to the next level Elisa believes.  “Every organisation is different and what works for one, may not work for the other, so ask yourself, what does conscious capitalism mean to you? What are your principles, what are your values and what do you really want to stand for?  Tell me why should I work with you and not somebody else.  Ask yourself how you can integrate this common purpose into your day-to-day processes and relationships, but most importantly: turn up and actually do what you have set out to do.”

Money to be Made
Research supports the claim that defining and working towards this common higher purpose as a person, a team and as an organisation, is the key to creating a sustainable and successful business.  A study by Edelman Marketing even suggests that companies committed to conscious capitalism outperform others by a factor of 10, proving there is money to be made in adopting a more conscious approach to business.  The 2012 study also showed that when price and quality are equal, 71% of consumers would not just switch brands, but even help a brand promote their product or service if there was a good cause behind them.

“These companies are not settling for the cheapest suppliers or squeezing what they can out of prices, but instead work with selected suppliers to become loyal and mutually respected partners who invest in quality and innovation,” Elisa continues.  “By investing in salaries, education, health and wellbeing, staff feel validated and want to come to work.  Simply allowing people to speak up, paying them well, acknowledging them and giving fulfilling work builds a committed and loyal team who will carry your message out into the world.”

Being your Best
Your purpose is what anchors your organisation.  It’s the magnet that serves to draw in all of your stakeholders and gets them to buy into your ‘story’.  From clients and contractors to individual team members, you want everyone to be on board so that you can flourish by aligning with society’s need to lead better, more conscious lives.

It’s the millennials who are driving this desire for a more sustainable future.  It can be hard for management – and long-standing team members – to see the need for change.  They are often perfectly happy with how things have been running, but when you hire fresh young thinkers they bring new impetus to your company culture. So ask yourself: ‘are your processes bringing out the best in every stakeholder? Does your business allow you to be the best you can be?’ and then go from there.

“Think about it.  Only too often do we devote all of our energy to getting the job done, to the detriment of living up to our higher purpose.  We may choose to ignore the fact that a team member’s moods affect the entire office as we believe they get the job done.  Or perhaps you’re keeping on  a client that really you’d rather not have, simply because they pay the bills.  If you’re accepting situations that undermine who you are and what you believe in for the sake of saving time and resources, it’s bound to come back and bite you. It has a massive impact your organisation’s culture, and takes away from where you are trying to head.  You really need to critically assess what type of a culture you are tolerating: it’s the life force of your organisation. If your company is all about measuring quarterly profits and quick wins, then this is what you’ll get.”

If on the other hand you can not only define your values, but really embed them you start building values such as transparency, trust, integrity, compassion, generosity, autonomy and more into your company culture. Values that have a huge impact on your performance and that create great, energetic places to work.  If, for example, you were to look at employee turnover as a key performance indicator, you’re starting to think like a conscious leader.

Creating Structure for Growth
“When you truly start walking the talk everybody gets to play a part in making this higher purpose become a reality and becomes accountable for their individual input and actions,” says Elisa.  “When everyone is seen as equal you create a culture where feedback – even the most critical – is welcomed as an opportunity for learning.  Defining your values sets boundaries and creates structure for growth as well as offering the opportunity to become who you really want to be.”

Most importantly you have to check in with your values on a regular basis. Whether it’s your operating systems, your business model or your company culture, make sure you don’t stray from your path or allow yourself to become distracted by the one who shouts the loudest.

Be the Change You Want to See
“When we do purposeful work we treat people with trust, care, and respect, and restore the ecosystems around us.  We start recognising that all aspects of our lives and the world are interconnected. We go to sleep not feeling as lonely and depleted, but happier and more fulfilled.  We feel engaged with the world around us and our work environment gives us the opportunity to lead the most meaningful lives we can.  That being said, it’s up to us to step out of our comfort zone as individuals as well.  We all want the world to be the best place it can be and we all have a part to play in this.  Yes you want your company to be the force for good, but you have to live and breathe what you stand for as a person too,” Elisa concludes.

Find Elisa’s talk on the EuRA website or visit her online at www.ceeyana.com

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