In modern days, employees spend the greater part of their days at the office. With the workplace taking a larger role in people’s lives, employees are increasingly recognising the importance of wellness in the working environment. Research studies cite the need for employee wellbeing interventions that address health risks posed by the chronic diseases of lifestyle (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes), as well as the management of sick leave, absenteeism, and productivity. It has been noted that high stress levels and depression are major contributing risk factors to work related health problems. Ultimately, the combination of these has an impact on a company’s bottom line.
Discovery Health has embarked on Healthy Company Index that surveys the healthiest companies in South Africa according to the categories:
The survey, first launched in 2012 and this year to be followed with the 2014 edition, demonstrates that more companies are seeing health and wellbeing as important to their business. South Africa’s history of integrating wellness programmes with employers’ responsibility is relatively recent. Employment Wellness Programmes (EWPs) started emerge in South Africa around the 1980s, initiated by the Chamber of Mines of South Africa after it carried out a feasibility study in the mining industry in 1983. Since the introduction of EWPs, research has shown that the programmes give employees an incentive to take charge of, and responsibility for their own wellbeing. As the EWPs focus on stress relief in terms of concerns such as personal finances, substance abuse, health problems, career crises, job and family demands, the programmes have both a preventative and curative aspect. Employees have stated that benefits of the wellness programmes include increased mental wellness, energy, resilience, life and job satisfaction, in addition to overall reduced stress levels and depression.
For the companies, EWPs have resulted in:
Companies have their own EWPs, which include:
Health: This dimension includes information about employee health, medical issues, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) management and organisational wellness. It refers to the improvements in the health of the employees in the organisation as part of the organisation’s definition of employee wellness.
Occupational health and safety (OHS): This dimension includes items, like work safety and the environment in which employees work, which can influence employee wellness in their organisations. Occupational health and safety is a component of how the participating organisations define employee wellness.
Dimensions of wellness: This dimension includes items relating to the psychological, physical, financial, spiritual and social aspects of wellness. Further information included wellness as a continuum that ranges from unwell to well and wellness as a concept.
Work wellness: This dimension included information about employee happiness at work, workers enjoying occupational wellness and efficient work styles. The definitions were work related.
Self-development: This dimension included items that concern the growth, self-development and personal improvement of all employees so that they can reach their potentials through training. Generically, the definitions of employee wellness referred to the development of the employee in some way.
Employee benefits: This dimension included items like the social, insurance, funeral and other benefits employees enjoy as part of their remuneration package. These all refer to benefits that organisations should offer employees in order to influence employee wellness.
Legal requirements: This dimension related to the legal imperatives for employee wellness. Participants referred to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Labour Relations Act (LRA) and general labour relations. These items all refer to the legal requirements with which organisations need to comply in order to facilitate employee wellness.
Performance: This dimension included items that cover employees’ performance, productivity, motivation, commitment, lifestyles, engagement, employees’ sense of coherence, staff morale, vitality, meaning and purpose. These items all referred to improved employee performance.
Recognition of joint benefits: This dimension involved the benefits of wellness to both organisations and employees, their shared responsibilities, reducing absenteeism, achieving balance, reducing the possible negative effects of unhealthy employees on the organisation and reducing the effects of an unhealthy organisation on its employees. These items all referred to the positive influence that employee wellness should have on the organisation and on employees if there is employee wellness in the organisation.
Employee services: This dimension covered the services that were available to employees. It included services like counselling, leave for family responsibilities, general employee services as well as specialised treatment and support. These items referred to services that promote employee wellness in organisations.
Employee responsibility: This dimension focused on the employees’ responsibility for their own wellness. Organisations felt that employee wellness was the responsibility of employees.
Wellness management: This dimension covers managing wellness. Organisations felt that identifying and rectifying existing problems are components of employee wellness. Management activities that participants included were managing behavioural risk, recognising that this is a continuous process, that organisations can manage wellness, identify and rectify problems and identify risks. Participants referred to organisational, interpersonal and personal levels.
Stress: This dimension refers to the interaction between job demands and job resources as well as employees’ stress and distress. Organisations felt that they should address these issues in order to promote employee wellness.
Holistic: This dimension referred to the perception that wellness efforts need to be holistic, integrated and have a wide focus. Organisations felt that they should take a broad view of employees.
Research and anecdotal account illustrate that EWPs are instrumental in increasing productivity and overall workplace morale. The more companies will realise the benefits of EWPs, the better the workplace environment will be for employees and employers alike.