Employee well-being warrants more attention. An interesting statistic by the World Health Organisation estimates that in the United States of America the economic impact of depression alone is $31 billion a year. It would be interesting to know how this affects the South African economy.
Unofficial statistics state that 16.5% of South Africans suffer from some form of mental health issue.
Opposed to definite programmes and support from Government for HIV awareness and destigmatisation the definition of mental wellness and stress management in the workplace is not as clearly defined and regulated. Employers need to have a comprehensive rather than having a selective approach about health and well-being.
Safety gets much more attention
Occupational Safety in the workplace is easily defined and managed in contrast to health challenges that is not as apparent as physical health. Safety aspects and legislative requirements can easily be complied with, for example, by Regulations for employees working at heights and recourse for injured employees such as the COID Act.
Employers also tend to focus more on complying to safety legislation and requirements than “general well-being” The obvious health risks are addressed in legislation however the general well being of employees are not.
Employee well-being neglected
Companies do not actively promote or implement wellness programmes. Wellness programmes can include initiatives that encourage healthy lifestyles, incentivising employees to make those changes and creating awareness in the workplace. A healthy employee is a happy employee which means he/she is productive.
Employers tend to neglect creating a supportive environment in terms of general wellness specifically with regards to mental wellness and stress management. Employers are also less sensitive or even ignorant about the challenges employees face on a daily basis in the workplace.
Due to this the employees are less likely to reveal their mental health challenges to the employer, or even colleagues, because of lack of understanding, stigmatisation and a very real fear of discrimination.
A Psychiatric disorder has to do with how a person feels, acts and thinks or perceives. Challenges that employees choose not to share with employers are issues such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorder and acute stress disorder. Employers need to understand the spectrum of mental illnesses and be sensitive in dealing with employees faced with such challenges. A healthy mind and healthy body is interrelated, its a continuum and in my mind, much the same as is with the reasons why we attend to occupational safety issues.
Well-being in our Bill of Rights
Certain aspects of physical health and occupational safety are well defined and addressed in law and support systems provided for. Once again this can be linked to our Bill of Rights as entrenched in South African Constitution, Section 24; everyone has the right to environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being. Well-being is often neglected, although it forms part of our Constitution.