Whole Human Beings at Tetra Pak – by Per Thygesen Poulsen


During the last 12 years the program “The Whole Human Being” has taught managers and other employees at Tetra Pak in Lund to achieve balance between body and soul.

This has resulted in the lowest percentage of sick leave in Sweden, high motivation and a general feeling of well being.

By Per Thygesen Poulsen, Berlingske Tidende 8. maj 2002

Company doctor Py Tubelius: ”It benefits the economy of Tetra Pak that its leadership and management understand the value of human capital”

The person we send to work every day is not a whole human being, but only a head and it leaves the heart at home. When those two, head and heart, are not in balance they forward this tension to the third part, the body, and this leads to stress, sickness and work related accidents and conflicts. Hence, it is not charity but sound economic sense, when the Swedish packaging company Tetra Pak year after year sends employees and managers to courses at Havreholm Castle in Denmark, courses called “The Whole Human Being”.

“We at Tetra Pak Occupational Health and Safety AB work both preventively and advisory. “The Whole Human Being” is part of the preventive work. Our sick leave of 2.7 % is probably the lowest in Sweden, where the average lies between 7 and 8%”, says company physician Py Tubelius, initiator of the innovative program and Administrative Head of Tetra Pak Occupational Health and Safety AB. But the goal goes further than just low sick leave figures. Many of those people who go to work every day, on all levels in the organization, are not really sick but are still not feeling 100 % well.

Employees who are feeling well have the right balance between body and soul. They are motivated, productive and do not fear change. Whole human beings work together in whole groups and create wholesome results.

From a survival strategy ……

“All trough life we limit ourselves”, says Py Tubelius, while drawing a circle on the board. Inside the circle she draws an amoeba, which represents a person, who reaches out with a set of qualities with which he or she was born, for feeling and expressing sorrow and happiness, humility and anger, sympathy and egotism, love and hatred and so on.

“But already during childhood we are told that some feelings are better than others. We limit ourselves to live up to the demands of our family”, Py explains while cutting off a part of the circle with a line.

“The same thing happens at school” – another line cuts away at the circle. A third is created by our relationships and a forth by our workplace. At last we only have the possibilities for feelings left that are located in the open square in the middle of the circle. These feelings are our survival strategy and this allows us to function, without too many conflicts, with the people around us.

But if we experience a big loss, are fired, fight with our supervisor or something similar happens, we only have a limited part of our original anger, sadness and aggression left to deal with this. The rest becomes bottled up energy and expresses itself in high blood pressure, ulcers and so on, or perhaps we become fanatic workaholics instead. And this benefits neither our health nor the quality of our work.

To a strategy for life…

The purpose of the program “The Whole Human Being” is to give us access to the suppressed parts of our personality.

It is, however, not about becoming full-blooded egotists but to understand that we cannot always be forthcoming and have to learn to use our egotism when needed. “Our feelings are like a set of tools. We do not use all the tools all the time, but we must learn to know the tools and what they are good for. We are to become more of what we really are and less of what others want us to be. The better we know
yourselves and our strengths, the more secure we feel as persons and the better we can handle change”, explains Py Tubelius.

A manager who acts only with his heart or only with his head cannot act optimally. A person, who knows his whole personality, can decide to act in a different way and include the heart in the deliberations of the head and sensibility into the reactions of the heart.

Rune Jonasson, responsible for the administration of Tetra Pak’s buildings in Lund, agrees: “I was in general very sceptic to all these courses. But I changed my mind after last year’s management course “The Whole Human Being”. I reached an understanding of my own self, which showed me new choices that I have to deal with. I also understand my co-workers better and can help them to make better choices”, says Rune.

Tetra Pak has the “0-vision” that nobody should get sick because of his or her work.Tetra Pak commits itself to giving its employees all over the world safe and sound working conditions. The company takes a holistic view of this, which includes both physical and mental health.

“This view is felt throughout the company. It contributes to the financial stability of Tetra Pak that its leaders understand the value of the human resources.”

Balance between body and soul

The Danish psychotherapist David Beermann shows the Swedish employees of Tetra
Pak the way to their hidden selves.

“Why should I pay for a course that makes my employees slow down?” asked a Danish Personnel Manager, when psychotherapist David Beermann suggested the program, he has carried out for Tetra Pak since 1993.

But David thinks this would be a good idea for many more. “The documentary “Possessed by Work”, shown on Danish Television 1, explained in some detail what happens to people when the answers are ignored. Work becomes the person’s whole life and comes before family and friends: high blood pressure, stress, insomnia, concentration problems and in the end sickness and burn out” he
wrote in a letter to the editor of Berlingske Tiderne (Danish newspaper) in the beginning of March.

The project “The Whole Human Being” teaches the participants to make the most of their lives by developing existential responsibility. It was developed by Py Tubelius and Judith Beermann Zeligson in 1989 and the project received financial support from a Swedish fund for improving working conditions (Arbetslivsfonden). A couple of years later David Beermann became part of the program and has been responsible for the practical part of it since then. Up to now the course has had some 400 participants.

Horizontal and vertical life

The working culture at Tetra Pak is probably familiar to most people – it has to do with acting, being efficient, reaching results. This is what David Beerman calls our vertical lives. But against these “plus” words he can present a similar list for the horizontal life. The result can look something like this:

To beTo do
The processThe result
To feelTo think

The point is that both patterns are valuable, but the important thing is for you to keep the balance between them. “The Whole Human Being” course gives the participants the opportunity to experience the horizontal way of life. The tempo is slow and gives you a chance to discover your own impatience, when something does not “happen” all the time. The course is divided into modules, in which the participants are given possibilities to work with themselves and the dynamics in the group.

“It is one thing to know that one is responsible for one’s own life, but it is something quite different to discover, how one makes choices or avoids to make choices”, says David Beermann.

The Whole Person shows anger, when she is angry, smiles when she is happy, rests when she is tired and cries, when she is sad.

“The course has helped me to rediscover the person I really am. There is much to be happy about both in my private and working life. I have been able to bring the experience of my right to feel happy with me to work and that has been very good, “ says Business Controller Nina Morsten, one of the participants in the comprehensive manager’s course, consisting of, all in all, 14 days between December 2000 and August 2001.

As long as it is only the vertical life that drives us, there are many, who just race on, without taking a break. And who has heard of a boss, who tells you off for being in meetings too early, working too hard and leaving too late?

“When people do not have breaks, there will be illness and burning out. When people fail, it can become very expensive. You get the most from people that are satisfied in their job, are being valued and among whom there is compassion”, David Beermann points out.

Published in the danish newspaper “ Berlingske Tidende” 8. maj 2002. Translated by Madeleini Wisenborn.