Employees awareness, attitudes and utilisation of an Employee Wellness Programme in a financial s

 Graduate School of Business and Leadership, University of KwaZulu-Natal (Westville Campus), Durban, South Africa


Correspondence: Ms Suraya Dawad, PO Box 32994, Waverley, 0135, Pretoria, South Africa. e-mail: surayadawad@gmail.com



Background: Healthy employees are vital for functioning and competing in the global business environment. Employee wellness programmes (EWPs) may assist in building and maintaining a productive workforce.

Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate employees’ awareness, attitudes and utilisation of an EWP.

Methods: A random sample of 301 employees was selected from a financial services company in South Africa. Data were collected using a web-based questionnaire.

Results: The majority of the participants (83.1%) were aware of the EWP and 70.4% were aware that the services of the EWP were confidential. However, 37.2% were not aware that most of the services offered by the EWP were free. Among those who had experienced some sort of problem in the past 24 months, 72.0% indicated that they had accessed the EWP for solutions. Almost all the respondents (94.1%) rated the quality of the services offered as either excellent or good.  Those who were  married were twice as likely (OR=2.232, p=0.019), and those who were divorced were 3.5 times (OR=3.527, p=0.013) more likely to use the EWP than single employees. The main reason for non-utilisation of the EWP was inconvenient operating hours.

Conclusion: This study reported employee awareness, attitudes and utilisation regarding EWPs in South Africa. It also highlighted reasons for non-utilisation and provided recommendations to the company regarding their EWP.


Keywords: Healthy employee, productive workforce, service offered, confidentiality, inconvenient operating hours



To ensure that companies are efficient, employee wellness programmes (EWPs) have been developed to assist employees with problems they face in all aspects of their lives; as well as to provide preventive care and health promotion to reduce stress and, ultimately, increase productivity. EWPs offer various services that assist employees with problems, by alleviating these problems, making employees well again, and making them more productive members of the company’s workforce.1

The mandate of every business is to be efficient, effective and, hence, profitable. In order to do this well, companies have to manage risks in their operations. One major risk facing companies worldwide is high healthcare costs.2,3 Various programmes and strategies are available to reduce healthcare costs, including wellness, physical fitness, employee assistance and substance abuse programmes. Organisations offer access to these programmes to deal with the numerous physical, emotional, mental and social challenges that impact on employee performance.2,3

Various benefits have emerged from EWPs for both employers and employees. Worksite wellness programmes have been touted as assisting employees to return to their routine tasks, thus minimising the loss of productive work time, reducing premature retirement, and increasing the productivity of injured employees.4-7 EWPs are also a critical component of any credible talent management strategy.8 Benefits include “reduced absenteeism, increased presenteeism, meeting labour legislation requirements, improved industrial relations, increased employee performance and productivity, reduced healthcare costs, and a reduction in accidents”.9 The objective of this study was to investigate employees’ awareness, attitudes and utilisation of an EWP in a South African financial services company.



The study population for this cross-sectional study was the 1 314 employees who worked for the company during the data collection phase (September to December 2013). Using an online sample size calculator (Raosoft), the sample size was estimated as 298. An additional 10% was added to this number to account for non-responses. A self-administered anonymous questionnaire was thus emailed to 328 randomly selected employees via an online system (QuestionPro).

Awareness was measured by asking employees were: i) aware that the company had a wellness programme; ii) familiar with the nature and functioning of the WP, and iii) aware that the services were confidential, knew where to find the wellness department, and were aware that the services were free.

Utilisation was measured by asking if employees used the wellness programme as well as what services that they utilised. Employee attitude was measured by asking employees’ opinions regarding quality of services, wellness programme staff competence, location of services, and helpfulness of services. Non-utilisation of the services offered was measured with the question: “Is there any reason why you have not used the wellness programme?”

Participation in the study was voluntary and prior to completing the questionnaire, participants agreed to take part in the study by clicking “yes” on a checkbox. Participants were given two weeks to complete the questionnaire online. After two weeks, reminders were sent to those who had not yet completed it.

