Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

Management of Employee Wellness in South Africa: Employer, Service Provider and Union Perspectives

Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

Management of Employee Wellness in South Africa: Employer, Service Provider and Union Perspectives

Article excerpt


Key focus of the study

There is no universally accepted definition of employee wellness. In addition, there is little research to address the best practices for managing EWPs. This poses great challenges for benchmarking the effectiveness of an organisation's EWP. This article aims to provide insights into the nature, content, context, participants, role-players and anticipated benefits and possible drawbacks of EWPs as organisations implement them in South Africa.

Background to the study

Wellness is a badly defined concept in the literature because there is little agreement about what a definition should contain. Definitions include:

* 'a conscious and deliberate approach to an advanced state of physical, psychological, and spiritual health' (Ardell, 1985, p. 38)

* 'a multidimensional state of being describing the existence of positive health in an individual as exemplified by quality of life and a sense of well-being' (Corbin & Pangrazi, 2001, p. 3).

Corbin, Lindey, Welk and Corbin (2002) describe wellness as a person's state of well-being that contributes to an improved quality of life. In addition, the literature uses the terms wellness and well-being interchangeably (Korhonen et al., 1998; Martin, Kirkcaldy & Siefen, 2003). This absence of a universal definition, and confusion about a preferred term to describe wellness, pose great difficulties to developing guidelines for good wellness practices in organisations.

Trends from the literature

Organisations are currently becoming more aware of issues related to employee wellness or well-being (Hooper, 2004) and there is increased public interest in integrating wellness activities with employers' responsibilities (Hillier, Fewell, Cann & Shephard, 2005). This move towards healthy workplaces and empowered employees mirrors trends between positive psychological states and organisational well-being (Maslach, Schaufeli & Leiter, 2001; Van Den Bergh, 2000).

This has led to the introduction of various programmes. They include Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) and EWPs to address wellness issues in the workplace. According to Berridge and Cooper (1994) an EAP is:

a programmatic intervention at the workplace, usually at the level of the individual employee using behavioural science knowledge and methods for the recognition and control of certain work- and non work-related problems.

(Berridge & Cooper, 1994, p. 5)

Other authors have described EAPs as programmes that cover the identification, assessment, monitoring, referral, counselling, and follow-up activities that aim at addressing employees' problems (Ramanathan, 1992; White, McDuff, Schwartz, Tiegel & Judge, 1996; Zarkin, Bray & Qi, 2000).

Wellness programmes are intervention strategies intended to promote the well-being of employees. They could be curative and preventative in nature. The purpose of introducing a wellness programme in an organisation is to create an awareness of wellness issues, to facilitate personal change and health management and to promote a healthy and supportive workplace (Anonymous, 2007).

These definitions of EAPs and EWPs make it clear that these two types of programmes address similar issues about employee wellness. This article will use EWPs to describe programmes intended to improve employee wellness and well-being.

When an organisation introduces an EWP, it allows employees to take charge of, and responsibility for, their own well-being (Derr & Lindsay, 1999). According to Leiter and Wahlen (1996), EWPs typically include activities that focus on relieving the stress of employees that personal finances, substance abuse, health problems, career crises and job demands cause.

The support employees receive from their organisations through EWPs presents great benefits to those who use these programmes. They include increased mental wellness, energy, resilience, life and job satisfaction as well as reduced stress and depression (Renaud et al. …

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