Corporate Wellness Week: corporates’ vital role in employee health management

Depression, anxiety, and workplace stress are among the most commonly reported challenges. Picture: Gabrielle Henderson/ Unsplash

Depression, anxiety, and workplace stress are among the most commonly reported challenges. Picture: Gabrielle Henderson/ Unsplash

Published Jul 5, 2023


Corporate Wellness Week, observed from July 2–6, is becoming increasingly important.

Corporate wellness has emerged as a crucial focus area for businesses aiming to support the mental health and overall well-being of their employees.

The week provides a dedicated time for organisations to address and prioritise employees’ mental health needs, among other things.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), one in four employees in South Africa suffers from a mental health condition. Depression, anxiety, and workplace stress are among the most commonly reported challenges.

Global statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) reveal that mental health difficulties may reduce an employee’s work effectiveness by 20%, noting that a lack of mental health support can lead to absenteeism, presenteeism (being physically present but not fully engaged) and reduced performance.

While load shedding and rising inflation are putting pressure on South Africa’s businesses, there’s a third challenge to operational success in the form of employee health.

As part of Corporate Wellness Week, Tania Joffe, principal, Unu Health and Head: Insurance Innovation at Standard Bank, shared alarming statistics concerning the number of people on sick leave every day in South Africa.

“Up to 15% of South Africa’s workforce – 2.25 million people – are on sick leave on any given day.”

Unu Health Principal and Head of Insurance Innovation at Standard Bank, Tania Joffe.

She said millions more are victims of “presenteeism” – employees who are at work but not delivering due to being physically sick, stressed or burnt out.

“It is estimated that South African businesses are losing up to 17% of their annual payroll to absenteeism, costing our economy around R19 billion each year,” Joffe said.

Joffe added that employee health and employee productivity are mutually inclusive: a physically and mentally healthy employee will be more motivated, optimistic and creative.

South Africans have a 51.9% chance of dying from non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The main types of NCD are cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and stroke, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes.

Joffe explained that when NCDs are detected early, simple interventions through changes in daily habits may reduce the risk factors and prevent the need for costly medical intervention at later stages.

Joffe highlighted the negative impact of compromised quality of life for those with NCDs on productivity, opportunity, and the economy. According to Statistics SA, 50% of employed individuals in South Africa earn below R27 100 per month, making it challenging for them to afford private medical aid.

“We’d like to see more sectors engage the various primary health-care solutions in support of their staff having access to quality health care,” she said.

She continued: “All this means employers can improve the lives of their employees and also see an impact on productivity through reduced absenteeism – a virtuous cycle that we believe all employers should consider.”

Joffe emphasised that corporate South Africa has a unique chance to contribute to economic growth by taking charge of the health of its workforce.

By assuming responsibility for managing employee health, there is an opportunity to address a costly challenge with a humanitarian impact. This can be achieved by simply demonstrating genuine care and concern.