Happy, healthy employees are good for business

The evolution of employee wellness programmes has evolved over the years. Aqueduct. File photo.

The evolution of employee wellness programmes has evolved over the years. Aqueduct. File photo.

Published May 30, 2024


As we wrap up Worker’s Month, we are reminded that happy and healthy employees make productive, high-performing, and loyal team members. The evolution of employee wellness programmes has evolved over the years. In recent years, there’s been a mindset shift as more and more employers come to understand the business case for employee wellness which links to key metrics such as profitability, employee retention and sustainability.

The well-being of employees is a factor that has a far-reaching impact on many aspects of a business, from its daily operations to its longevity in the market. Many may think that employee wellness affects how team members feel physically, emotionally, and mentally. In reality, its impact extends far beyond those considerations and can affect the number of sick days employees take, how they approach the work they do, their willingness to go the extra mile and the quality of work they produce.

Commenting on this considering May being Worker’s Month is Nomi Nxumalo, Head of Transformation, People and Culture at MiWay Insurance, who says that optimal employee wellness is as much of an ethical matter as it is a strategic imperative.

A study by global analytics and advisory firm, Gallup found that the financial loss associated with decreased rates of productivity and staff turnover amounts to as much as $322 billion globally. The study also found that at least 75% of the medical costs incurred by organisations every year can be attributed to preventable conditions like burnout.

What these and other studies continue to prove is that neglecting the personal and professional well-being of employees comes at a cost. “Fortunately, the inverse is also true – when companies invest in their employees beyond just fulfilling the bare minimum conditions of employment, they stand to reap dividends in the form of productive, responsible team members who value their jobs and the businesses for which they work. This is something that we’ve learnt first-hand at MiWay. Our commitment to our employees’ holistic health has translated into a strong, dedicated workforce that is open and willing to keep learning and growing,” she says.

In celebration of Worker’s Month, Nxumalo highlights the following key trends in employee wellness:

Growth through learning

One of the dimensions of employee well-being that is often overlooked is professional development. Employees who feel that they have hit a ‘glass ceiling’ or who are unable to pursue a promotion or strive towards the next step in their career path, can become demotivated and unengaged.

It’s important to remember that providing ongoing education and training should be considered part of employee wellness, because it gives employees something to aim for and work towards. At MiWay, we achieve this objective through our Learning and Development department where we offer a variety of study courses and training ranging from systems, soft skills and product refreshers. Those who opt into these learning experiences are provided with a sense of purpose and there’s nothing more powerful and meaningful than that.

Money matters

The rising cost of living has put many South African employees under strain. A 2022 study conducted by Floatpays found that 74% of employees are experiencing medium to high levels of financial stress. This stress was found to be one of the major contributors to reduced productivity.

To remedy this, more employers are bringing financial literacy education and training into the employee wellness mix, providing employees with access to resources and tools that can help them manage their money better. These programmes may include financial literacy workshops, retirement planning assistance, access to financial advisors, and benefits such as student loan repayment assistance or emergency savings accounts.

Return-to-work – but with a perk

Futureproof workplaces need to be set up in a way that helps workers to de-stress and engage in some of the activities that are associated with optimal health.

For this reason, an increasing number of companies are incorporating fitness facilities and gyms into the office, providing employees with an easily accessible space where they can exercise. Ultimately, these kinds of facilities make working out cheaper, more convenient and more accessible.

As Nxumalo explains: “MiWay has moved with the times in terms of bringing healthy living habits into the working world. To do this, we’ve built the MiFitPark outdoor gym, which is available 24/7 and enables staff to achieve their fitness goals, while getting them on the road to living their best fitness life.”

Tech-driven solutions take the lead

Looking ahead, Nxumalo predicts that with the advent of generative AI, the employers of the very near future will leverage technology more efficiently to bolster their wellness programmes.

This could include making more prominent use of digital platforms and wearable devices to promote physical activity, tracking health metrics, delivering virtual wellness regimes, and providing real-time feedback and support. AI-driven tools for personalised coaching and virtual health consultations will likely also be used to enhance both the accessibility and engagement of these kinds of wellness initiatives.