Desi Industrial Psychologists

How Line Managers Can Be Resourced to Understand The Strategic Impact of Holistic Employee Wellbeing

Black Lady Writing Notes at MeetingManaging people requires a sincerity to seek to understand them.  Organisations should take time to reflect on and consider appropriate ways of cultivating productive relationships with employees.  Wellbeing has become the valued currency in business today, especially in Post COVID-19 (2020-2021) times. Complexities of the external environment in the entire globe, challenges of constant change along with all other trials of adulting are enough to get anyone’s head spinning 10-fold.   Added to that are the ever-changing dynamics of doing business that may include multiple shifts to operational models, systems and processes; all in a quest to delight customers.

Pressure comes literally from all sides.  Changes to the structure of the family; challenges of 21st century parenting the so-called “Ama-2000 and the younger (sometimes opinionated) kings-queens”; exorbitant levels of drug and alcohol abuse among the youth and older folk alike; heightened levels of trauma and violence all can be overwhelming on the psyche of any person.  The individualistic nature of neighbourhoods and community life (i.e. illustrated in ‘mind-your-own’ high walls and locked gates in fear of crime) means that people are left to sort themselves out through other ways as access to social debriefing outlets lessens.

While a good few “woke” people have grown to appreciate the value of physical wellness (eating healthy, regular exercise, hydration etc.), this is certainly not enough.  There is a disturbing deficit of available resources to address mental health issues across the spectrum of the population in South Africa and the entire world.  Yet such challenges continue to escalate at alarming rates among young and old. According to the Human Sciences Research Council (2020) 33% of South Africans were depressed, while 45% were fearful and 29% were experiencing loneliness during the first COVID-19 lockdown period.

Holistic wellbeing seems to be a pandora’s box that no one wishes to unravel, yet in labour intensive work environments this is at the crux of productivity and the very longevity of the business.  We are keen to explore and dissect metrics reports on production yields, revenue and bottom-line, but we often hesitate to investigate behavioural indicators that may be symptomatic of real wellness concerns in our midst.   Metrics reports on absence, turnover, injury-on-duty, lifestyle, ill-health, quality defects and poor performance are often reviewed, but very little of the ‘WHY’ is investigated in depth. For example, in 2019, the Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA) attributed R12-R16 billion per annum to absenteeism. As much as R200 billion was attributed to presenteeism, sick-leave, and other mental health issues (Sanlam, 2022).

This topic is likely to overwhelm any line manager, especially since many lack capacity to support their subordinates and teams in this regard.  A big part of this is that organisations do not resource their businesses with effective solutions to address wellness challenges of employees.

The COVID-19 pandemic reminded us about the value of social interaction and simple conversations human-to-human.  We do not seem to have enough social outlets to engage authentically, free of undue judgment.  A lot of what employees carry can be diffused by regular intervals of check-in sessions to declutter hearts and minds. First step towards this should be to put the topic of wellness as a standard agenda item in boardroom conversations. Following that should be coaching (not training) of line managers to understand and appreciate the influence of human holistic wellness in the consistent delivery of strategic outcomes.

Over time, growing appreciation of the wellness topic may minimise resistance and fear among core business drivers.  The flip side may be a fresh appetite to provide in-house check-in outlets to managers and their respective teams. The model of outsourcing wellness programmes has run its course and frankly it has not yielded any wow-factor results.  All we seem to have done is to shelve known problems hoping for them to go away.  It is time for us all to be real in business, supporting one another human-to-human…

Babalwa Desi
Consulting Industrial Psychologist