Corporate wellness – workplace wellness is crucial, even more so during a pandemic
Workplace stress has been described as the health epidemic of the 21st century. Most people spend more time at work than anywhere else making their mental and physical health of vital importance not just to them but to the companies they work for too. In fact, workplace wellness has a direct impact on company morale, productivity, absenteeism, and turnover.
While Corporate Wellness Week (5–9 July 2021) shined a light on wellness in the workplace, global healthcare company Organon believes that corporate wellness should, in fact, be top of mind all year round. At its core, corporate wellness calls on companies to champion a holistic approach to employee wellbeing. Happy and healthy employees are more productive and take fewer sick days. This is important given that statistics compiled by Top 500 Elite, show that SA’s economy currently faces annual costs of R15 billion as a result of soaring levels of absenteeism, with 15% of our workforce (over 6 million people) taking sick leave each day.1
When shaping their corporate culture, employers have an opportunity and a responsibility to focus on an organisational culture that embraces a holistic approach to the health of employees. Companies can do this through health education, free medical screenings, fitness programmes, stress and weight loss programmes, yoga and meditation sessions, free massages at work, and wellness challenges, for example. What the pandemic has taught us is that it’s just as easy to do many of these things virtually through webinars, internal newsletters, and even social media.
Lockdown and office closures during the COVID-19 pandemic have made finding work-life balance more important than ever before. “With many people working from home, the line between work and personal time has become increasingly blurred,” says Lucinda Moeketsi, HR Director at Organon. “This further adds to the mental stress experienced by individuals and puts pressure on human relationships”, she continued.
Workplace wellness and stress considerations for women
The pandemic has had a significant impact across the country, but women have borne a disproportionate burden of the psychological, social and economic consequences of the disease. In our country, over 40% of households are headed by women,2 and in those that aren’t, women play a primary role as caregivers. Those that are able to work from home during the pandemic not only have to deal with the pressures of working extended virtual hours and intrusion on their private time, but also have to deal with virtual schooling, irritable house-bound family members, and the constant risk of close relatives contracting the virus. For those unable to work from home, the situation is bleaker, with the threat, or reality of losing their livelihoods as a result of the economic fallout from the lockdown. The NIDS-CRAM survey showed that women accounted for nearly two-thirds of all job losses that occurred in the 2020 lockdown.3 Companies must therefore take into account the pressures women face both in the workspace and outside of it, and be mindful of inclusiveness during the planning and response to the pandemic, and other workplace policies, such as flexible work hours, and work from anywhere (WFA).
Outside of the pandemic, maternity leave is often overlooked by companies and unclear for employees. While SA labour law entitles women to up to four months maternity leave, employers are not obliged to pay salaries during that period.2 Employees that do not receive a salary during their maternity leave have the option of claiming through the Unemployment Insurance Fund, which typically pays between 38–60% of the average monthly salary, dependant on your level of income.4 This adds significant financial strain on women during a time when they should be focusing on bonding with their newborn children, and enjoying motherhood.
“Recognising women are foundational to a healthier world; our goal is to create a better, healthier every day for every woman,” said Organon Managing Director Abofele Khoele. “The health of mothers is vital to the health of their unborn children. Investing in women and maternal health is, therefore, an investment in the health of future generations.”
The number of calls to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) has doubled since the start of lockdown, with the call centre receiving up to 1 400 calls a day for support. A large proportion of these calls are from people with no prior history of anxiety or depression who are feeling overwhelmed and anxious.5 Companies must have an integrated approach to wellness to include psychological and spiritual support, over and above the usual physical wellness programs, says Dr Norah Maitisa – Medical Director Organon.
A survey on mental health conducted by SADAG during the COVID-19 lockdown found that 55% of participants expressed feelings of anxiety and panic, and 28% of employees were experiencing constant high levels of both psychological and physical distress, with more women than men experiencing physical suffering. While 49% of employees were highly concerned about the future, the top three concerns were the country’s economy, childcare and schooling, as well as family health and wellbeing.6 This could negatively impact workflow and quality of work; therefore, we need to be conscious of the effects of the pandemic on our teams, says Lucinda Moeketsi.
“At a time when social distancing and lockdown has more people working from home, companies have been forced to look at corporate wellness from a different angle and find new ways to create a healthy work environment,” says Dr Abofele Khoele, “we’re committed to listening to women, understanding their health needs, and helping to identify solutions that are urgently needed.”
Tips to achieving workplace wellness during COVID-19:5
- Be realistic about what can be achieved.
- Maintain a daily routine as much as possible – get up, get dressed, create a to-do list, etc.
- Keep the hours you work in check and be mindful of work-life balance.
- Stay in touch with family and friends.
- Eat well, prioritise sleep, and stay physically fit.
- Try and find time to switch off from technology.
- Monitor warning signs of poor mental health.
- Reach out to mentors and colleagues for support.
- Maintain interests outside work.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Access information and support services.
- Consult your company’s Human Resources or Employee Assistance Programme provider if you have one.
Don’t forget to take leave. Even if you’re just staying at home, taking time away from work is vital for your mental health. Your body needs time to switch off and recharge. Chronic workplace stress that is not managed will result in burnout.
“We know women face many healthcare challenges. And while there has been a lot said about the topic, their concerns haven’t been heard or understood nearly well enough,” says Dr Abofele Khoele, “Organon is a global healthcare company committed to making sure her perspective is heard, loud and clear. Because it’s the voices of women everywhere that are so important in helping us learn how to better address her health needs.”
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1 Top Women. Workplace wellness – shocking statistics: Learn from leading companies. [Internet]. South Africa. 16 November 2020. Available from: https://www.topbusinesswomen.co.za/workplace-wellness-shocking-statistics-learn-from-leading-companies/. Accessed 6 Jul 2021.
2 Statistics South Africa. PO318 – General household survey 2019 [Internet]. South Africa; SA Department of Statistics; 15 December 2020. Available from: http://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P0318/P03182019.pdf. Accessed 6 Jul 2021.
3 Casale D, Shepherd D. The gendered effects of the Covid-19 crisis and ongoing lockdown in South Africa: Evidence from NIDS-CRAM Waves 1 – 5. Reports – Reports – CRAM (cramsurvey.org); 2021.
4 South African Government. Unemployment Insurance Act [Internet]. South Africa; Government Gazette No. 23064; 28 January 2002. Available from: https://www.gov.za/sites/default/files/gcis_document/201409/a63-010.pdf. Accessed 6 Jul 2021.
5 The South African Depression & Anxiety Group. SADAG’s Online Survey Findings On COVID-19 And Mental Health. [Internet]. South Africa. 21 April 2020. Available from: https://www.sadag.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3092:sadag-s-online-survey-findings-on-covid-19-and-mental-health-21-april-2020&catid=149:press-releases&Itemid=226. Accessed 6 Jul 2021.
6 South African Government. Basic Conditions of Employment Act [Internet]. South Africa; Government Gazette No. 18491; 5 December 1997. Available from: https://www.gov.za/sites/default/files/gcis_document/201409/a75-97.pdf. Accessed 6 Jul 2021.