Report HR Symposium 2016

On 24 & 25 of November, the Vlerick HR Alumni gathered in Nieuwpoort for their annual symposium. 1

This year’s edition placed resilience in the spotlight, a theme that continues to gain relevance in light of recent events in the labour market and Belgian society.


Prof. Dr. Elke Van Hoof (Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Huis voor Veerkracht) was the opening key-note speaker and expertly introduced the audience to the theme of the symposium, exploring the subject “Burn-out, facts and fiction”. Drawings of the brain were combined with the roles of different hormones to bring the audience to understand and feel what happens to all of us in contexts of stress. She explained the series of events that can bring the otherwise well-tuned hormonal action and reaction sytems to a halt, potentially leading the owner of that brain to a burn-out. We took away her recommendation to disconnect regularly, being particularly attentive to the effects of social media and multi-tasking, as well as her tip to use coldpacks to jumpstart the brain’s natural coping mechanisms.

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During the subsequent networking evening, the HR Alumni shared their personal and professional experiences about resilience. They were able to recharge the batteries on the dance floor and during animated discussions.

HR Symposium   HR Symposium  

On Friday morning, Prof. Dr. Dirk Buyens (Vlerick Business School) kicked off the second day of the Symposium, then passed the floor to Sandra Boel (Quintiles), who shared the extensive series of initiatives and programs that her organization already implemented to improve resilience in a professional context. The research results that she shared demonstrated that executives are already convinced of the extent to which resilient employees contribute to results. She spoke with passion about her heroes Kotter and Dirk Buyens.

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HR SymposiumBrigitte Ballings, author of the recently published Een stap terug? Ik denk er niet aan! confronted the audience with the taboo that still surrounds demotion and similar career choices. She brought her personal story in a straightforward and authentic way, offering the Alumni in the audience – many of whom fulfill roles in HR – the chance to reflect on how they personally and professionally deal with questions and discussions about fundamental career choices.
To support them, the team behind the symposium offered Brigitte’s book to all participants.


Jan Vanpraet (Decca) told the story of an entrepreneur in the technical sport textile business of which he recently took charge. He underlined the role of the CEO towards the employees in the organization. One of his first initiatives was to schedule one on one discussions with each of these employees. He was surprised by the positive effect of such interventions on morale. Sustainable entrepreneurship options are also demonstrated in production, as Decca allows customers to choose between production Belgium – for swift lead times – or in Lithuania – at a price advantage but longer lead times. His presentation undoubtedly convinced numerous Alumni to make more conscious consumption choices. Three lucky participants won the Decca quiz at the end of Jan’s presentation and will soon run or cycle in a Decca shirt.

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HR Symposium


As per tradition, the Friday afternoon was dedicated to Bart Vanschoebeke (Claeys & Engels) providing an update on social law. Bart admitted to spending the night making sure that the legislation that passed the day before, was included in his intervention. The Alumni appreciated his old style slides – flipchart paper – as well as his straightforward dissection of the latest law.


 Closing speakers Inke Daems (AG Insurance) and Cedric Velghe (Vigor Unit) addressed the organizational and theoretical aspects of an evidence-based approach of employee wellbeing. Inke illustrated how employee wellbeing is implemented at AG via initiatives such as the well @ work week. Cedric shared the research and evidence that exists about the impact – or lack of it – of stress management interventions.

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Concluding observation: individual stress management interventions tend to have a clear effect on the individual, but even if a significant part of employees participate to these programs, this does not necessarily lead to clear results at the level of the organization.

Participants left with a wealth of inspirational examples to increase the level of resilience in both their personal and professional lives. To quote Brigitte Ballings: “We all have 2 lives. The second one starts when you realize you only have one.”



Pictures by Wim Meyvis, text by Karla Van Loock

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