20 December 2023

“We want to step in and fill the gap when employees who are struggling can’t find help quickly”

Bianca van Wijnen and her team are responsible for the REWE Group’s occupational health management programme. In the current Voice of the Month, she discusses employee support programmes and urgently needed political action.
Reading time: 6 min.

Dear Reader,

The world is becoming more fast-paced and complex. I am not alone in this feeling. Increasingly, our colleagues feel this way too. Global crises are contributing to a general sense of uncertainty. This can have a detrimental effect on the mental health of the general population – and that of our 280,000 employees in Germany. We believe it is our responsibility – as an employer, as a cooperative company, and as colleagues – to provide support in this regard. However, greater understanding in society at large and greater political support are also urgently required.

No matter whether someone is struggling with depression, burnout, anxiety or other mental issues, addiction, financial concerns, or stress caused by caring for relatives: when those who are struggling become aware of their situation and try to get help, they unfortunately all too often learn that the health care system in Germany is overwhelmed. They may wait weeks or even months for an appointment with a therapist. While they wait, they can often reach a crisis point. Back in 2018, the Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists called for an additional 7,000 licenses for psychotherapy professionals, especially outside major cities.

This where our Employee Assistance Programme comes in. REWE Group employees can anonymously contact a psychological advisor and receive an initial consultation within just a few days, thereby already relieving a good deal of the burden they may be experiencing. The consultations are then held online, by phone, or in person. This is made possible by our long-standing partnership with B·A·D Gesundheitsvorsorge und Sicherheitstechnik GmbH (an occupational health service provider). The process is strictly confidential; the employee’s managers and colleagues are not informed. Even the information that we in the occupational health management department receive is all anonymised. I can reveal, however, that the figures are in line with the national average, and there are no clinical symptoms specific to the REWE Group. The same thing is true of the sharp rise in cases over the past two years. According to an assessment by B.A.D. GmbH in 2022, there was a 37 percent increase in the number of enquiries we received. And they continue to rise. We are happy to be able to help those in need so quickly. However, referrals to support groups or psychotherapists for long-term help are becoming increasingly difficult. Based on our experiences, we call on the Federal Joint Committee, which determines the number of licenses granted, to provide urgent help in this regard. Long wait times are tortuous for those with mental health issues, and is questionable from an economic perspective, with long absences from work exacerbating the labour shortage in Germany. At the same time, the workload of many employees is growing because their colleagues are off work with mental issues. A correlation between labour shortages and the number of employees absent due to illness has long been demonstrated across all sectors – for example, in a 2023 report by health insurer DAK-Gesundheit. For this reason, we welcome political efforts to promote and facilitate the labour market integration of refugees who want to remain in Germany.

We want to step in and fill the gap when employees who are struggling can’t find help quickly. Our aim is to offer employees needs-based support wherever and whenever they need it. Whilst some employees prefer speaking in person rather than by phone, others favour an online consultation, so they don’t have to travel to an appointment. Our LoS! Initiative, created in 2011, provides a low-threshold opportunities for assistance. LoS! stands for “Life phase-oriented Self-help Skills”. Under this programme, employees are trained to serve as representatives. Whether an employee is dealing with divorce, illness, caring for a family member, or debt, the representatives help by listening, being there for the employee, and when necessary, gently guiding them towards other sources of support. There are currently almost 300 LoS! representatives. They receive extensive support materials, exchange ideas at meetings, and can also discuss cases with a psychologist. Support by colleagues for colleagues across all sales lines, from our stores to our headquarters to our warehouses, is always confidential. We are very proud of this volunteer programme because our team put so much of their heart and soul into it. We were therefore very pleased when we were awarded the Otto Heinemann Prize in the category for employers with over 1,000 employees a few weeks ago. It is a wonderful recognition of the work that LoS! representatives do.

Help from colleague to colleague, across all sales divisions, from the stores to the head office to the warehouse locations, always confidential. We are very proud of this volunteering concept because so much of our colleagues’ heart and soul goes into it. That’s why we were delighted to win the Otto Heinemann Award in the category for employers with more than 1,000 employees a few weeks ago. A great honour for the work of the LoS! multipliers!


To provide employees across the country with information about the support we offer for mental and physical health, we have set up an online platform called “Gemeinsam.topfit” (“Together.topfit”). We conducted a large-scale prevention campaign on this platform in October, including a series of presentations and cancer prevention screenings. In November, the focus was on mental health.

We want to remove the stigma surrounding the issue of mental health, both within the company and the larger society.

Yours Bianca van Wijnen

Bianca van Wijnen
Head of CoE Gesundheit und Innovation REWE Group

heads the Center of Expertise for Health and Innovation and has been at the REWE Group since 2008.