How much is workplace stress costing the South African economy each year?

Kelsey and Marc recently wrote an opinion piece for BizCommunity where they looked at a couple of trends that they felt HR Managers and HR Directors needed to be aware of. They wrote about the impact of COVID-19, financial stress and the fact that the economy was switching back changed the dynamic for many HR managers responsible for managing high performing teams.

There is limited South African data on the true cost of workplace stress but the World Health Organisation estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion each year.

Key risks they identify include:

  • inadequate health and safety policies;
  • poor communication and management practices;
  • limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work;
  • low levels of support for employees;
  • inflexible working hours; and
  • unclear tasks or organizational objectives.

In 2021, management consulting firm IQ Business released a report into the impact of workplace stress on the South African economy. Their pilot study found that 66% of South Africans surveyed were experiencing some form of depression or anxiety. What was interesting about this particular study is that they were able to find uniquely local characteristics:

  • 92% were concerned by the state of South Africa’s economy and the impact this would have on them and their loved ones to earn a living
  • 54% reported that they were experiencing financial strain
  • 69% were mentally affected by the state of poverty on the news and around them

In 2017, the London School of Economics looked at the South African economy and estimated that depression alone cost the economy roughly R232 BILLION in productivity. This included absenteeism or underperformance at work. The analysis suggested that South Africa had the highest proportional losses (as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product) through depression which was manifesting in things like memory loss, poor diet, inability to concentrate and poor attention to detail.

Dr Renata Schoeman placed a R40bn price tag on the South African economy each year. She was quoted as saying:

“Employees at risk face, if left untreated, hospitalisation for cardiovascular and mental health disorders, ischaemic heart disease, substance abuse, suicide, anxiety, depression and insomnia amongst other. These are serious consequences for a company’s overall turn-over, success and above all, detrimental to the employee’s overall well-being and healthy state of mind.”

Workplace stress is not just a South African problem

While the scale of the problem is immense and South HR managers are unquestionably struggling with the scale of this challenge, this is by no means a uniquely South African problem.

In February 2020, Rob Cooke who is a US based wealth manager delivered a powerful TEDX talk where he spoke about Workplace Stress and ways for organisations to counter it.

The video has attracted over 166 000 views and is a powerful 10-minute watch for those who have an interest in the subject. Cooke talks about the knock-on impact of workplace stress on a workforce and how it creates a situation where employees are trapped in a vicious cycle driving workplace stress levels higher.

Investing in your staff will reward your bottom-line

The data is clear – Human Resource professionals who invest in the mental health and well-being of their staff will enjoy superior operating performance than those who don’t.

If you are interested in developing a Corporate Wellness solution for your business, we offer a variety of interventions looking at different elements including financial, physical and mental well-being of your teams.

If you are ready to turn the Human Resource function into a contributor to the bottom-line of your organisation then please do get in contact with us.