Skip to main content

We human beings spend a good portion of our lives at their workplace, about 30% of it according to research. It makes sense, then, that the workplace can have a massive impact on the physical and mental well-being of its employees.

Current challenges of many businesses having adopted remote work practices have exacerbated existing mental health challenges among employees as they battle burnout, depression, anxiety and struggle to adapt to new work and lifestyle adjustments.

As the burgeoning mental health crisis continues to expand, companies are feeling the effects of reduced employee motivation and productivity, which threaten company success and longevity.

The conversation of wellbeing in the workplace is now being prioritized by companies who are feeling the effects of declining employee motivation and productivity.

But is there any solid evidence that the wellness of employees plays a direct role in company performance? And if so, how can companies promote the health and wellness of their employees beyond offering free breakfast and a ping pong table?

Does workforce well-being directly impact company performance?

According to research by Top 500 Elite, the South African economy has an annual cost of about R15 billion purely based on employee absenteeism. An average of 15% of South Africa’s workforce takes sick leave each day – that’s more than 6 million employees a day. In 2019 alone, lost productivity costs sat at an estimate of 4.8% of GOP, and have no doubt increased since 2020.

It’s clear that employee wellbeing does directly affect company success and productivity. The question now becomes: Do employee wellness programs and EAPs designed specifically to improve employee wellness actually improve employee health and well-being?

The research overwhelmingly says yes. Studies have shown that workplace wellness programs that aim to improve employees’ nutritional, exercise, sleep and stress management habits do positively impact employee well-being when implemented with clearly communicated objectives, incentives for participation and continuous evaluation.

An analysis of the financial impact of wellness programs on employee healthcare costs shows that wellness programs offering a comprehensive and ongoing approach to holistic wellness see the greatest reduction in overall employee health costs.

More recently, a recent Harvard study on the ROI of company wellness programs found that the average ROI per program implemented was 3.27, meaning that for every dollar spent on the program, the company implementing it saved 3.27 dollars in reduced healthcare costs.

What can companies do to improve their employees’ health and well-being?

With the research there to back up the efficacy of workforce wellness programs, what exactly can companies do to maximize employee wellness and productivity, particularly during these trying times

1. Don’t neglect company culture, especially in a remote team

Company culture impacts employee wellbeing in many ways. The ways that employees can communicate with each other, relate to each other and expect to be treated all stems from the corporate culture the organization purposefully designs.

Beyond offering ‘relaxation rooms’ and ping-pong tables, companies should look to foster a genuine sense of community and shared kinship among employees. Employees who feel supported and celebrated will, in turn, support and celebrate other employees’ achievements.

Commspace, for instance, uses Slack to encourage employees to interact and build rapport with each other through shared quizzes and team trivia games. Bonusly, a peer recognition app that allows employees to engage with each other through a reward and recognition system, is also used.

Companies should look to implement programs that build on and develop the unique strengths of individuals. Firms like Organizational Health Solutions offer long term guided programs that can help your firm achieve this goal. Businesses should also actively strive to assess, measure and improve employee mental well-being through programs that specialise in fostering team dynamics and synchronicity, something Gallup does very well.

“Very informative session – it helped me to unravel everything I already know about myself and to understand how I think, why I act the way I do and why some things are easier or harder than others. I didn’t think I’d learn anything about myself, but it massively broke down and analyzed part of that I didn’t realize were there. 5/5 recommend!”

– Amanda de Bruyn

2. Make mental health part of organisational culture

It’s not enough these days to offer wellness programs based on employees’ physical health. With rising stress and anxiety surrounding workload, job security and health and safety, the topic of mental health needs to join the workplace wellness conversation.

Many South African companies don’t subscribe to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that offers one-on-one counselling and mental health support for work and personal issues. Employers should be aiming to incorporate mental health into workforce wellness program offerings and subscribing to an EAP can help to offer a more balanced employee wellness program.

3. Financial health is also a key component of employee well-being

Poor financial health and management is a widespread problem in South Africa. Research shows 76% of South Africans run out of money before the end of the month, impacting their mental and emotional wellbeing. A further 89% of South African employees worry they won’t be able to pay their bills at the end of each month.

Financial wellness also needs to be a key component of workforce wellbeing. Companies should look into hiring debt review and counselling services to assist employees in better managing their finances.

Commspace also offers a range of employee benefits, including wealth-building and financial planning assistance, all of which are entirely opt-in by employees.


In its research, PwC found that the success of a wellness initiative largely depends on 5 factors.

  • The organisation’s objectives;
  • Whether there is a strategic and integrated approach to wellness;
  • The quality of analysis performed to identify and prioritise issues and interventions;
  • The effectiveness of implementation; and
  • Whether there is appropriate measurement and monitoring of outcomes, and regular review of interventions.

Employee wellness is clearly vital to company success and longevity, but a strategic and integrated approach that considers the unique needs of the company is necessary to see measurable success.