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Creating an environment for wellness

Over the last few years, wellness week was celebrated in South Africa during the first week of July.  Thus, wellness week has arrived today and will run to Friday (2-6 July 2018).  We therefore want to remind employers and employees about the importance of wellness week. As a professional body for HR Management, SABPP’s mandate is to address HR Managers directly, and we will of course continue to do so. But this week, we are extending our reach to employees and employers.

On the following pages you will see an overview of the Employee Wellness standard element developed by SABPP.  It was developed by 108 South African HR Managers. In the second part, 468 HR Managers from all nine provinces and four other SADC countries developed the HR Application Standard with specific guidelines on how to apply the standard element in the workplace.  The average self-assessment score by 295 South African companies on the wellness standard is 52% while the average score of 39 companies audited by SABPP is 59%. While we have seen some excellent examples of good practices in employee wellness in six provinces, there is still room for improvement.  We encountered two main problems:

  1. Most wellness programmes address physical and emotional wellness only.
  2. Most wellness efforts consist of ad hoc events, such as once-off annual days for specific wellness issues, e.g. fitness, blood donation etc.

Therefore, let us review the full employee wellness standard to guide companies towards a more strategic, sustainable and integrated approach to employee wellness (SABPP, 2014).

HR Standard Element 8

8.1 Employee Wellness: Definition
Employee wellness is a strategy to ensure that a safe and healthy work and social environment is created and maintained, together with individual wellness commitment that enables employees to perform optimally while meeting all health and safety legislative requirements and other relevant wellness good practices in support of the achievement of organisational objectives.

8.2.1  To promote  opportunities and guidance that enable employees to engage in effective management of their own physical, mental, spiritual, financial and social well-being.
8.2.2  To enable the employer to manage all aspects of employee wellness that can have a negative impact on employees’ ability to deliver on organisational objectives and to demonstrate the impact of wellness activities on the achievement of organisational objectives.
8.2.3  To promote a safe and healthy working environment in pursuit of optimum productivity and preservation of human life and health.
8.2.4  To reduce employee risk emanating from health and wellness issues.
8.2.5  To contain health and wellness costs.
8.2.6  To enhance the employment value proposition by means of promoting a culture of individual health and overall organisational wellness.

This standard element should be read and applied by taking cognisance of all the other standard elements, but with a particular focus on strategic HR management, HR risk management, employee relations management, performance management and HR measurement.
HR Competency Model: HR practitioners must be able to play an appropriate role in the following outputs:

  • Wellness strategy and policy
  • Occupational Health and Safety
  • Chronic disease management
  • Management of opportunities for people with disabilities
  • Quality of work life and wellbeing
  • Employee services



8.3.1  Formulate employee wellness strategy, policies and relevant HR procedures, fair to all employees, to promote and manage wellness programmes and risks.

  • Evaluate the organisational need and set objectives and boundaries for wellness programmes paying particular attention to high risk groups. (See also HRM Standard Element #3 HR Risk Management.)
    • It is likely, given the stresses and life-style of the modern world, and the socio-economic deprivation that affects a large proportion of the working population in South Africa, that various hazards to health, safety and wellness will present a risk to the organisation. Thus, a wellness analysis is an essential requirement for an organisation, whether it is done in a simple way or a more in-depth way. (See also HRM Standard Element # 3 HR Risk Management.) Employee screening for life-style and non-communicable diseases is an important part of this wellness analysis.
    • Data for the analysis can be assembled from existing sources such as service providers (medical aid, EAP, insurance companies for data on death and incapacity), existing statistics such as absenteeism or from conducting specific data collection exercises with employees. Consultation with employees prior to starting the data collection is essential, and careful consideration must be paid to preserving confidentiality of the data.
    • Be aware of external developments in, for example, government programmes (availability of ARVs in local clinics), awareness campaigns driven by NGOs (diabetes, cardiac health, obesity and so on) which can affect/support what the organisation is doing in the same area.
    • Ensure that financial fitness is included in the analysis (for example, level of garnishee orders and employee loans).
    • Analyse the data collected to identify high risk employee groups and to identify trends (positive or negative).
    • Check for legislative compliance on health and safety issues.


