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Corporates must support employee mental health, or lose staff

South African workplaces are still recovering from the effects of COVID-19. Organisations need to find new holistic ways to help their employees heal from the stresses of the pandemic – or they could risk losing staff.

This was among the insights shared at a media roundtable on corporate wellness held by Life Health Solutions this month, which featured several business leaders and wellness professionals.

Titled “Creating holistically healthier South African workplaces”, the online webinar looked at global trends such as The Great Resignation, which has seen professionals around the world quitting their jobs in the wake of the pandemic.

Locally, instead of resigning, skilled workers are more likely to seek new – or additional – jobs as freelancers and consultants. Others may resign, and then become suppliers to their previous employers. South Africans are also leaving the office and becoming remote workers. Their mental wellbeing is a strong influence on whether they decide to leave.

“Worldwide, wellbeing is sometimes a stronger drawcard than remuneration and benefits in terms of attracting talent,” said Justin Fiddes, wellness specialist at Telesure Holdings Group. “Corporates really need to take it seriously. People want a better quality of life, and wellness can be a competitive advantage.”

Company culture also plays a significant role in employee wellness, and staff need to feel part of a group, said panellist Dr Leanne Mandim,  Head: Clinical Management at Life Health Solutions.

“People want to feel connected to other people,” said Dr Mandim. “While there are benefits to working remotely, humans crave connection with others, and we see that in our research. Face-to-face engagement will remain part of most workplaces.”

Panellists agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic had placed an unprecedented burden on the mental wellbeing of workers. Life Health Solutions CEO, Nicole Corbin said it is now accepted that corporates need to support the mental health of their employees.

“People are a company's most valuable asset,” said Corbin. “Organisations need to offer their people an integrated health and wellness offering.”

Corbin said business productivity would also benefit from a holistically healthy workforce.

“We consistently see improvements in morale, overall health and productivity, specifically in clients who have established mental wellness solutions for their people,” said Corbin.

Dr Mandim said COVID had reshaped corporate health-and-wellness programmes.

“We are seeing increases in depression, anxiety and family relationship issues,” said Dr Mandim. “People can bring their issues to work, which impacts the issue of presenteeism, as well as absenteeism. On a positive note, COVID has allowed us to reach many more people, through digital enablement, and has also broken-down hierarchies within organisations.”

Dr Prinesh Reddy, Head of Product Development for Life Health Solutions said many employees were looking for a flexible, hybrid approach – which for instance, allowed them to fetch their kids during the day, or to work remotely from another city.

“Corporates may need to consider how they support a hybrid workforce, because that's the future,” said Dr Reddy. “Staff are now also far more likely to hold corporates accountable for their behaviour. We need to make sure our values are reflected in our culture, the way we engage with our staff, and the support and the benefits we provide.”

Financial wellness programmes are another game changer that can help support staff, and set businesses apart from their competitors.

Myrna Sachs, Head: Health Management Solutions at AlexForbes said that companies need to prioritise employee well-being by ensuring they have a  wellness strategy in place to support employees who are now suffering from burn-out and other mental health issues as we come out of the pandemic. “We’re seeing an increase in incapacity and fitness for work requests, with 40 – 60% of cases being due to a mental and behavioural conditions.  This is also seen in our high-risk absenteeism cases we are identifying”, she said.

“Employers must look to partner with financial institutions that offer robust financial wellness programmes,” said John Manyike, head of financial education at Old Mutual. “The emphasis should be on impact, on creating a culture of caring for staff, instead of a purely transactional relationship. No employer can guarantee total job security. But you can offer a robust financial wellness programme that can help employees with financial challenges.”

Manyike said employers could also look to be more creative in alleviating the costs of travel, at a time when fuel prices are soaring.

With early intervention, the prognosis for mental health was good, said Fiddes. He said researchers had found exercise could alleviate symptoms like anxiety, and depression, and he encouraged workers to take ownership of their own wellness, and to tap into the resources their employer offered.

Corbin and Manyike both agreed that data was going to play an ever-greater role in managing staff wellness.

“The days of relying on the intuition of a CEO in the boardroom are over,” said Manyike. “In terms of employee health and financial wellness, we need to gather insights and make data-driven decisions.”

“Employers need to find creative ways to show up for their staff,” concluded Corbin. “We need to gather data about our staff, and then use it to build a culture of care.”

About Life Health Solutions

Life Health Solutions is a Life Healthcare owned business providing wellness, occupational health, primary health care and emergency medical services to clients in all nine provinces of South Africa and sub-Sahara Africa. Life Health Solutions services over 500 organisations across multiple industries, including the mining and banking sectors. 363 on-site South African clinics are serviced with 23 of these being through mining contracts with 42 mining sites. Life Health Solutions is trusted with the health and wellbeing of over 606 000 people via its integrated health risk management solutions. Visit