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Workplace wellness – shocking statistics: Learn from leading companies

Written by Staff Writer

November 16, 2020

By Charndré Emma Kippie


With a potential second wave looming, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to force South African companies to restructure their strategies and, even further, transition towards digitalising all internal processes and daily undertakings. Consequently, company culture has drastically transformed, as employees opt to work remotely, and face tiresome lifestyle adjustments. As we all face this turbulent time, companies are witnessing as massive increase in mental health issues amongst employees, and overall decline in motivation and productivity – which is never ideal for business growth and longevity.


Shocking Statistics

According to stats compiled by Top 500 Elite – recognising the Best in Business in Africa – our national economy currently faces annual costs of R15 billion purely based on soaring levels of absenteeism.

  • 15% of our workforce takes sick leave each day – roughly more than 6 million people
  • Most South African companies have an overall absenteeism rate of between 3.5 and 6%, way over the acceptable limit.
  • As mentioned in the Effective Employee Index (EEI), lost productivity costs stood at almost 4.8% of GOP* at the end of 2019.
  • Lost productivity in SA can be equated to 280 million days, which is an estimated 18,8 days per employee, per year.
  • The biggest difference in sick leave diagnosis between males and females is depressive disorder.
  • While a mere 0.70% of men took sick leave because of depressive disorders, it accounted for 1.2% of sick leave taken by women.


Globally, all businesses are having to face the previously ‘taboo’ notion of mental illness and physical disabilities negatively affecting their employees’ abilities to meet deliverables. With the rise of anxiety and insecurity related to career, family responsibilities, and social functioning, South Africans have lost their livelihood, losing their jobs, homes, and facing major declines in their health. With the onset of such vexing times, companies must rely on the policies and interventions on hand to, both assist employees, and meet daily quotas – which has proven to be quite a hefty scale to balance. Regrettably, many South African companies do not even have an established Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), which traditionally includes confidential counselling and advice for employees based on an extensive range of work and personal issues. Investing in an EAP is a staple constituent of any organisation’s risk and absence management strategy, acting as a valuable resource for company managers and HR professionals.


Providing Support for Your Employees

Interest in employee wellness has, unsurprisingly, grown significantly in recent months, with South African HR departments continuing to research effectual methods of building a healthy and stimulated workforce. This peak in interest shows no signs of slowing down in 2020 with employee mental health, financial wellbeing and flexible working all anticipated to become fundamental parts of all staff wellbeing packages – generic, outdated packages will no longer make the bar, and rightfully so.


Dr Sebolelo Seape, South African psychiatrist, suggests that it makes very good sense, from a business perspective, for professional organisations to have compassion surrounding the upkeep of the mental health of their employees. This is because variables such as absenteeism and lack of productivity consequently have detrimental consequences. She says businesses can only benefit from helping their employees:


“For starters, I would say South African companies should make mental health part of the conversation every day. The very first step is that companies should be screening their employees in a friendly and kind way. One way a good manager can help, is to have a high index of suspicion. When a close relative dies, when a house burns down, support the person before it becomes unhealthy”.


What Are Industry Leaders Getting Up To?

Studies have shown that when companies exercise and encourage healthy behaviours in the workplace, they are cultivating top-quality productivity levels and enhancing the overall performance of the organisation as a whole – and in so doing, giving their business a crucial competitive edge that’ll improve its bottom line.



An esteemed manufacturer of 400 brands spanning 14 categories of personal care, home goods and foods products, Unilever employs roughly 174,000 people across 100 countries worldwide, supporting the careers and livelihoods of thousands of contractors, suppliers, and distributors. In 2001, Unilever began a pilot program to address biological, physical, nutritional, and mental health needs of executives in their London office. The program includes a health risk appraisal with personal face-to-face coaching and follow up that is triaged according to risk levels. The voluntary program has been expanded to 35 countries.


A major feature of Unilever’s approach, includes their award-winning Lamplighter Program: an innovative approach to employee wellness that utilises health risk assessments and reviews alongside exercise, nutrition and mental resilience to assist employees with improving their health and wellbeing. Unilever recognises that conditions such as physical ailments and on-communicable diseases, can alter the quality of life and the security of its employees. Thus, its health and resilience program aims to always be ahead of the curve. The Lamplighter program has been awarded multiple accolades, for its corporate social responsibility and sustainability, by the Financial Times and other prominent institutions for its work in Mexico, Germany and the UK.



BSG is an African consulting and technology company with a proud history of using common sense to simply get the job done. The organisation assists business and IT leaders with working together to solve their most important problems. Utilising data science and customer experience analytics, BSG ensures enhancements to operational platforms and customer interface, creating optimal experiences for customers in need. BSG makes use of multi-skilled teams, along with combining data science with analysis and design, software development and delivery management in order to execute top-class business and technology strategies.


BSG has always been enthusiastic about encouraging others to be healthy and happy. This was evident in their 2008-2012 title sponsorship of the national BSG Triseries (triathlons) and sponsorship of the BSG Elite team of triathletes, three of whom competed at the London Olympics in 2012. BSG remains dedicated to holistic employee health and wellness approaches, and have assigned a dedicated Wellness Consultant to ensure every BSGer has access to hands-on, personalised advice and information. In addition to this, BSG employees are encouraged to join the weekly yoga and exercise sessions, as well as sponsor a number of wellness activities throughout the year. One of their key wellness activities is the BSG Cycle for LEAP team’s annual participation in the Cape Town Cycle Tour, and the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge in support of LEAP Science and Maths Schools.



Conglomerates in the Motor Vehicle Sector, BMW has dedicated a chunk of their budget to the maintenance of an internal Health Management Centre for its employees. Alongside this, BMW provides its employees with the BMW Employees Medical Aid Society, placing its members first with a focus on comprehensive benefits, value for money and services to improve the quality of care available to our members. In delivering on this promise, BMW always balances the cost of healthcare with the benefits provided in order to ensure that its members of the BMW Employees Medical Aid Society continue to enjoy the best of care yearly. On the up side of this investment, the immediate family members of these employees also benefit from having access to these resources, even during the global pandemic.



  1. Typically, employee wellness programmes are too isolated in nature and lack permanency. This needs to change. EAP guidelines and policies need to be company-specific, more robust and positioned for ongoing purposes.
  2. Managers and supervisors must have access to vigorous training for implementing EAPs. A key focus should be put on communication skills and practicing compassion for employees. In this way, social support is offered alongside professional advice and counselling.
  3. EAPs need to be holistic rather than bring focus to one particular form of well-being. In many instances, companies tend to focus on physical wellness, neglecting mental wellness and social support. Employees need to see and know that they have access to help from their employer, whether this help be with regards to stress management, physical health, nutrition, familial obligations, or financial stress.
  4. Create loan refinancing and personal finance opportunities to combat the impact of the pandemic on employee’s financial state.
  5. Employers should think about giving their employees access to free online resources to support their mental, emotional, and physical health – Corporate Wellness Software must be valued as an essential investment in employees.













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