How to Step Up Mental Health and Wellbeing Support – Whatever Your Budget | EAPA-SA

Poor employee wellbeing can be detrimental to an organisation. It obstructs employee engagement, decreases productivity, can curtail creativity and spreads like a wildfire. Following on from poor employee wellbeing, low team morale negatively impacts employee retention and can harm an organisation’s reputation. It is also costly. According to Medpharm, the cost of mental health-related presenteeism in South Africa has been estimated at R96 500 per employee annually, totalling R235 billion or 4.2% of GDP, versus R14 000 per employee and R33 billion annually for absenteeism.1


“There are seven dimensions of wellbeing that interconnect to form a framework that supports a healthy and fulfilled life.”

What is wellbeing?

There are seven dimensions of wellbeing that interconnect to form a framework that supports a healthy and fulfilled life. These are mental, physical, social, financial, spiritual, environmental, and vocational wellbeing. These dimensions are interdependent and influence each other. When one dimension is out of balance, the other dimensions are affected. This is important for employers to understand if you want to consider how to holistically promote wellbeing in the workplace.


The importance of employee wellbeing 

Research has provided evidence that wellness programmes in large corporations can be very effective. Employee wellness programmes bring multiple benefits. These include:

  • Enhanced recruitment and retention of healthy employees
  • Reduced healthcare costs
  • Decreased rates of illness and injury
  • Achieved company objectives
  • Improved employee morale
  • Increased productivity

However, small and medium-sized organisations can find employee wellness programmes more daunting to start than those within large enterprises. They may not have the same depth of resources or available budget – or may struggle to validate ROI. Meanwhile, holistic wellbeing is becoming an imperative, no matter the size of the organisation. It shows employees that their employers care and supports them in keeping an eye on their own health.


Wellness programmes in SMME have an advantage

When it comes to supporting employee wellbeing, smaller organisations have many advantages over larger enterprises. For example: 

  • They are more agile in that they can react more quickly to changes in the market, they can produce new products and services on a faster turn-around time, and they are free from the layers of regulations and red tape that hinder fast action in larger organisation.
  • Many small businesses are family-owned – and even if they are not they still behave like families. In a small business every employee is important. “We are family” is a common catchphrase that small businesses use to describe themselves and build morale. As a result, employees have a deeper sense of belonging in these companies.
  • Morale is typically higher because employees know that their boss cares about them and knows them personally. Where wellness programmes struggle to gain traction in large enterprises, they typically flourish in small organisations. Participation rates are generally higher, and the level of engagement in wellness programming is better in small businesses.
  • Strong leadership support for wellness programmes is more apparent and influential in small businesses than it is in large businesses. Leaders of small businesses are seen by all employees. They interact with employees more often and they have much more visible involvement in day-to-day operations.
  • In small businesses, wellness programmes are easier to organise and administer, and simpler to monitor and measure. 


Starting steps to a wellbeing programme for SMEs 

  • Know your numbers and know your people. The measure of a successful wellness programme is whether it reduces employee absence due to illness, and increases employee engagement and productivity. However, if you have never made the effort to understand and quantify the issues facing your staff, it is difficult to put the right support in place or measure the effectiveness of any interventions.  For starters:
    • View your absence data for the past year. What are the main causes of absence?
    • Note the main causes of absence – stress, mental health etc.
    • Note which areas of your businesses have the most absence due to illness.

“…if you have never made the effort to understand and quantify the issues facing your staff, it is difficult to put the right support in place or measure the effectiveness of any interventions.”

  • Just get started. Putting a simple wellness programme into place will allow you to measure engagement and see what your employees respond to. Over time, you can begin to layer other elements to your wellness initiative. For example: 
    • You can start by promoting preventative care, incentivising your employees to see a primary care physician each year for an annual physical check-up. You could consider also encouraging preventive dental visits and annual eye exams, that both contribute toward an employee’s overall health. 
    • Introduce flexible work hours or a hybrid work week. Giving your employees the freedom to work flexible hours is a zero-cost investment that provides immediate benefits. It gives your employees better work-life integration, and being able to work remotely or at the office will improves your organisation’s flexibility, ensuring your teams capable of dealing with any future disruptions. A flexible work schedule can attract new talent, improve your staff’s mental health, and increase overall productivity.
    • Give your employees volunteer days. Engaging with the wider community will boost your employees sense of purpose. Assigning specific days to volunteer programmes where you and your teams give some time back to the community will have the knock-on effect of providing employee engagement and a sense of purpose. You can improve teamwork and get some exercise while cleaning up a neighbourhood or participating in a fundraising event.
    • Start a company sports league. Social engagement between colleagues improves communication and leads to greater collaboration. Find a sports league that allows your organisation’s teams to compete against other organizations in the community, industry or with key suppliers. This will improve your workforce morale and give employees something to look forward to outside of work. Encouraging other employees to support their team by dressing up and attending game days will help everyone to relieve stress.
  • Convene a wellbeing committee. Launching a programme to support employees without first including their insights can be seen as high-handed. There is a chance that without proper communication, employees may even reject the idea. The answer is to make them part of planning and instituting the programme from the get-go. Organising a wellbeing committee is a great way to start. The committee will become your advocates for wellbeing initiatives. As such, they are likely to be able to better demonstrate the importance of initiating a company wellbeing strategy than a directive handed down from on high by senior management. Try to include one volunteer from every part of the business. The committee can also report on how wellbeing initiatives are being received by their colleagues and how best to tweak them.

“However, the most successful organisations understand how integrating their wellness programmes into their day-to-day business strategy…”

Too often, wellness programmes are siloed off from other benefits. For example, they may be limited to an annual health initiative of some sort or a once-off lecture on how to budget for personal expenses. However, the most successful organisations understand how integrating their wellness programmes into their day-to-day business strategy, making sure they are aligned with company culture and serve greater objectives, ensures the programme will benefit the organisation beyond “just” wellness – into areas such as employee attraction and retention, and greater profitability.