We live in a competitive, constantly switched-on environment, where ‘leaving work at the office’ is virtually unheard of. Many massive corporates encourage a culture of working overtime, competing with colleagues to get ahead, and relentlessly pursuing profits to increase the organisation’s bottom line. But to what detriment does this affect employees?
My aunt, who works for a massive South African company (listed on the JSE), told me a sad story. A colleague of hers - let’s refer to him as ‘Jim’ - was often referred to as IRREPLACEABLE at his place of work. Jim was constantly contacted because he was “the only one who could fix xyz”. His time was never his; he was contacted at all hours of the day (and night) when issues arose. Of course he was remunerated handsomely by company X. His children attended the best schools, and he had a lovely home in the North of Johannesburg. However, he was constantly stressed out, anxious, suffered from insomnia, experienced stomach upsets, and his relationship with his wife and children was strained. Eventually, after accruing a lot of leave days and being told they would fall away if he didn’t use them (he virtually never took time off), Jim decided to take the family away on holiday to the coast for a week. Armed with his laptop and cell-phone, he felt at ease that he could tend to matters remotely if they arose. The day finally came where Jim and his family packed the car in the early hours of the morning to begin their long awaited trip to the sea. About three hours into the journey, work called Jim saying they had a “crisis” on their hands and they needed him to return immediately to help sort it out, because “no one else” had the expertise, knowledge and intricate knowledge that Jim had. He was invaluable. So, Jim turned the car around and drove his family back to Johannesburg, and went straight to work just as the sun was rising early on a Saturday morning.
A week later Jim jumped off Company X’s roof-top.
My aunt attended the funeral to pay her respects to a colleague and friend, which was a few days after the tragic event. She recalls seeing Jim’s family agonising over the pain of his death. His wife and two beautiful children were left behind. On her way to her car, she bumped into Jim’s manager. You can imagine her shock when she found out that Jim’s replacement was starting at Company X the next day.
But wasn't he irreplaceable?
It’s an incredibly sad story. A vast number of companies do have a very competitive culture which they encourage, with the promise of massive rewards in return. Some individuals thrive and do well in these types of environments; however, some (particularly those with less resilience) feel highly stressed, anxious and overworked. It’s also important to remember that not everyone is motivated the same way. Obviously we cannot blame Company X for Jim’s demise (there are a multitude of factors, such as risk of clinical depression, resilience, other factors in Jim’s life, etc.). The point is, however, that Jim was quickly replaced after his untimely death. After all – they had their own stressors and pressures to manage.
An organisation may enjoy a far greater return on their investment in their human resources if they recognise that promoting a work-life balance is, in the long term, the best predictor for success for both employee and business. According to the Human Capital Review, current South African absenteeism statistics are sitting at as much as 6% per annum – way above the norm of 1,5%. Putting the above into a monetary value, South Africa is losing approximately R 19 144 billion every year.
Obviously there are legitimate causes for absenteeism, such as viral infections and similar ailments. However, a large proportion of these absent cases are due to burn-out. The GOOD NEWS is more and more top companies in South Africa are recognising the benefit of keeping employees healthy – from a physical and psychological perspective. Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA) has revealed that the South African average absenteeism rate for certified Top Employers 2014 is only 4%, which is well below the national average.
Examples of companies which have embraced promoting employee wellness includes Unilever, South Africa’s number one Top Employer 2014. The company boasts a state of the art gym called Unifit, supports flexible working hours, offers HIV and obesity counselling as well as a wellness centre with a biokineticist, physiotherapist and dietician.
In second place for Number Two Employer in South Africa is Nestle. They too offer employee health, wellness and lifestyle programmes, on-site child care facilities, flexible work arrangements and flexible benefit schemes.
At an organisational level, it’s important to remember that not everyone is motivated by last minute stressors, tight deadlines and competitiveness. It’s so important to understand what your general employee culture is, and then decide how to manage your different groups. The Value Orientations (VO) is an instrumental psychometric assessment which can also be used to establish the common language or culture in the organisation, which equips management with insight into what and why one approach motivates one, but not the other.
Managers are encouraged to engage with their team mates after they return from sick leave. Showing a vested interest lets an employee to feel more than just a number. An EQ course may also be hugely beneficial for employees; investing in their personal development will demonstrate their value in the organisation, and business will prosper if employees learn to become more resilient and able to handle stress effectively in the work environment.
At a personal level, it’s important to take a moment to be introspective, and recognise what is really important to you. Of course having a ‘good job’ to pay the bills is (and should be) one of the things at the top of your priority list. However, implementing a work-life balance may go a long way in keeping you psychologically in-tact. So, fight the urge to check your emails on your phone when you get home in the evenings. This Easter, why not make a plan to get out of the city and book into a resort with no cell phone reception; disable your data on weekends and after hours; when outdoors, resist the urge to peer down at your phone – look up, smell (like, really smell) the fresh air, look at the birds in the trees, feel the wind caress your face. Appreciate the moment you have with those you love. At the end of the day, everybody (let’s be honest) is replaceable in the corporate context. But you truly are irreplaceable to those you love, and who love you.
Absenteeism costs (2014) retrieved fromhttp://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/22/113953.html on 30 March 2015
Absenteeism trends in South African companies – the biggest cause of absenteeism (2015) retrieved from http://www.humancapitalreview.org/content/default.asp?Article_ID=578&ArticlePage_ID=1244&cntPage=2 on 30 March 2015
Our contributors collectively boast a wealth of experience in assessments, HR, organisational development, change management and more!