  • Nearly all organisations will have some elements of wellness already in place. This may be limited to occupational safety, absenteeism monitoring, sick leave policy, medical aid provision, a company clinic, subsidies for child minding and so on. These all need to be brought together into a comprehensive approach to wellness, endorsed and visibly supported by top management and consulted upon with employee committees as appropriate, which:
    • Fits the organisation’s people strategy (how the people resources will assist the organisation to reach its objectives);
    • Is based on the analysis conducted;
    • Describes clearly how improving employee wellness will contribute to organisational success;
    • Sets measurable objectives for wellness programmes;
    • Describes how each employee must take accountability for his/her own wellness;
    • Allocates appropriate responsibility to line managers as people managers and HR as enablers;
    • Describes what support/programmes the organisation will make available to employees, the financial and other resources required for each programme, and the boundaries – for example, what the organisation is not prepared to do, what geographical areas will be covered, whether families are included;
    • Describes how the various existing elements fit together and also how they link to the Employment Value Proposition (see HRM Standard Element #2 Talent Management) and other HR processes, in particular performance management;
    • Describes what new elements will be introduced and how will they fit together.
  • From this approach, policies, procedures and guidelines can be developed as required, within the overall policy framework of the organisation (see HRM Standard Element #1 HR Strategic Management).
  • A detailed process should be in place to manage accidents/injuries at work (investigation, reporting, medical treatment, rehabilitation) and also the process to manage incapacity claims. Compliance with legislation must be demonstrated and employees should receive assistance with the official procedures involved.
  • The wellness strategy should form part of the overall HR strategy (see HRM Standard Element #1 Strategic HR Management).

8.3.2  Promote awareness of the wellness policy, strategy and procedures of the organisation.

  • An explicit communication strategy should be in place to ensure constant communication around wellness issues. Several different methods of communication should be used. Wellness champions (peer educators) can achieve excellent results.
  • This strategy should recognise the diversity of needs amongst employees, and target communications specifically at different groups.
  • Line management need additional support in managing wellness issues in their teams.
  • Communication around wellness issues requires specialist knowledge, as there are significant barriers to individuals’ changing their life/work habits to improve wellness. Service providers such as EAP, occupational health providers, wellness promotion providers and medical aid providers can support in this field.
  • Employees’ awareness should be measured/tested at regular intervals. Usage statistics and measures of trust in the programmes are good measures of the effectiveness of communication.

8.3.3  Maintain statistical records across the organisation with regard to all aspects of wellness and specific case and incident analysis and report to management in a value-adding way, supporting review the effectiveness of wellness programmes and interventions in support of operational objectives.

  • Refer to HRM Standard Element #13 HR Measurement.

8.3.4  Consider flexible work practices and other alternative work arrangements to promote work-life balance where possible.

  • Many work places do not support a healthy work-life balance. Migrant labour, shift systems, long working hours and the use of modern technology to remain in touch 24/7 can result in employees being unable to balance their lives.
  • Initiatives to deal with this constitute proactive management of stress-related mental and physical ill-health.
  • Legislation regarding limitations of working hours and rest periods must be adhered to.
  • A working practice analysis should be in place to evaluate which practices present a risk to work-life balance, and the organisation should have mitigation plans in place.
  • These plans should support the personal accountability of each employee to manage his or her own life.

For more information about the SABPP HR Management System Standard or the auditing framework for the standards, please contact SABPP on +27 (11) 045 5400  or  You can also receive regular updates via twitter @SABPP1 on hashtag #hrstandards, the website and the special blog for the HR Standards

More information about HR Audits against the HR Standards is available from

In conclusion, the South African employee wellness standard developed as part of the National HR Standards provide a clear guideline for effective employee wellness programmes in the workplace.  While we are celebrating employee wellness this week as part of Wellness Week, let us remind ourselves that employee wellness should be part of our overall HR strategy and therefore requires an integrated approach.

Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).

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