Look to the health and wellbeing of all employees if you’re serious about your business

12 May 2022 Dr Reinder Nauta, Executive Chairperson National HealthCare Group

It is a proven fact that absenteeism affects the productivity, efficiency, and profitability of businesses and that it has the potential to erode the bottom line of even the best run companies. In fact, if we were to calculate the financial losses incurred within the South African economy as a result of absenteeism in the workplace it would amount to several billion in lost revenue.

Employers who are serious about the productivity as well as the health and wellbeing of their employees have found that it makes financial sense to provide healthcare cover to staff members across the board. However, having said that, to improve and even save the lives of those who benefit from it, private healthcare does not necessarily have to offer all the bells and whistles that can make it so prohibitively expensive.

To begin with, let us get away from the notion that we need a sledgehammer to crack this nut. What is called for instead is a robust and highly effective primary healthcare solution, that can identify and address potential healthcare issues early on. If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that employers cannot afford to allow staff members to be without quality primary healthcare any longer.

Recent research has indicated that most South African companies have an overall absenteeism rate of between 3.5% and 6%, which is well above what is acceptable. With as much as 15% of our workforce taking sick leave each day – or more than 6 million people – this equates to a great many empty chairs and desks, factories and production lines. Research clearly points to the unhappy fact that absenteeism is rising, and will continue to do so unless industry does its bit to improve healthcare accessibility at every level within the workplace.

Of greater concern still is the domino effect that unchecked absenteeism is having on other employees and departments and therefore on the overall productivity, turnover and longevity of businesses that are losing millions each year as a result of unchecked absenteeism.

Looking at statistics compiled by Top 500 Elite published in November 2020 the South African national economy at the time faced annual costs of R15 billion directly related to soaring levels of absenteeism.

Case studies drawn from the experience of National HealthCare Group clients on absenteeism management in South Africa have shown that easy access to quality primary healthcare services can reduce sick days by as much as 50% over a six-month period. In addition the 27% monthly savings achieved in healthcare expenditure really illustrates the value of a primary healthcare focused approach.

As borne out by the experience of at least four different businesses – all of varying sizes and in totally different sectors of the market – we have been able to deliver impressive results. For example, absenteeism has been reduced by as much as 35% in some instances, while savings per employee per month ranging between 25% to 38% have been achieved.

Working on the premise that human capital is the most valuable, yet most difficult of all resources to manage, businesses need to optimise input to ensure positive change in the productivity of employees in all spheres and levels of their operations. But how is this achieved?

Ultimately, it must come down to ease of use in how healthcare funding products are packaged and what results they can deliver for the end user. It is furthermore becoming increasingly apparent that a blanket approach in terms of healthcare cover is not best suited to the diverse and changing needs of the healthcare market in our country. Instead, a more modularised offering can address fundamental healthcare needs effectively while dramatically reducing costs. This begins at a primary care level and forms the foundation of a solid healthcare framework in providing a realistic forerunner to the NHI.

There are practical solutions available, such as an employer funded reimbursement account that consists of an administration fee-based model provided in partnership with an independent network of thousands of healthcare providers, including doctors, pharmacies and others.

This solution can and does work in multiple industries, assiting employers to provide cover for the entire staff base. For many this is a significant and necessary shift from only seeing a few employees covered to experiencing greater access across the board with the result of reduced absenteeism and much improved employee health and morale.

In today’s business world in which investors and stakeholders are increasingly about sound corporate governance and where unions demand that workforces receive their due benefits, the time to address any shortcomings in your human resource and healthcare management is surely now.

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