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Workforce well-being: Why it matters and how you can nurture it

Workforce well-being: Why it matters and how you can nurture it

Your people are your organisation’s most valuable asset – a happy, healthy workforce means a happy, healthy business. Here’s how you can help your employees manage their mental health in trying times.

A global pandemic, natural disasters, loadshedding, the rising cost of living, soaring unemployment, increasing food insecurity… It’s no surprise that South Africans are taking strain. Last year, the South African Society of Psychiatrists reported that mental health distress was on the rise, labelling it ‘the biggest threat of 2021’.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), one in four employees in South Africa is depressed, and 80% of those employees will continue working despite this. Presenteeism – when people go to work even while unwell – costs South Africa around R200 billion a year, says SADAG.

Mental health distress has a serious global economic impact too. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that lost productivity due to depression and anxiety costs the global economy $1 trillion a year. It also predicts that mental health will be the largest health crisis we’ll face by 2030.

Clearly, employee well-being needs to be a priority – not only for the health of our economy and businesses, but also for the health of our communities, which in turn helps ease the burden on already overstretched healthcare services.

How can you improve workplace well-being in your business?


A proactive approach is vital when it comes to supporting your employees. The goal is to have measures in place that will prevent symptoms – like a loss of interest in work, increased fatigue and irritation, withdrawal, mistakes, accidents and physical illness – from occurring at all. But how do you get to this point?

  1. Start by taking an honest look at your workplace culture. Are there toxic practices, policies or behaviours in your workplace, such as bullying, that could be contributing to mental-health issues among your employees? Addressing these is as important as taking care of well-being on an individual level.
  2. Make mental health part of the conversation every day. Don’t allow your employees to suffer in silence out of fear of being discriminated against for speaking up about their distress. Take deliberate action to destigmatise mental-health issues and build trust within your workforce. This will allow everyone to feel safe to talk about anxiety, depression, stress and burnout – before they have a  negative impact.
  3. Educate staff and management about mental-health issues. Do your employees know the signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression, for example? Do they understand the impact these can have on work and behaviour? Do they know that treatment is available, and that basic practices – like exercise and getting enough sleep – can help? By driving awareness of the problems and solutions, you help empower your people to take responsibility for their own well-being, and equip managers with the information they need to support staff.
  4. Show your support. Check in regularly with employees to see how they’re doing. You could also consider setting up coffee stations and break areas in the workplace to encourage staff to take time out to talk to each other. Employee wellness programmes that offer access to stress-management practices like yoga and meditation can help improve staff health and also show that you take employee well-being seriously.
  5. Encourage rest and relaxation. Foster a workplace culture in which employees are not afraid to take time off to take care of their mental health. Encourage your staff to use their annual leave to rest and recharge.

Life Healthcare offers employee wellness programmes that include access to trauma counselling, which can be a lifeline for staff who are in distress. Contact us to find out more.

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