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Changing limitations into opportunity: the power of Pink Monday

Pink Monday is a powerful initiative that supports breast cancer patients. It provides resources and helps to build solidarity for people - usually acquaintances and colleagues - who return to work after their successful fight against breast cancer.

An Aelbrecht is a General Manager at Unique in Belgium, an HR services company. She leads the company's Pink Monday activities and gives us a glimpse into what inspired her to do so: "Almost four years ago when I chose a charity for the company to support, we had a colleague who was fighting breast cancer. Her challenges showed us the consequences of the disease first-hand, and we experienced how she struggled to get back to work. There is no doubt that this influenced our decision to support Pink Monday."

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The main target she had in mind when she positioned Unique to support Pink Monday was to raise awareness of the disease.

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An Aelbrecht Unique in Belgium General Manager

Her rationale was simple, "Physical rehabilitation is one part of the process, but emotional recovery is an aspect that is often put behind. People throughout the world need to work longer and harder it seems, and it's important to think about how to help them cope with the ups and downs of professional life, including recovering from diseases such as cancer."

Communicating this consistent message to all parties while also bringing creativity to the same message every year was a challenge but together with her colleagues, An set out to successfully host an event to raise awareness. By 2019, they were organising six separate events and initiatives. A handful of these events are summarized below:

Snapping success

At the 'Pink Monday Breakfast' at our Antwerp headquarters, colleagues were offered a healthy breakfast and a flyer about the Pink Monday activities. They were encouraged to wear as many pink clothes as possible to the breakfast, or at least a Pink Ribbon pin, then to take and share photos on social media. The photos were tagged with #pinkmondayBE and generated wide attention.

Collaborating and convening

Unique organized the Pink Ribbon HR Conference and invited doctors and politicians to speak on 'Returning to work after a long period of absence due to a disease.' The event laid the foundation for the first Pink Monday Congress organized by Pink Ribbon, the NIHDI and Unique. This was full of useful information and tips for HR professionals, disability managers and others in HR. An and team received such positive feedback that Unique has committed to reorganizing it for 2021.

Gaining ground

For the "Walk 1 Mile a Day" initiative, An and team urged employees to walk 1 mile each day for at least 30 days. Unique donated funds to Pink Ribbon for every 500 km (310,686miles). Gifts of bright pink shoelaces motivated employees who visited 500 clients to spread the message of support and actively included our clients in our activities, such as the "Drop in apples" initiative where employees delivered personalized apple gifts and Pink Monday flyers to 800 clients and prospects.

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Media and materials

We ran a 'pimp your CV' event at our offices where we improved colleagues' CVs in exchange for a € 1 donation to Pink Ribbon. We donated the proceeds at a charity media event hosted by Belgium's largest radio station. This media event generated attention while our White Paper provided tools for those wishing to take action.

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Internal action for a global challenge

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in women and the second most common cancer overall. There were over 2 million1 new cases in 2018 alone and Belgium had the highest rate of cases at an age-standardized rate of 113.2 per 100,000 women. Unique has around 250 employees and 80-85% are women.

When asked about how Unique approaches these HR and cancer-related challenges for women returning to work, An replied, "Courageous women fighting cancer often need additional support from colleagues and HR practitioners. Returning to work is a challenging process but we actively encourage transparent and open dialogue between the employee and manager, with support from HR. The returning employee needs to know what they want, whether it's overcoming specific obstacles or changing roles, teams or careers. Then we can consider their views and circumstances to create a tailored program. Additionally, our Unique 'Care4People' program is a form of tele-reception open 24/7 to all employees and offers free psychological support. When all these actions are viewed holistically, it's clear that we support our business imperative while supporting lasting, positive changes to people's lives."

Regarding the internal impact of the initiatives, An says, "Year after year, the visibility, recognition and support of our employees, customers and temporary workers has increased, which strengthens our conviction to invest further in this charity and actions. All the more because Pink Monday is linked to our core business. Internally, a lot more people are sharing their learnings with others, showing that we really have created a positive 'knock-on' effect to raise awareness. " Her views and commitment embody the Recruit Values and bring them to life vibrantly for a truly worthwhile cause.

What's next?

According to An, "From this year onwards, we will ask our clients to sign an ethical charter requesting increased engagement from these companies in supporting their employees when they return to work. We want them to show their human side more, to do more and to set an example in our society." Participating clients will display the charter in frequently visited areas of their businesses where it is eye-catching and easy to see. This shows onlookers that there will always be support and understanding for the brave ladies who have or have survived breast cancer.

An and her team are already underway with even more plans for the next Pink Monday.

Find out more about Unique and our USG People Belgium companies here.To an external site

Pictures in this article are taken by October 2019.


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Sep 1, 2020

This article is based on information available at the time of publication.