Employee health and wellbeing (HWB) is vital for a company to sustain itself during the lockdown. But making your employees’ HWB a strategic priority creates a competitive edge that will be crucial for success now and beyond COVID-19. Employee HWB not only delivers significant benefits, it also creates an opportunity to play a leadership role in our communities and in our country.
In this article, you will find a list of key focus areas revealed by recent research to assist companies to tap into all the benefits of employees’ HWB and discover which components of employee HWB work best for large and small companies in South Africa.
“It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.” (Jack Welch, former CEO of GE)
The health and wellbeing (HWB) of employees has a substantial impact on business success and sustainability, and this has never been more pronounced than during the lockdown.
Employee HWB is vital for a company to sustain itself during the lockdown, but making your employees’ HWB a strategic priority creates a competitive edge that will be crucial for success now and beyond COVID-19.
Why is employee HWB a strategic priority?
Employee HWB delivers significant benefits, which are well-documented and widely-known. These benefits, some of which are listed below, provide a company with a competitive advantage in a very constrained economic environment.
Benefits of Employee HWB
- Decreased rates of illness and injury
- Reduce direct costs, such as providing healthcare
- Reduce indirect costs, such as absenteeism and reduced productivity
- Enhanced recruitment and retention of healthy employees
- Reduced absenteeism
- Increased productivity
- Improved employee morale
- Improved employee loyalty
- Improved employee resilience during organisational change
- Improved employee motivation
- Increased employee innovation
- Positive impact on business performance
- Achieved company objectives
“Most successful and innovative organisations today make employee health and wellbeing a key focus of their business strategies. It is not something to which they simply pay lip-service: they spend a lot of time, energy and money in developing workplaces that enhance wellness and consider those to be a crucial component of their organisational business strategies,” says Freeman Nomvalo, CEO of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA). “These companies would therefore probably be more resilient during the pandemic, as employees are able to remain productive due to a supportive workplace environment.”
Employee HWB also provides an opportunity to make a positive difference, playing a leadership role in our communities and in our country.
According to SAICA’s Health and Wellbeing Advisory Group (HWAG): “Measuring employee health and wellness provides an indication of the wellbeing of the organisation. It is also a direct indicator of the wellbeing of a country’s workforce, making health reporting a national priority and not just a corporate one. Health reporting can help organisations create and promote environments for healthy behaviours, which will extend not only to employees but also to their families. This can result in healthier workforces, as well as healthier cities and countries.”
“Such reporting also meets the government’s call to action for the private sector to partner with the public sector in responding to the challenge of NCDs [noncommunicable diseases]. This helps organisations fulfil their shared value and corporate citizenship obligations, and will have profound positive effects on individuals, companies and societies as a whole.”
So how can a company go about tapping into all these benefits of an employee HWB? As the saying goes: What is measured is managed…
Non-communicable diseases or NCDs, also known as chronic diseases, include cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes, and are responsible for a staggering 41 million deaths each year, equivalent to 71% of all deaths globally.
What is measured is managed…
Reporting on employee health has largely been neglected, but this element of company reporting has never been more important than it is now.
HWAG believes that companies should report on the following components:
- Occupational health and safety;
- Provision of medical benefits for full-time workers;
- A smoke-free workplace;
- Mental wellness programme (e.g. Stress management, resiliency programmes, managing depression);
- Employee assistance programme (EAP) access for counselling and intervention for those already at high risk (e.g. Stress, depression);
- Family-friendly policies (e.g. Flexible work schedules or working remotely);
- Access to healthy office design components based on special needs (e.g. Sit-stand desks in case of back pain);
- Communal spaces where employees can eat, relax, interact with co-workers, or hold private conversations; and
- Assessments of the health and wellness of its employees, such as a health risk assessment (HRA) survey or biometrics screening assessment or self-reported general health status of employees using a confidential survey or assessment tool.
This list of components also serves as a list of key focus areas. These components, many of which may have only received passing attention previously, may be prioritised and elevated as companies strive to ensure a safe and sustainable working environment for their employees during COVID-19 and beyond.
Integrating these components into the business is vital for sustaining the company and its employees.
Employee HWB: What works best?
A comprehensive survey conducted by HWAG was completed by 172 companies, of which more than 50% are involved in the financial sector, and approximately 70% had less than 500 employees.
What seems to work best for large companies are the core and more traditional issues, including occupational health and safety; medical benefits for full-time workers; having a dedicated person responsible for employee health and wellbeing; a smoke-free workplace; and communal spaces where employees can eat, relax, interact with co-workers or hold private conversations.
Programmes, policies and practices around a smoke-free workplace received the most positive response from smaller companies, followed by the same issues raised by larger companies: regulatory requirements and policies for occupational health and safety, as well as medical benefits for full-time workers.
The survey also points to room for improvement: the majority of companies do not believe it is necessary to get involved in the following areas at the moment: incentives for a healthy lifestyle, physical exercise, reduction of alcohol consumption, tobacco use cessation, sleep management, health coaching, health risk assessment, and the extension of available programmes to family members and other dependants. This is despite the fact that these areas are key to the management of NCDs, which poses a significant threat to workforce productivity.
Employee HWB Case Study
“As a small business, we work in a dynamic and fast-changing environment. We cannot afford to have dedicated departments for specific functions, and employ a staff complement with the ability to work across functions to ensure that we cover as much ground as possible. If any of our staff members is off sick, it translates to lost revenue. From a brief SAICA introduction to the topic, it was a no brainer that we needed to invest in the health and well-being of our employees.
The two main areas that our company decided to focus on was on what the employees eat and their physical wellbeing. The health and wellness programmes are championed by myself and my co-founder, as we are both sports fanatics. The company now provides a free, healthy lunch meal to our employees every single day. In addition, the company pays for the male employees to play indoor soccer twice a week. We also pay for our female employees’ gym membership at a local gym nearest to our offices.
The benefits of having healthy employees have translated into increased revenue and all-round happy employees.”
Mulalo Mammburu CA(SA), TiC and Mend