10/1/2013, Model makes as if she is sneezing, studio shoot. Picture: Adrian de Kock

Cape Town - Absenteeism in the workplace costs South Africa between R12 billion and R16bn each year in lost productivity. But a new study reveals that a good manager can help reduce employee sick days and boost output at work.


The study, by UK Company Business in the Community, shows that managers are even more important in the workplace than previously thought, being able to reduce stress and mental distress among employees, leading to a reduction in absenteeism.

Read: Invest in staff wellness for big rewards

This study says that managers play a vital role in spotting signs of employee stress, anxiety and depression. The report demonstrates a clear link between employee well-being and business performance and promotes tools for developing mental health literacy in managers within the workplace.

Occupation Care South Africa (OCSA) as well as Statistics South Africa claim that on any given day, over 15 percent of staff could be absent. They also believe that two out of three employees who fail to show up at the office are not physically ill – but are rather battling to cope or are unhappy at work.

A 2015 Bloomberg study ranked South Africa as the second “most stressed out” country in the world, with Nigeria coming in first place. Last year, the Joburg office of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group received 400 calls on average a day from distressed people.

Management development expert Bruce MacDonald says being a manager means by definition that people are being managed. “It is all about relationships and how to manage other people. This means being empathic and genuine and understanding what drives individuals.

“Many employers think what employees really want is more money, but what employees really crave is recognition and feedback,” he says.

MacDonald is the convener of the UCT Graduate School of Business Programme for Management Development. He says too often people are promoted to management positions in recognition of their outstanding technical skills, underestimating the importance that people skills and knowledge of human behaviour have on employee performance.

He quotes research by the University of New South Wales, which surveyed 5 600 people in 77 companies and found that the single, greatest influence on productivity was the ability of leaders to spend more time developing and recognising their staff, giving feedback and fostering co-operation.

Samantha Crous, regional director of Africa and Benelux at the Top Employers Institute (TEI), says many companies fail to take into account how burnout can affect staff morale and health. TEI statistics show that assistance offered to employees suffering from burnout increased significantly from 36 percent in 2013 to 46 percent in 2014.

In the UK, 44 percent of certified top employers have in-house doctors available for staff and some kind of stress management training or support.

But MacDonald says good management goes beyond offering well-being programmes – there is no substitute to really being able to listen to employees.


For MacDonald a healthy bottom line is one way to measure the impact of a good manager. “A good manager is somebody who knows him or herself well, understands how human beings function under pressure and how to really communicate.

“It is not as easy as it sounds. If you can get it right then you will see your team and your organisation flourish.”