Absenteeism at work costing SA’s economy billions

Employee Wellness Programmes can be a win-win for companies and employees. Picture: David Ritchie/IndependentNewspapers

Employee Wellness Programmes can be a win-win for companies and employees. Picture: David Ritchie/IndependentNewspapers

Published Jul 9, 2024


Time is money, as the old saying goes, but companies that don’t look after the wellbeing of their staff could be batting on a losing wicket, health experts say.

Human Capital Review estimates that absenteeism costs South Africa’s economy up to R19.1 billion each year, which equates to around 15% of all employees being absent on any given day.

However, the less visible ‘presenteeism’ and ‘resenteeism’ could be costing the economy considerably more than that, says Dr Themba Hadebe, Clinical Executive at Bonitas Medical Fund.

Mental health related issues alone carry an estimated price tag of R235 billion each year.

‘Presenteeism’ is when employees go to work despite feeling unwell, Dr Hadebe explains, and not only does this create a strong risk of others getting infected, but it also results in lower productivity and compromised decision making.

Also included in this definition is mental health related ‘presenteeism’, with statistics showing that workers suffering from depression can lose the equivalent of 27 workdays per year, with only nine of these being actual sick days.

Dr Hadebe says ‘resenteeism’, otherwise known as ‘quiet quitting’ is also on the rise. Here “disengaged and unhappy” employees tend to do the bare minimum, often because they feel burnt out and under-appreciated.

Dr Themba Hadebe, Clinical Executive at Bonitas. Picture: Supplied.

The Bonitas executive says that a corporate wellness programme, which also includes screening for diseases and dispensing of medications, is essential for any corporation seeking to reduce absenteeism.

Particularly since only 16.1% of the South African population are able to afford private medical aid.

“Given the percentage of absenteeism every day in South Africa, a robust, risk-based corporate wellness programme, is imperative,” Dr Hadebe said.

“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.”

Currently only around 48% of corporate employees have access to Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs).

“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,” Dr Hadebe said.

“The issues can result in both absenteeism and presenteeism - both detrimental to both the company and employees.”