BY: Mpofu Sthandile.

Employee Wellness Week, is an annual national  health event  designed to bring awareness of the importance of maintaining the health and wellbeing of employees in the workplace and within their home environment. The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) uses this week to highlight the importance of heart and brain health, as well as the associated risk factors given that CVD has a very high burden of disease in SA.  

The World Health Organization (WHO) constitution states: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” South Africa is faced with a quadruple burden of disease  where Non- Communicable Diseases [NCDs]   which include  heart disease  strokes, hypertension, obesity, diabetes , and communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, injuries and accidents, as well as maternal, newborn and child health are co-existing and many individuals have co-and multimorbidity.

Cardiovascular disease  (CVD), namely heart disease, strokes and other circulatory disease diseases, have the highest burden of NCDs in South Africa. An estimated  80% of CVDs can be prevented by adopting healthy behaviors and maintaining this behaviour pattern consistently.  Improving well-being  in the workplace has been a goal of  many employment agencies for many years, and there is universal agreement that a healthy workforce is  productive with an increased sense of overall well-being. Many employees suffer from “burnout” as a result of a demanding job, and this interferes with carrying out daily activities, thus affecting productivity. This was particularly prominent among health- care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof Pamela Naidoo, CEO of the HSFSA states that: “Unfortunately, many companies are unaware of the health status of their workforce, which is counterproductive. She, therefore,  encourages those in management to have regular health awareness and health risk assessment sessions which can be conducted   by the Foundation”.

Working long hours, according to a study done by the WHO and International Labour Organization in 2021, which included 13 countries in three WHO regions (Americas, Europe and Western Pacific), is known to be responsible for about one-third of the total estimated work-related burden of disease, and was the leading cause of death from strokes and heart disease.The study concludes that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.

Throughout Employee Wellness Week, the HSFSA  aspires to educate the private and the public sector employers and  employees about  the importance of   wellness in the workplace and in their homes.  The HSFSAs health promotion and disease prevention programmes, focussing on heart and brain health, are essential to creating employee well-being. The HSFSA  conducts health risk assessments (HRA’S), an important pillar of the Foundation’s health promotion  programme. The HRA’s include assessing family history, current health status, as well as  measuring blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels,  Body Mass Index (BMI),  mental health assessment, and appropriate men and women’s health issues. The HRAs are a way of   ascertaining who is at risk    so that they can be referred for appropriate medical care.  The assessments can be accompanied  by a health talk by our certified professionals to help employees understand that being healthy is about long term life choices and habits. Most importantly, we offer ways to create a healthy environment to promote productivity and reduce absenteeism in the workplace. We also have valuable information leaflets to disseminate. We have a strong Nutrition pillar which is a very attractive topic for families with children within various ages and stages.

The Heart Mark endorsement programme is part of ongoing efforts by the HSFSA to reduce the number of deaths in South Africa from preventable heart disease and strokes. The endorsement programme forms part of a health-enabling environment offering consumers a tool which makes choosing healthier foods easier. Our market research shows that 8 in 10 (or 77%)  consumers instantly recognise the Heart Mark logo, these consumers associate the logo with healthy eating and a sense of credibility and therefore it increases the trustworthiness of the Heart Mark endorsement products. Approved by the National Department of Health, the endorsement program works with food manufacturers to improve food formulation. It is not a diet, but rather, a guaranteed way to buy food lower in salt, sugar and saturated fats and higher in fiber. The Foundation aims to highlight the Heart Mark endorsed products during Employee Wellness Week.

Sustaining healthy employees occurs in an enabling environment in a  healthy work environment. . Stress can stem from different demands at work, including deadlines,  long working hours, complicated by difficulties within the home environment or community and public spaces. Violence and unsafe spaces add to employee’s overall stress. Stress becomes harmful  when it is excessive, chronic and poorly managed. Experiencing high levels of  stress  often leads to unhealthy behaviors, of which most of them are major risk factors for heart disease and strokes, such as  consuming foods high in salt, sugar and fats; excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco smoking and/or vaping and lack of physical activity.

Employers are encouraged to provide employees with the necessary resources and support and the use of flexi hours (if this is appropriate for the sector) for the promotion of the well-being of their employees. .

Not only do healthy employees increase productivity at their places of work , but the overall wellbeing and quality of life for those employees  increases. There are various ways to ensure your organization  contributes to  the wellbeing in the workplace. Contact the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA  to arrange interviews, talks and HRAs (screening)  where we will be able to share strategies for improving employee wellness.

Interviews will be conducted with our Health Promotions Team, Dietitians and CEO, Professor Pamela Naidoo. To co-ordinate and confirm interview dates you are welcome to contact Themba Mzondi, our PR and Media Liaison Coordinator on 021 422 1586 / 0781135216 or email


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