Investment in a good night’s sleep

Investment in a good night’s sleep 10/10/200810/10/2008
Daniel Dellisse

Daniel Dellisse updates his skills in European Social Fund retraining course in Flanders, Belgium and improves his quality of life with a new and challenging position in his company.

“I'm curious by nature. I like to work. Now I'm learning something new every day – learning how to resolve problems. It's very satisfying,” says Daniel Dellisse with a smile. “I've been very lucky – but you have to want to work.”

Since 1987, Daniel has been employed by a company that makes and exports PVC products for the building industry, based in Roeselare in northern Belgium. Manufacturing goes on round the clock, and for 21 years he worked night shifts, first as a packer and then as a technician in the extrusion process: the moulding of plastics for window frames and doors. But about two years ago, the unnatural pattern of day-for-night began to take its toll, and Daniel started to find it more and more difficult to sleep.

A retraining programme co-funded by the European Union through the European Social Fund helped to restore peace to the Dellisse household.

“It was a big problem for me, and my doctor told me the best thing would be to start working during the day,” Daniel recalls. “He offered me sleeping pills, but I didn’t want to start taking medicines.” He was not the only victim – the disturbance affected his family life as well. On Saturdays he had to recover the sleep lost on Friday night, so he was unable to enjoy the weekend with his wife Dina or indulge in the couple’s passion for walking and hiking.

Daniel has worked hard all his life. His father died when he was nine years old, leaving his mother with four boys to bring up. He left school at 14 to train as a carpenter. “We had to put food on the table,” he explains with resignation. He moved on to a series of jobs, including the production line of a leading car manufacturer, which he admits he didn’t enjoy at all. After his marriage in 1979, the building firm he was working for went broke, and Daniel found himself unemployed.

“It was very difficult to find work,” he remembers. So when the vacancy on the night shift at Deceuninck came up he was pleased to take it. “It was the only interesting offer and I could start straightaway … and the money was very welcome.” By then the couple had a newborn daughter, Sarah, so with Dina working afternoons and Daniel sleeping in the mornings they were able to arrange their time conveniently to look after her.

But he noticed the change as he grew older. Following his doctor’s advice, he approached his employers about switching shifts. But to do that, he had to show he could handle a new job requiring fresh training because the job offer in other parts of the company was limited. “It was years since I had used the machines, and now it’s all automatic. The company said ‘we have a place for you, but first you must update your skills’.” Deceuninck put him on their ‘Excellent Learning’ retraining programme run by the Flemish jobs service the Vlaamse Dienst voor Arbeidsbemiddeling en Beroepsopleiding (VDAB“It was a challenge, but it was also a pleasure for me to rediscover the machines,” says Daniel.).

The course enabled him to get a position in the company’s research and training center, testing PVC frames, teaching independent contractors how to mould and fit doors and windows, and researching new techniques and materials. “There are always new innovations coming along. The company has to innovate in order to expand, and that has always interested me. I like to do my work, and I have always trained to improve myself. It’s not pleasant to go to work unwillingly,” he points out. As part of a team of engineers, clerks and operators, he has helped to share his knowledge with visitors from the other European branches.

He started his new regime of day work in January 2008. “It took me five months to start sleeping well,” he remembers. “At first I would wake up after three or four hours. My wife told me to stay in bed, but I couldn’t do that. I would get up and watch the TV, and then by the afternoon I’d be really tired.” But by June he was getting six hours undisturbed sleep a night. “It’s changed my life completely,” he declares. “After all, the night is made for sleeping.”

Daniel works a regular 40-hour week, finishing earlier on a Friday afternoon. “I have more time with my wife, and all my weekends are free. I really enjoy life more.” He and Dina have joined a walking club and on Saturdays and Sundays they regularly cover 20 to 30km a day, following routes in Flanders and the Netherlands. Within six months of starting his day job, he and his wife had covered 900km, and his ambition now is to complete a 100km non-stop walk. He has polished up his old carpentry skills to renovate the bedrooms of his house. And as if all that weren’t enough to keep one person busy, Daniel is also an avid rearer of chaffinches, painstakingly training his pet songbirds to repeat simple melodies and taking part in competitions where champion birds can complete up to 800 songs an hour.

And yet, although he is entitled to an extra day off work each month, Daniel says he seldom takes it. “I have good colleagues, and the week passes so quickly that I don’t think about taking time off.”