Make employee wellbeing part of your company DNA

Mental health concerns are a global mega trend, affecting one in two people, reveals HR Indaba Online.

An expert panel, comprising Allan Sweidan, clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Panda App, Lettie-Basani Phume, group human capital executive at Momentum Metropolitan, and Navlika Ratangee, MD at ICAS, was convened for the insightful “Value for money: Maximising the value and sustainability of wellness initiatives” session at the HR Indaba Online 2022.

With the third year of the Covid-19 pandemic now in full swing, leaders have been called upon to go above and beyond for their employees, particularly when it comes to mental wellness.

HR professionals have had to look at ways in which they can support their organisations in addressing employees’ changing social, emotional, physical and financial needs – while keeping an eye on the bottom line.

According to Lettie-Basani, organisations can’t afford not to invest in the mental wellbeing of employees. “Organisations are looking at where costs can be cut, but wellbeing is not the place to start or look at when cutting costs. In the short-term, you might save, but the price of that in the long term will be phenomenal. The wellbeing of human capital is the backbone of business,” she said.

Navlika put this into perspective, saying:

“We are seeing an increase in mental health statistics. Globally, one in four people have a mental health concern, and that figure is one in every three people locally. When we look at global mega trends, it is moving to one in every two people, so it is a growing area of concern.”

Allan added, “Between 75 to 85 percent of those people will never get help, mainly due to stigma and lack of access or cost. South Africa already had a crisis before the pandemic and it has worsened. There is a suicide every hour in South Africa.”

In order to actively address the concerns around mental health, Allan advised HR professionals to consider a two-pronged approach:
Address the stigma: A commitment to the mental health of employees should be a core part of the organisational values. Give people a language to talk about mental health.
Ensure access: Provide access to wellness and assistance information and support. Then check in with employees on whether these interventions are helping them in the right way.

“Place the employee at the centre of the intervention, not the business or the employee assistance programme (EAP). It’s like any efficient health system has the patient at the centre, not the doctor,” he explained.

Lettie further contextualised the value of robust wellness initiatives by explaining that there is a direct correlation between employee sentiment and customer experience. “Employees remember how you made them feel and treated them when they needed you the most as an employer. If you cut costs around employee wellbeing, then you are shooting yourself in the foot. Wellbeing is not an appendage, it must be part of the company culture and embedded through numerous interventions.

“We need to reward the right things and drive messages and behaviours around self-care. We need to stop rewarding people for not taking leave and working while sick.” she said.

Lettie concluded, “We should also be aware of the concept of nation building. If we do not look after employee wellbeing, then we will end up with a sick and unproductive nation.”