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Employee wellness is a bottom line business issue

Dr Dicky Els and George Marx

Fred Fusilier

Employee wellness should be one of employers' top priorities. However, evidence across many industries reflects a dire situation which suggests employers don't have their employees' wellness at the top of their minds. While medical scheme contributions continue to exceed inflation rates, and employee salary increases are also below this threshold, there's no denying that circumstances such as these become unsustainable with negative implications on business practices. So what's the solution?

As part of the national strategy against non-communicable disease, the department of health (DoH) has adopted a 'whole of society' approach. This strategy – which is to be achieved by 2030 – emphasises:

  • Illness prevention,
  • Health care promotion, and
  • Care and treatment of the sick.

The goals stated in the DoH's Declaration for Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases should in fact be adopted as part of an employer's strategic objectives as this document directly affects employees, productivity and profitability.

At this point in time, it seems inevitable that the fight against non-communicable disease and health-care reform can only be achieved with the support and collaboration of public-private partnerships (PPP).

Obviously, employers are profoundly affected and they'll increasingly be required to contribute towards government's initiative, presumably through the employer's corporate social and sustainability imperatives. Clearly, to improve employees' overall wellness, employers who're unprepared for this level of partnership will require sustainable health and productivity management systems, which benefit employees' well-being and the business' bottom line, to be implemented.

What is the benefit of a health and productivity management system?

The aim of this type of system is to address the burden of medical expenditures, unnecessary absence and lost performance from work so that organisational productivity can be increased.

Health and productivity management systems are different from other health-care initiatives:

  • Effective employee wellness programmes manage organisational performance through optimal employee wellness.
  • An effective programme will be thorough, integrated and a proactively managed.
  • Optimal workplace wellness programmes must be built on honest commitment by the employer and designed to care, support and develop all the organisation's employees.
  • For it to be sustainable, the employee wellness programme must be multi-dimensional, with strength-based change processes that assist employees to flourish both within and outside the organisation.

Health and productivity management systems promote sustainable business development

These also promote organisational performance. Considering that organisations are increasingly expected to provide an integrated report covering their profit, people and planet factors, organisations will need to show their commitment towards improving the health of all three areas within their internal and external supply chains. This means that it's important to understand the critical role employers play, including their responsibility to assist in combatting non-communicable diseases in this country.

To realise the significant business benefits, employee wellness programmes should be customised to address specific corporate governance, risk management and compliance challenges as these relate to wellness programmes.

Best practice health and productivity management programmes are subject to accurate management information and should continuously monitor and evaluate the employees' health-care and behavioural practices.

Regularly monitor and evaluate organisational outcomes - such as the return on the investment (or costs thereof) – gained from wellness interventions. Report on the programme's progress and impact to top management, including the board. When the business case for an employee wellness programme is properly managed, members of the board will be able to ask:

  • What is the total direct cost of employee health for the organisation in absolute terms?
  • What is the total direct cost of employee illness for the organisation as a percentage of payroll?
  • Which risk management procedures should be implemented if the direct cost attributed to employee health exceeds 30% of payroll (as is often the case)?
  • Do medical scheme contributions count for the bulk of employee health care and do these costs escalate faster than the organisation's salary rates?
  • What is the prevalence of obesity, diabetes, stress, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and substance abuse in the entire workforce?
  • Is the health and wellness profile of the top-performing employees and executives, as measured against the mediocre performers, noted in the organisation's remuneration, incentive and succession plans?
  • What is the economic value of an engaged, committed, thriving, healthy employee?

The best defence for proper employee health and productivity management is to take managerial control and ensure that all employee diagnosis, treatment and wellness programme interventions are of the requisite standard and, furthermore, that employee health care processes are thoroughly managed and well documented. Protocols and procedures must be recorded and all record-keeping and reporting related to workplace wellness programmes must be comprehensive, accurate and accessible.

Dr Dicky Els is a lead independent consultant at CGF. He specialises in workplace wellness and focuses predominantly on strategy development, programme design and evaluation of outcome-based health promotion programmes. Contact Dr Els directly on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

George Marx is a chartered enterprise risk actuary and former professor of insurance and actuarial science at the University of Pretoria who has over twenty years' of research, teaching and practical experience in employee health, wellness and productivity. In his present company, Wellnicity, he specialises in measuring and monitoring employee health and productivity programmes (or lack thereof) including the role of medical schemes and the impact of wellness interventions on health and productivity outcomes and the effect thereof on organisations' bottom lines.