3 tips for instantly improving employee wellness

In a recent CHRO SA webinar, Alexander Forbes’s Myrna Sachs advised on how to improve wellness.

“Even before Covid-19, South African employees were under stress, but now it's even worse,” said Alexander Forbes Health head of health management solutions Myrna Sachs in a recent CHRO South Africa webinar.

Myrna spoke about the role that HR has to play in assisting employees to cope with the confusion, frustration, alienation and in many cases, depression, that has resulted from this new world of work. She referred to a national survey conducted by pharmaceutical firm Pharma Dynamics, which found that South Africans are more stressed since the onset of Covid-19. Out of more than 1,200 South African adults who were polled across the country, 56 percent of respondents experienced higher levels of psychological and emotional distress than before the pandemic.

“What Discovery is picking up from their psychiatrists is that their claims have gone up 14 percent, whereas claims from other medical practitioners and specialists have either gone down or remained the same,” said Myrna, adding that the increased strain on employees is a global phenomenon and that organisations the world over are going to have to adapt their strategies to ensure the wellness of their people.

Here are three areas of wellness that Myrna focused on in her presentation:

1. Help employees to set and maintain boundaries

Myrna said psychological factors were playing a big role because of the multitude of personal burdens that people are carrying. Long working hours, decreased rest periods, and increased workloads are contributing to challenges employees are already facing while at home. They are also confronting many sometimes conflicting roles of parent, colleague, cook, friend, boss, spouse and housekeeper.

“A lot of clients have reported that productivity has increased significantly and part of the reason is that there are no boundaries. We are no longer working at home but sleeping at work,” said Myrna. “Our employees need to set that boundary and HR needs to assist in ensuring that boundary is upheld. We shouldn't be phoning our colleagues after hours or setting up meetings for 7am or 5pm.”

2. Be creative about physical wellness

There are also physical wellness challenges, not least of which are those resulting from people spending the whole day hunched over, staring at their screens. Myrna said that because not many people can set up an ergonomically comfortable workstation at home, employees are working from their beds, while others are sitting at their kitchen tables.

“That is leading to a lot more people developing musculoskeletal conditions that they previously didn't have,” said Myrna, adding that companies need to find creative solutions for addressing this.

Alexander Forbes sent out a brochure informing employees how to set up a workstation at home without expensive equipment. It shows them how to take everyday useful items around the home and use them to ensure they have a chair and desk that will provide the ergonomic support one needs to prevent the development of serious musculoskeletal conditions.

“The solution doesn’t have to be expensive,” said Myrna.

3. Make sure your EAP is properly briefed

Myrna said financial strain is also a big contributor to stress and mental strain because a lot of people are either not getting full salaries or have a partner who has been retrenched, which means the household has become a one-income household. The stress that can put on a relationship is immense.

“Make sure that your EAP providers have a financial wellness element to their suite of services to help your staff with things like budgeting. People are cutting things they don’t need like gym contracts and DStv contracts to ensure they are able to weather the financial storm they are in. So make sure they are being equipped to make these difficult decisions properly,” said Myrna.

“It’s important that your EAP provider knows your company’s situation so that they can deal with employees correctly when they phone in for support. The last thing you want is for the EAP provider to provide assurances that the company cannot fulfil.”