South African industry loses billions every year as a result of absenteeism and lower productivity related to illness and disability. According to a report conducted on behalf of Department of Health, there are 2.3 to 2.5 million people with disabilities in South Africa, approximately 5.7% to 6.1% of the total population.
High absenteeism is detrimental to business: it escalates costs, lowers productivity and hampers timely service delivery. Tomakematters worse, a new trend is emerging. According to Momentum Employee Benefits’ claims data, companies are losing skilled staff to disability at an even younger age due to stress-related causes.

Work-related Stress
This finding is supported by research conducted at the University of Stellenbosch, which shows that work-related stress is a major factor leading to occupational disability on psychiatric grounds. Patients are relatively young, on average 44 years of age.
Another recent study compared disability rates associated with physical disorders with psychiatric disorders in the South African population. The prevalence of all mental illness was higher than that reported individually for asthma, cancer, diabetes, and peptic ulcers. Mental disorders, particularly depression, were consistently reported as more disabling than physical disorders. Despite high rates of mental disorders and associated disability in South Africa, these are less likely to be treated than physical disorders. Fortunately, the risks of work-related stress can be mitigated through proper health management strategies, and with help, companies are able to identify possible risk factors indicating a future spike in absenteeism and disability claims.

Risk Factors
Momentum Employee Benefits has identified several indicators managers should pay special attention to:
• Changes in the organisational structure, which may cause concern and confusion, making employees vulnerable to stress and burnout, and lead to psychiatric and/or physical medical conditions.
• Increased job or production demands, which can mean higher stress levels, leading to burnout and eventually to more serious medical conditions necessitating a disability claim.
• A rise in the sickness absenteeismrate due to minor ailments, which may be an indication of stress and burnout, and may progress into more serious medical conditions leading to an increase in disability claims.
• Presenteeism, which is the act of attending work while sick despite a medical condition hampering productivity. By the time the problem is obvious, the condition may have deteriorated to the extent that a disability claim is inevitable, whereas early intervention might have prevented it.
• Increased disability claims due to psychiatric or cardiovascular conditions. This may indicate an environment where stress and burnout is prevalent and must be further investigated.
• High staff turn-over, especially inmanagerial positions. Employees may experience stress and burnout due to uncertainty relating to the future of the company and poor communication. Many studies show that psychological and physical factors in the workplace such as intense deadlines, poor interpersonal relationships, poor ergonomics, the absence of a stimulating work environment and healthy work culture, as well as inadequate job descriptions, are also major contributors to employee absenteeism and increased health risks.

Health Management Strategies that Help
To deal with the rise in absenteeism and disability claims, Momentum Employee Benefits has identified a range of wellness strategies that can help to minimise stress and burnout:
• Employee skills training: time management training and learning to prioritise work are valuable for preventing stress and burnout.
• Coping mechanism training: stress management and emotional intelligence training both assist in the prevention and management of stress and burnout before it becomes a serious medical condition.
• Wellness initiatives: counselling and health and wellness education are fundamental aspects of employee wellbeing. Wellness initiatives contribute to the optimal management of diseases directly related to sickness absenteeism and disability claims.
• Effective communication: especially during times of organisational change, effective communication goes a long way to preventing insecurity and stress.
• Case management: Momentum Employee Benefits offers this as a service to assist with early intervention and the optimal management of employees at risk of disability. Vocational rehabilitation, where feasible, is also offered as a value added service on all group income replacement disability benefits. The assists a speedy return to work, retains employees in the workplace, and improves productivity.

Coverage and Risk Management
Momentum encourages employers to adopt a dual-focus employee benefits philosophy: the provision of group risk coverages together with a proactive risk management policy that includes wellness initiatives and early intervention in cases of potential disability, alongside rehabilitation and return to work support services. Such an approach is crucial for ensuring that companies avoid becoming part of the worrying upward trend in absenteeism and disability.

For more information
please visit
or contact Raygana Naidoo, Momentum
Phone: +27 12 673 7696