SA firms slow to follow global employee wellness drive – survey

JUNE 30, 2015

Alternative work environments, ground breaking workplace perks and innovative employee wellness strategies are on the increase globally, but locally companies are still in two minds on how to best implement measures that will attract and retain top talent.

According to the latest Jack Hammer survey, this is despite 89% of SA’s biggest employers believing that the little extras, such as flexible working hours, telecommuting, and additional employee support services and perks really do make a difference to employee satisfaction and performance.

Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, CEO of Jack Hammer, which is rated one of South Africa's top 3 executive search firms, says making employees feel that they are valued, respected and cared for beyond their monthly remuneration, does have the potential to impact on a company’s reputation and bottom line.

However, the mechanics of making this happen effectively are not set in stone, and the potential measures and programmes available are myriad and wide-ranging.

As a result, companies often implement ad hoc initiatives whose results are not clear, and few have followed in the well-publicised, ground-breaking footsteps of the likes of Google and Virgin.

“Wellness and employee engagement programmes are an investment. They cost money and, like any other investment, need to show some kind of return – otherwise such programmes are merely an addition to the operating costs of the business,” says Goodman-Bhyat.

“Unless such programmes are shown to actually benefit the company, their cost merely increases the cost of employment, and are unlikely to make sense to any shareholders. And herein lies the big quandary."

"There have been countless global surveys, research initiatives, and other data gathering projects which attempt to measure employee engagement or ‘happiness’, and connect them to productivity, to staff retention which impacts the cost of employment, and the ability to attract better people and therefore improve output.

“But while there is enough data to show a likely and sometimes strong correlation between the variables being measured, it is almost impossible to predict the outcomes of investing in such programmes.”

According to Jack Hammer’s local survey, which polled top employers in the FMCG, Banking, Industrial, Leisure and Mining Sectors, just more than half of companies have implemented specific measures geared to increase employee happiness and satisfaction, despite the vast majority of companies saying that introducing such measures are important and can improve performance.

Of the 44% of companies who had not introduced programmes, only one said it was considering doing so, with the rest saying it was not on the cards.

Respondents indicated that it appeared additional perks only made a difference at mid-to-senior management levels, while some said there was not enough information available to inform a coherent strategy, and that it would be necessary to first fully investigate potential impact before devising a solution.

“We will continue to evolve in response to employee needs, but there is no need to set out strategies to this effect,” one company representative said. Others said that the cost implications were a turn-off, but that it could be considered in future.

Initiatives implemented by those companies who have started doing so, include the ICAS global employee wellness programme, free banking, free gym use, and flexible working hours depending on company requirements at a given time.

One company introduced a comprehensive employee wellness programme four years ago, with a dedicated department and a defined strategy which focuses on psychological, physical, mental and emotional wellness with specific programmes addressing each of these areas.

Another introduced a wellness programme a year ago, which includes counselling, legal and financial advice. This company also introduced trauma interventions, as it saw an increase in the number of employees experiencing life-changing events. It noted that the costs associated with doing ad hoc counselling was too high, so it implemented a full programme.

“Few would disagree with the concept that happier employees who feel loved and cared for by their companies are much more likely to experience a sense of well-being and goodwill towards their employers, and are therefore probably more likely to offer a higher level of loyalty and commitment in return,” says Goodman-Bhyat.

“Companies with some cash to spare, and a philosophy of real investment in people will likely have the budget for wellness initiatives. But they are still considered a luxury rather than a necessity by most, and there is still a lot of scepticism as to whether they make any impact on motivating better performance or productivity in any meaningful way.

“Furthermore, once such programmes are integrated in the employee experience at work, the benefits sometimes start getting taken for granted.

"Even so, for companies who truly put their money where their mouths are in their consideration of people as their most valuable asset, wellness initiatives will be considered vital, important, and integral to company culture and ethos. While currently these businesses are few and far between, all companies should start considering their holistic offering if they want to continue attracting and retaining top talent in our ever more competitive marketplace.”

 

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