The OpenUp of Gersom van der Spek

12 Apr ‘23
5 min
Stress and anxiety
Work performance
Editorial Board OpenUp
Taking care of our mental well-being should be regarded as a natural habit in our daily routine. Just like exercising benefits our body, we consider taking care of our brain and mind as a preventative form of care. This applies to every area of our lives, whether it is professional, personal, or social.


We are happy to say that we are not the only ones working based on this philosophy. Other companies are normalising and prioritising the conversation around mental well-being. Gersom Van der Spek, Human Resources Director at Body&Fit shared with us his perspective on mental well-being.


Gersom, thank you for doing this interview with us. We would like to start with a very simple question: how are you feeling right now?


I am feeling good, both physically and mentally. It’s also the right time to ask as I just came back from a combined business and private trip to the west side of the US, which was amazing.


How do you encourage other people to openly speak about how they feel?


Simply by asking and with the real intent to listen and get an honest answer. It’s too easy sometimes to ask ‘how are you’ out of courtesy rather than genuinely wanting to understand. And it’s also important in my role that people notice that I care.


What does mental wellness personally mean to you? And how do you take care of your own mental well-being?


With a busy work and family life, it’s about creating regular moments to unwind for your own mental wellness. For me it can be a walk through beautiful Amsterdam, a coffee, listening to music in the car, a trip abroad, just little meaningful things. This can be either alone or with beloved ones.


Can you tell us a little more about Body&Fit and your view on mental well-being within the company? What’s the vision and approach to mental well-being at Body&Fit?


Our company purpose is to inspire people all over the world to live a fitter and healthier life. We do this by offering sports nutrition to our consumers, but of course it’s broader than this. Finding your fit is all about your physical, emotional, financial and mental state. It starts with living and breathing our purpose internally.


When I joined, we had too much illness absenteeism. Now we focus a lot on preventative measures. We were one of the first to partner with you, we conducted mental health surveys, we organised awareness workshops for our leaders, Erik Scherder joined as guest speaker to talk about the impact of the brain on our health and we set up walk-in sessions with our company doctor.


We also have a very flexible blended working approach that works for our office staff. A mix of being in the office and at home every week with flexible start and end times, and given we have many international people, we also introduced a 30-days Work from Abroad opportunity so that people can spend more time in their home country. And if people do face challenges, then we make sure there is a thorough reintegration process or adapted work schedule to minimize the risk of falling out.


What challenges are you facing as a leader in realising this approach?


The main challenge always remains to recognise early signs of fatigue or mental stress, and that’s sometimes easier to do with one person vs. another. We keep making our leaders aware of what these signs could be, but it’s easier said than done. So we still incidentally have cases when people fall out despite of our preventative measures.


What makes OpenUp a valuable asset of your well-being strategy?


A very preventative, approachable way for people to literally open up and talk to an external, confidential person if they need to at any given time. I am glad that we can offer this to our people. In addition we want to promote the e-learnings from OpenUp more as the content is rich. We have a lot of GenZ staff so they want to know more about mental health in general.


What role do you and your leadership team play in your employees’ mental well-being? What skills do your leaders need to help improve the overall well-being of the workforce?


It sounds cliché, but we as leaders are always on stage as they say, so if we don’t practice what we preach then our whole approach won’t be credible. So I keep raising the importance of well-being in our regular meetings and encourage them to participate and take measures in their own team.


For skills; again it’s mainly about creating awareness, inspire with successful examples that we have and to ask the right questions to their team members to open up. Eventually it’s all about trust – if a leader creates a safe environment then people feel comfortable enough to be honest about their feelings. Then you can give the right, tailored support.


What are a few simple ways that leaders can start taking action now?


1:1 walking sessions outside, giving people time for time after a busy period, regular check-ins with their teams to stay in touch, and most important; first look after yourself! If a leader is not mentally and physically fit herself or himself, then you can’t effectively lead a team and the well-being agenda.


At Body&Fit, employees have the flexibility to work from home, abroad or in the office. What tips can you share with leaders on how to foster collaboration in a hybrid team?


I have to say that people got a bit tired of virtual connections after two years of lockdown so we actually focus on as much face-to-face interaction in the office when people are together, including company initiatives like All Employees Meetings, social events etc. If you are working at home, you’d better spend time on the typical things like working on your project, making a presentation etc..


Do you have any advice for those reading on how to build the right employee well-being strategy, involving the leadership team?


Like with any important People topic, change always starts with creating the sense of urgency. There are so many data available about the importance of well-being in research but also in internal surveys. More than ever, after the lockdown and with a vulnerable GenZ, focus on well-being pays off. And act on it too – show that you as a company take it serious.


After the last two years I can say that we have enough ‘evidence’ that we care and we won’t be sitting still. Also for this and in the coming years we’ll keep involving and find new ways to make impact to our staff as the world is rapidly changing all the time. Fortunately our mother company Glanbia Performance Nutrition also fully supports the well-being agenda so we can also build on their best practice.