Corporate Wellness: The Importance of a Healthy Mind at Work by Kgomotso Mopalami

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This week is declared as Corporate Wellness Weekand it is the time when organisations need to do some self-analysis on their wellness programs: are employees needs attended to, is well-being promoted, has much been done to tackle health issues; and is it a continuous process to ensure healthy minds and therefore, productive workforce.  

Wellness is a state of well-being. A state of acceptance or satisfaction with our present condition being healthy and disease free mentally and physically, as well as functioning socially. It is an active process of becoming aware of and learning to make healthy choices. These choices lead us towards a longer, happier, more productive and healthier life. 

Good health can be a core enabler of employee engagement and therefore, employers have an obligation to safeguard employees’ well-being; this does not only benefit employees but organisations as well as the entire society.  

Promoting and supporting employee well-being should be at the heart of organisations in order to champion better work and working lives because an effective workplace well-being programme can deliver mutual benefit to people, organisations, economies and communities. When people are happy and well, businesses can thrive and societies flourish. Organisations should do more than meeting basic financial needs and contribute to economic growth as well as improve the quality of lives by giving meaning and purpose and contributing to overall well-being.

The fast-changing world of work and the changing demands it places on employers and employees means that the grasp of health and well-being needs can never stand still. It needs to evolve constantly to understand the impact on people’s health and well-being.

A survey (November 2018) conducted by CIPD in exploring trends and practices in health, well-being and absence management in UK workplaces, found that employers are growing in recognising their critical role in improving the health of the workforce. Contrary, the findings also indicated an increase in stress-related absence and lack of support for managers. This is a worrying factor as managers are expected to take care of their employees and thus promoting wellness.  This is a call to managers to develop themselves to ensure employee engagement, organisational success and promoting economic well-being. “Properly planned, structured and evaluated management development built around the needs of the organisation can make a critical difference as it builds the capability of the individual in a way that contributes to sustained organisation performance. It is also essential to enhance the people management skills of line managers, as their role is critical in supporting employee engagement and hence helping to drive high business performance levels” (CIPD).It is also estimated that between 3% – 10% of GDP is lost annually as a result of stress related sick leave.

 Benefits of Investing in Wellness:

  • Improves employee engagement and build individual resilience
  • Strengthen the employer value proposition, attract and retain the best talent
  • Reduce safety risk through behavioural change solutions
  • Enhance the value and sustainability of the organisation’s most critical resource – its people
  • Achieve the organisation’s wider purpose and improve the lives of people.
  • Builds the organisation’s reputation and brand.

What HR Can Do:

  • Be proactive rather than reactive
  • An effective employee well-being strategy should be bespoke, and its content based on the organisation’s needs and characteristics, as well as those of its employees
  • Instill wellness culture through wellness programmes
  • Adopt health programmes to support overall wellbeing
  • Have measures to prevent poor health choices where possible (e.g. opt for healthy food in canteens; serve healthy meals when having meetings) 
  • Adopt health and well-being initiatives at a strategic level and implement effectively
  • Instill knowledge and insight to inform an evidence-based approach 
  • Ensure that health and well-being is not a series of standalone initiatives, but integrated into the organisation’s culture, leadership and people management practices
  • Identify the main risks to people’s health and well-being and target actions accordingly
  • Evaluate and improve well-being initiatives
  • Hold regular well-being days to promote healthy living. 
  • Offer our staff on-site fitness classes, massages and mindfulness sessions, healthy eating options in our canteen, and an autumn flu vaccination
  • Identify the causes of unhealthy trends such as stress, ‘leaveism’ and ‘presenteeism’

Organisations need to include employee wellness in their business dealings; they need to invest in physical and mental well-ness of employees, by creating a healthier, happier and more relaxed environment, and thus ensuring corporate wellness. When done correctly, e.g. having a strategy, instilling wellness culture and other options of healthy living, corporate wellness can improve the overall productivity, health and morale of staff, while reducing stress levels in the workplace.

Stress is one of the leading causes of illness as it depletes the immune system, also causing fatigue and burn out. Corporate wellness programs can save companies money by encouraging healthier lifestyles; this creates healthier employees who will work more diligently and missing fewer workdays due to illness.  Research by AIC insurance showed that absenteeism is costing the South African economy R12 billion per year. As productivity remains a core concern for most organisations, the demand for sustainable employee wellness initiatives has shifted from a purely HR driven strategy to a business imperative. With South Africa’s increasing disease burden, companies are starting to feel the pressure to play a more active role in employee wellness.

 “The mental health and wellbeing of employees in the organisation is critical for maintaining sustainable levels of employee engagement, resilience in the face of organisational change, motivation, and innovation. Through an integrated employee wellness approach, employers can benefit through the positive impact on productivity and business performance,” she says.

 A growing body of evidence suggests that employers can reduce costs by investing in the health and well-being of their employees. This includes both the direct costs of providing healthcare and indirect costs, such as absenteeism and reduced productivity.