How corporate wellness can be a pathway to a high-performing workforce

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With this past week being observed as Corporate Wellness Week in South Africa, CHRO South Africa explores how programmes are emerging as crucial tools for addressing a range of workforce challenges, from reducing absenteeism to boosting morale and productivity.

In an era where economic pressures and competitive market dynamics are at their peak, companies are increasingly recognising the value of investing in corporate wellness. With this past week being observed as Corporate Wellness Week in the country, many companies are encouraged to look at this strategic move as not just about enhancing the health of employees, but also about fostering a more engaged, productive, and high-performing workforce.

Nomie Nxumalo, head of transformation, people and culture at MiWay Insurance, comments that the well-being of employees is a factor that has a far-reaching impact on many aspects of a business, from its daily operations to its longevity in the market.

“Many may think that employee wellness affects how team members feel physically, emotionally, and mentally, but in reality, its impact extends far beyond those considerations and can affect the number of sick days employees take, how they approach the work they do, their willingness to go the extra mile and the quality of work they produce.”

She notes that optimal employee wellness is as much of an ethical matter as it is a strategic imperative.

“When companies invest in their employees beyond just fulfilling the bare minimum conditions of employment, they stand to reap dividends in the form of productive, responsible team members who value their jobs and the businesses for which they work. This is something that we’ve learnt first-hand at MiWay. Our commitment to our employees’ holistic health has translated into a strong, dedicated workforce that is open and willing to keep learning and growing.”

Dr Simi Ramgoolam, executive head of people and organisation at Kumba Iron Ore, Anglo American, couldn’t agree more, adding that employee wellbeing globally, and within South Africa, is certainly a red-hot topic.

“Cultivating psychological safety in an organisation is not truly possible if employees do not feel psychologically safe in their lives. It is difficult in South Africa’s current political and social context to feel whole, safe and secure, and while we may have numerous quality wellbeing initiatives and support systems available to employees, it is very often not enough.

“We need to stay empathetic as leaders, make time to listen and engage with employees at all levels in the organisation. Understand the realities and challenges on the ground so that employees feel heard. There are no easy fixes for the anxiety-inducing global and local terrain the world is navigating. Hence we need to listen to understand, instead of listening to respond.”

Happy employee, better performance

Sungeetha Sewpersad, seasoned HR leader and former chief people officer at Rand Merchant Bank, notes that leaders need to be well equipped in addressing the six dimensions of wellness – physical, mental, spiritual, financial, emotional and social. By addressing these, she says, corporates will be able drive high performance, fulfilment and engagement among employees.

“With the rise in remote work and hybrid work arrangements, wellbeing is becoming an increasingly important topic. With our ‘always on’ culture, this unfortunately leads to unintentional impact on an employee’s health and wellbeing. Organisations also need to ensure that their leadership is also equipped with spotting behaviours associated with burnout and mental unwellness. We really must equip our leaders with skills that make people feel seen and heard, have empathy and develop their EQ.”

Michelle Ward, talent manager at Bestmed Medical Scheme, weighed in on the matter adding that at the heart of every successful organisation is a healthy, motivated workforce and one way of assuring that is through healthcare benefits.

“In fact, healthcare benefits have a huge impact on an organisation’s capacity to attract top talent and reduce turnover rates and, in the post-pandemic world we live in, job seekers value and prioritise health benefits almost as much as the hybrid or work-from-home options. With the integration of wellness programmes that also support mental health, this focus on ‘duty of care’ not only translates to fewer sick days and less risk of health conditions, but also reduces overall healthcare costs.”

She concludes that the availability of such programmes in the workplace via medical aid have made a difference in managing symptoms, reducing hospital admissions and improving quality of life.

“For employees battling these conditions, having access to this level of support can be life-changing, offering hope and stability in times of need. Companies that support a healthy lifestyle see reduced absenteeism and increased productivity, leading to greater success. As such corporate wellness programmes also show a company commitment to employee wellbeing, creating a positive work environment, and improving morale and job satisfaction. This results in increased loyalty, stronger teamwork and higher retention rates.”

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