Eight high-value ways to manage mental and behavioural conditions in the workplace

High levels of pandemic-related stress and poor ergonomics for at-home working are leading to an increase in disability claims.

The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the number of mental health issues experienced by employees at many large corporates, according to Alexander Forbes Health Management Solutions. Their data shows that 60 percent of companies experienced an increase in disability claims for mental and behavioural medical conditions.

Employees experience more stress, anxiety, depression, domestic violence, loneliness or isolation, and musculoskeletal-related medical conditions are rising, says Paresha Kala, senior consultant at Alexander Forbes Health Management Solutions. With a constrained mental healthcare system, many employees do not have access to optimal treatment.

The South African Society of Psychiatrists reports that mental health is the biggest threat in 2021. The high level of stress associated with the pandemic is making people more vulnerable to depression and anxiety. As many as one in six South Africans present with anxiety, depression or substance abuse according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).

Rise in musculoskeletal conditions
“Work-related musculoskeletal conditions have increased in employees, especially where their equipment at home may not be sufficiently set up during lockdown,” Paresha adds.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers must ensure employees are familiar with basic ergonomic principles and train all employees who are exposed to ergonomic risks. With many companies looking into hybrid working, employers should ensure that their employees understand ergonomic risks. Health and safety committee members, representatives and employees need to contribute to developing and implementing programmes in relation to ergonomics.

Paresha advises on the following approach for an employee who presents with a medical condition that affects their ability to perform their work duties:

  • Disability claims management: Manage claims effectively.
  • Incapacity and case management: Determine a management strategy for the employee and sick leave.
  • Absenteeism monitoring and reporting: Use policies and procedures to reduce unplanned absenteeism and boost employee productivity and well-being.
  • Employee assistance programme (EAP): Identify any personal and work-related challenges that affect an employee’s quality of life and work productivity early. Increase access to EAP programmes because of global health challenges.
  • Ergonomics: Assess the work environment so that employees can work or do other activities more efficiently and comfortably. Good ergonomic practices in the workplace can improve employee productivity and morale and decrease injuries, sick leave, turnover and absenteeism.
  • Employment equity verifications: Identify people with disabilities within the workplace to promote equal opportunity and fair treatment in employment in line with the Employment Equity Act. Retain the skills of employees with disabilities and make sure that they can work without discrimination.
  • Extended sick leave assessment: Help employees access extended sick leave benefits according to company policy. This applies to employees who have depleted their normal sick leave and are still unable to perform their duties as a result of a medical condition.
  • Policy reviews: Align all health-related policies.

Paresha says, “The pandemic has certainly changed our focus in terms of the mental and physical well-being of our employees. Employers are looking to provide solutions to mitigate health risks. They must take charge of looking after their employees’ health more than ever before, creating a dynamic work culture, promoting productivity, reducing absenteeism, providing a sense of well-being and striving to be an ‘employer of choice’.”