COVID-19 isn’t over. But it’s fair to say that companies across South Africa are learning to live with it. Many organisations have returned fully or partially to the offices, are already onboarding new recruits and have kick-started staff development programmes that were parked in the early days of the pandemic.

Needless to say, some professionals have struggled over the past year as the lockdown, isolation from working remotely, job insecurities and health scares took its toll. And since there’s no vaccine against mental health challenges, as a business if you want to attract top talent, you need to make sure that you have a supportive culture and wellness-first policies in place. 

To help you meet those goals, Michael Page surveyed 333 applicants in South Africa from mid-May to mid-July 2021 to find out how they have coped since the outbreak of the pandemic and how they think employers can support staff going forward.

Are Companies in South Africa addressing Mental Health at the Workplace?

Mental health and wellbeing, South Africa

View infographics on mental health and wellbeing in Africa and Morocco.

How candidates coped with the pandemic

It’s not all doom and gloom — when asked to sum up their mood in a single word, almost nine in ten candidates responded positively. “Hopeful” was the most popular choice, followed by “motivated” and “confident”, suggesting that many professionals are putting the tough times behind them. 

Half the job applicants told us they did not experience any negative symptoms (such as feeling stressed, anxious, or frustrated, weight loss, reduced sleep, etc.) due to the Covid-19 crisis. 

With 21% reporting they do not work from home or remotely, 63% who work remotely said they do not feel lonely. 

Significant reasons behind the optimism could be the partial or complete return to the office as early as May 2020. When asked if our respondents felt lonely working from home, 45% said they do not experience a sense of isolation, 29% said they felt lonely working remotely, whereas 25% candidates said they don’t work from home or remotely. The remote working experiment seems to be a success with professionals in South Africa. In our survey in 2020, 83% of our respondents expected that one of the most significant outcomes of the COVID crisis would be that companies will implement flexible work policies, such as opportunities to work remotely or to have flexible schedules.
So how are companies in South Africa addressing mental health at the workplace? 66% feel their manager shows empathy and understanding towards their mental health. When it comes to the level of work-life balance, 60% of candidates responded they did not see a change. However, 44% report feeling a higher sense of pressure in the current times and 35% feeling discouraged about not getting the right credit for their work. 

In the early days of the pandemic, professionals were experimenting with different strategies on how to adapt to the new ways of working in lockdowns as well as coping mechanisms to deal with mental health issues. One of our Johannesburg consultants even shared how simple acts like developing a routine and limiting her social media usage helped her cope with anxieties that came with the pandemic. In our survey, job applicants shared their top coping strategies were keeping contact with friends and loved ones (54%), exercise (52% of respondents), eating healthy (51%) and maintaining professional focus to increase their on-the-job efficiency (50%).  

Building back better

With some employees feeling under pressure, what are companies doing to address mental health challenges? More than half of our respondents (56%) said their current or former company communicates about mental health and 52% said their company (current or former) has set up actions, policies, or events to take care of employees’ mental health.   

These results are not surprising considering the level of willingness on part of candidates to talk about mental health. They were far more likely to raise the subject with doctors or mental health professionals (88%). family members (81% of respondents) and friends (66%). This compares to 47% of candidates polled who said they felt confident to talk about mental health with their managers, 46% with their HR department and 38% with their colleagues, suggesting that there’s still some stigma attached to this in the workplace.

Finally, job seekers have some advice for employers on building an organisational culture that prioritises mental health. Majority of our respondents (54%) believe that companies should lean in more strongly on flexible work patterns and consider policies like banning emails and meetings during non-official working hours and 52% would like to see their company launching “well-being” initiatives running the gamut from meditation workshops to mindful eating courses. Other popular ideas include better communication with managers to control time and task planning (46%) and 44% saying their management and leadership should be trained to better equip them handle employee issues surrounding mental health. 

Michael Page understands the importance of finding the right match between employer and employee based not just on a competence, experience, and skills, but also in ensuring the cultural fit and working dynamic works for both parties. If you would like to talk to one of our expert consultants about how we can help you find the right talent for your organisation, or to talk about the results of our latest survey, get in touch today.

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