“When ‘I’ is replaced with ‘We’, even illness becomes wellness.” - Malcom X
The impact of mental health on workforce productivity is well recognised. Employers hold the key to supporting emotional and mental wellbeing in the workplace, but as businesses grow their workforces globally across geographies, how can employers provide holistic, cross-cultural health and wellbeing solutions that support hugely diverse workforces?
While businesses are increasingly invested in supporting employee health, the primary focus is typically on physical health and safety. Firms have become well versed in asking the right questions to ensure they are meeting these requirements â€“ for example, do employees have access to adequate primary medical care, a safe and healthy workplace with the appropriate personal protective equipment provided?
But as we enter a new era of mental health awareness, supporting the financial, emotional and social wellbeing of employees is becoming increasingly important as employers look for relevant and powerful wellbeing solutions to the stresses and vagaries of our modern lifestyles.
“Ensuring a consistent approach to the emotional wellbeing of your people can be challenging when you are dealing with a remote working workforce and stark differences in culture, language and service availability. For businesses that operate globally, there are additional challenges when it comes to supporting and nurturing staff who are new to a country, or who you manage from a distance,” explains Jacqui Nel, Business Unit Head of Healthcare at Aon South Africa.
Janet Heaton, principal consultant for global benefits at Aon, explains why understanding your people is essential to a successful placement and transition. “While many large multinationals are providing a base level of support and show the appetite to support mobile workers and their families â€” the reality is that the speed of business often moves faster than practicalities. Assignment counselling and screening isn’t always adequate and without having all the information about the health of your people, businesses risk delays in getting coverage for what should be a simple placement.”
The true cost and impact of poor mental healthMental health issues in Africa are frequently viewed as the ‘silent crisis’ since they are often given lower priority where efforts are focused on communicable diseases and malnutrition1.Â According to 2017 statistics from the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), one in six South Africans suffer from anxiety, depression and substance abuse, with fewer than one in ten people living with a mental health condition receiving the care they need2. The severity of the issue is highlighted by the fact that there are 23 suicides and a further 460 attempted suicides in South Africa, every day. The Covid-19 pandemic has
further exacerbated the situation with bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear triggering mental health conditions or worsening existing ones.
The reality facing employers today is that sickness absence, reduced productivity and staff turnover relating to mental health is financially staggering. As a result, we are seeing a seismic shift in employee expectations and demands. The Aon 2020 Benefits and Trends Survey uncovered that 88% of employers reported that employees expect better awareness and handling of mental health issues from them.
“The increasing impact of mental health challenges and the changing landscape of employee requirements demonstrates that mental health policies and support should be high on the agendas of HRDs. The need to destigmatise mental health is also of importance. For a comprehensive health and safety policy to truly work, it should be supported by a company culture that encourages open conversations about mental health and the support available, with routine monitoring of employee mental health and wellbeing,” says Jacqui.Janet Heaton adds that company culture is the key to breaking down the challenges felt by global workforces. “If you can create a culture that is accepting and supportive, then you are likely to have better emotional health outcomes for your employees. Positivity, belonging, and acceptance can do a great amount for people’s emotional wellbeing,” she explains.
What you can do today
“Over and above offering the traditional insurances and protections for your workforce, you can enhance the employee experience and help build resilience within your people by providing consistent, meaningful and engaging cross-cultural health and wellbeing solutions,” says Jacqui.
Wellness makes good business sense
Companies are only as strong as the people who work for them, so in today’s volatile world it makes sense to put people at the centre of your business and invest in their success.
“Providing health and wellbeing solutions for our workforces is not just about providing a basic package of support and expecting people to access what they need. To be a business that curates a culture of wellness you need to match flexible support services with an ideology of empathy, care and compassion. The businesses of the future are those that build resilience within their people to realise their potential,” says Jacqui.“While change is often the only certainty, our support is guaranteed. Speak to an Aon professional healthcare broker to discover how you can help to improve the health and wellbeing of your team,” she concludes.