Wellness starts with our own people, writes Vitality SA's Sundrie Naidoo

Vitality kicks off another practical, science-based strategy to address and improve its teams’ wellbeing.

By Sundrie Naidoo, head of people at Vitality SA.

Vitality is a global behavior-change programme that has improved millions of lives by encouraging wellness. We encourage people to live longer, healthier lives for the greater good of society. But the business of wellness begins with those who are the lifeforce of Vitality: our people.

Like everyone on the planet who has survived the last two years, our people have been through a whole spectrum of emotions and experiences, none of which were planned for.

When we are together again, soon, we’ll be meeting the same people, but they are likely to be different from when we last met. We’ve all been changed by different things – physical effects, grief, isolation, gratitude, growth and more.

What does this mean for us as an employer? Firstly, mental health and employment are intricately linked.

In fact, while a World Health Organization (WHO) study found that employment can be a protective factor in mental health, it also showed that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy around $1 trillion (about R15,234 trillion) each year due to productivity loss.

The pandemic may have significantly worsened this picture. A survey by Harvard Business Review found that mental health continues to be a growing concern in the workplace in 2021, with a higher prevalence of mental health conditions and more people leaving work due to mental health reasons being noted.

The wellness incentive we are giving our people
In a recent address, Vitality SA CEO Dinesh Govender said: “The mental health effects of the pandemic are distressing. With this in mind, we are launching a comprehensive mental wellbeing initiative to help support our people as we continue to navigate the pandemic. The initiative will include tangible steps to help us all – including the leadership team.”

As someone who is involved in the people space, I have had to think about the steps we must take.

Occupational mental-health solutions require a multifaceted approach. This includes a mental-health culture change, increasing awareness, reducing stigma and upskilling employees.

We needed to provide and encourage the use of mental health resources and tools, provide access to healthcare professionals and enable healthy lifestyle behaviours as part of a comprehensive workplace mental-health offering.

First, we continue to recognise the important role that physical activity and community play in helping to prevent and manage both mental and physical health conditions.

In fact, regular physical activity is associated with a greater sense of wellbeing and lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups.

Dinesh says: “Our efforts to encourage physical activity includes weekly team activities and challenges, access to Team Vitality (our running and cycling club) and an internal push for any of the events we run for broader society, like the Vitality Running World Cup.”

We’ve also collaborated with Laura Delizonna, the author, executive coach and Stanford instructor, who is an expert in equipping professionals and leaders to achieve their potential – not just at work, but also through a life focused on happiness.

Laura brings experience from training blue chip companies such as Google, Disney, Accenture and McKinsey & Co.

Taking steps toward good mental health
Our leaders will receive practical training to elevate skills such as life optimisation, psychological safety, resilience, leadership and team effectiveness. This will equip them with skills to facilitate dialogues with their teams to help themselves and their teams thrive. It isn’t homework.

Together, they will problem-solve and work through personal and occupational issues that may affect their mental wellbeing.
This year-long initiative will include further enhancements, starting in January next year.

All of this will happen with feedback from staff at every step, so we can work out what their needs are and if the solutions are effective.

The aim is to equip and empower our team with real solutions that will help us all get to a place of thriving again. Because when we all thrive, Vitality thrives.