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Corporate Wellness – a win-win for all

08 July 2024 Bonitas Medical Fund
Dr Themba Hadebe

Dr Themba Hadebe

Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA) reveals that absenteeism costs the South African economy around R12 to R16 billion per year, whereas the Human Capital Review estimates it to be even higher, at R19.144 billion. This equates to about 15% of employees being absent on any given day.

Dr Themba Hadebe, Clinical Executive at Bonitas Medical Fund says that employee health and productivity go hand-in-hand. ‘A holistic approach to corporate wellness, including physical and mental health, makes for a more motivated, creative and productive workforce.’

Corporate Wellness and Absenteeism
‘Given the percentage of absenteeism every day in South Africa, a robust, risk-based corporate wellness programme, is imperative’, says Dr Hadebe. ‘It supports employee healthcare, provides access to primary care, helps with the management of a growing disease burden and offers comprehensive care in emergencies for speedier recoveries. It’s a win-win situation for both the employee and the employer. Employees are healthier, having gone through screenings for early detection of disease and given the right support to manage their health. While employers have a healthier, happier workforce and increased productivity.’

He says that it’s a concern that around 48% of corporates have no access to Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs). ‘19.3% of South Africans form part of the active job market but only 16.1% are able to afford private medical aid. When you consider that 1 in 5 South Africans, over the age of 15, live with more than one disease, access to healthcare remains a key priority and has an impact on employer investment.

‘Any corporate wellness programme should have a primary healthcare clinic for basic screening and dispensing of chronic medication and treating employees who are ill at work.’

An EAP should also provide support for employees who are experiencing personal difficulties – be it stress or mental health – anything that is impacting their life and productivity in the workplace. The issues can result in both absenteeism and presenteeism – both detrimental to both the company and employees.

The effects of presenteeism in the workplace
Apart from absenteeism there is also ‘presenteeism,’ a term coined in the 90s. It’s the phenomenon where, instead of taking sick leave, employees go to work while feeling ill and therefore don’t perform at full capacity.

‘If an employee goes to work despite feeling really ill, not only is there a chance they will infect their colleagues, but they are not going to get much work done,’ says Dr Hadebe. ‘Not only will their decision-making abilities be impaired but there is no telling what the longer-term effects might be. And it’s not just about physical health. It may be a mental health issue, which has become more prevalent over the last few years.’

The cost of mental health related ‘presenteeism’ is estimated at R235 billion a year (4.3% of the GDP). Additional stats indicate that workers with depression,reported the equivalent of 27 lost workdays per year – 9 of these were actual sick days.

The rise of resenteeism
Presenteeism might mean employees working when they should be resting due to illness, including mental health issues but, the newly coined ‘resenteeism’ or ‘quiet quitting’, is also on the rise. Resenteeism is about employees who may appear to be busy but are disengaged and unhappy. Doing the bare minimum due to burnout and feeling underappreciated. They stay at their current job due to financial constraints but are unproductive. It is the ultimate productivity killer that is affecting both small businesses and large companies across the country.

Dr Hadebe says medical aids can play a major role in addressing corporate wellness by:

Early detection of lifestyle diseases
Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are on the increase, these include cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and stroke, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. South Africans have a 51.9% change of dying from an NCD. Companies who offer medical aid are able to provide comprehensive health coverage and support services to help employees manage their health.

Preventative care and screenings
Annual health check-ups, screenings for conditions like hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol, and vaccinations – all assist in early detection and prevention of illnesses, reducing long-term health risks for employees
Chronic disease management

Managing chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma through regular monitoring, medication and specialist consultations, also helps employees manage their health and reduces absenteeism.

Mental health support
There is a high prevalence of depression in South Africa, 1 in every five people have symptoms of depression, while only 25% receive treatment. NCDs have been shown to be a risk factor for mental illness and vice versa: Screening and covering consultations with psychologists or psychiatrists and access to mental health programmes is important.

October Health is a virtual mental health programme available via the Bonitas Mobile App. It provides assessments, anonymous audio-only sessions with peers and mental health experts, text-based chat and guides members through the right care at the right time.

Customised health plans
Employers can work with medical aid providers to design customised health plans that meet the specific needs of their workforce – whether it be additional maternity care, mental health support or specific chronic conditions prevalent among employees.

Dr Habebe says that 70% of the Bonitas business is in the corporate market, across numerous sectors and all provinces. ‘By implementing comprehensive corporate wellness programmes in the workplace and partnering with a medical aid scheme, companies can foster a healthier, more engaged and productive workforce. This ultimately leads to reduced healthcare costs, lower absenteeism and improved employee morale.’

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