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One size rarely fits all

It’s not just your imagination, employee wellbeing has firmly captured the attention of the workplace. Globally, the employee wellbeing market is valued at more than R1 trillion ($61 billion), and in South Africa more companies are investing in employee wellbeing. The question is, does it work? A recent study from the University of Oxford tracked the efficacy of 90 different wellness interventions across 233 organisations and found that, on the surface, many of them were not effective. However, reading between the lines, the employee wellbeing experience is a little more nuanced.

“A lot of the research we are coming across confirms that we cannot approach wellbeing as a one-size-fits-all approach. Taking a more bespoke approach can help yield really positive results and, from what we have seen at YuLife, personalising the wellbeing experience is the only way to get these results,” said Jaco Oosthuizen, managing director at YuLife South Africa and co-founder of YuLife, an Insurtech firm that is shaking up employee wellbeing.

A mixed bag:

As it currently stands, South African companies are grappling with the cost of employee wellbeing in the workplaceEach year they lose around R25 billion due to unplanned absenteeism. This strongly suggests that something needs to be done. Fortunately, there are valuable employee wellbeing programmes (EWPs) that do work. The Oxford study titled: Employee Wellbeing Outcomes from Individual-level Mental Health Interventions,  measured the wellbeing for employees who participated in wellness programs against the wellbeing of  their colleagues in the same organisations who did not. The study did not account for wellbeing before and after a wellness intervention. A previous 2022 study found that mental health programmes helped with depression and anxiety for up to 70% of participants. YuLife’s own independent research conducted through Forrester Consulting found that employers who used their platform enjoyed a 181% return on investment over three years thanks to reduced absenteeism and improved productivity.

Purpose pays off:

One type of programme that does boost wellbeing is volunteering. When given an opportunity to volunteer, results from the Oxford study showed that employees felt a greater sense of purpose, accomplishment and recovery. What this also shows is that taking a more targeted approach comes with significant benefits. Imbuing an organisation’s culture with purpose gives employees a strong sense of meaning, motivation and fulfilment. The result is a more committed, engaged and ultimately happier workforce. As some of the results mentioned earlier show, wellbeing programmes work best when they are tailored toward creating purpose-driven company cultures.  “Wellbeing programmes should be structured around the company culture and the wants and needs of the staff rather than taking a scattergun approach. It may be a clever idea to do some internal research and see what employees really need and want. Leaders in an organisation should also pay special attention to how the company’s current culture aligns with its wellbeing goals.” Crafting a purpose-led company culture is only the first step.

In order for wellness schemes to work, they need to be accessible, easy-to-use and engaging. By leveraging the power of gamification, platforms like YuLife’s offer suites of benefits that engage 60% of employees. As a company, you wouldn’t simply copy a marketing plan that had seen success in Asia and paste it in the South African market. Similarly, instituting an EWP that doesn’t fits seamlessly into your organisation will probably cost you more money than it will save. With a little research, and by focusing on the value output, you can tailor your offering to suit your company and employees’ needs. That is how you turn good corporate intentions into meaningful interventions and how you elevate organisational wellbeing from a tick box exercise into a purpose-driven corporate culture.