Once data collection was complete, data were exported to the SPSS program for analysis. Both descriptive and inferential statistics were conducted; chi-square tests of association were conducted and stepwise logistic regression analysis was used to analyse more complex relationships.

Ethics clearance was obtained from the Humanities and Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Reference number: HSS/0239/013M).  Permission was also obtained from the company to conduct the research.



Of the 328 employees, 301 completed the questionnaire (91.8% response rate). The respondents’ socio-demographic information is summarised in Table 1. More than half (55.1%) of the respondents were in the 21-30 year age group; almost two thirds (63.1%) were women, and most were coloured (69.1%). About half of the respondents were single (46.2%), while 40.9% were married. Most had a diploma or lower qualification (83.1%). More than half of the respondents (53.2%) had worked at the company for one to five years.

The majority (n = 250; 83.1%) respondents indicated that they were aware of the EWP at the company, primarily via the in-house newsletter (27.2%) and word of mouth (20.0%) (Table 2).

Most of respondents (70.4%) were aware that the services of the EWP were confidential.  In addition, 137 (54.8%) of respondents who were aware of the EWP felt that the staff were highly qualified to provide the services offered (Table 2). Most (66.8%) of the respondents knew where to find the wellness department; however, 37.2% were not aware that most of the services were free (Table 2).

Of the 250 respondents who were aware of the EWP, only 93 (37.2%) indicated that they had experienced some problem in the past 24 months: the most cited were those for health management (67.7%), followed by psychosocial wellness (37.6%) (Table 3). Only 67 of the 93 (72.0%) indicated that they had consulted wellness programme staff about their problems: the majority had used the health management services (86.6%), followed by the psychosocial wellness services (68.7%) as shown in Table 4.

Those who did not use the EWP were asked to provide reasons for non-utilisation, in an open-ended question. Confidentiality concerns, and trustworthiness of staff, were reasons for staff not wanting to use the WP, although the main reason was the inconvenient times that the services were offered.   

“Yoga classes would be perfect, but we have to pay R60 per session. Classes are held during working hours and we are not able to move our lunches, as it’s very strict. Services like yoga and gym are not available before or after work, which is more suitable for most staff. They want us to be well, but on their terms or we must leave it!”

To assess attitudes towards the EWP, respondents were asked to rate the quality of service, EWP staff competence, location, and helpfulness. The majority of the respondents rated the quality of the services offered by the EWP, and the competency of staff, as excellent or good (94.1% and 91.1%, respectively). Most respondents (86.6%) found the location to be excellent or good. About half (49.3%) reported the helpfulness of the service as fair (Figure 1).

Gender, marital status and years of service were significantly associated with the use of the wellness programme (p<0.05) (Table 5), and were included in the stepwise logistic regression model (Table 6). Women were almost twice more likely to use the wellness programme services than men, although this was not statistically significant (OR=1.825, p=0.074). Those who were married or divorced were twice and 3.5 times more likely to use the wellness programme compared to single employees (OR=2.232, p=0.019 and OR=3.527, p=0.013, respectively). Those who indicated “other” as their marital status (n = 12) were 7.5 times more likely to use the wellness programme (OR=7.483, p=0.002).



The majority of respondents were aware of the EWP, indicating that the programme did well in making its existence known. In a previous study, it was suggested that if employees knew about the EWP and had exposure to it, their attitudes regarding the specific EWP would improve.12

Many of the respondents did not believe that the services were confidential. This finding concurs with those from other studies that reported that if employees felt that the service or service providers were not trustworthy and the service was not confidential, they would not participate whole-heartedly and would not gain maximum benefit from it. 11

Most respondents who had experienced problems in the past 24 months had sought help from the EWP. Researchers have argued that use is dependent on policies that are in place, with widespread distribution among all staff, as well as sufficient training of programme staff, and a focus on gender issues.10,13  The company in this study did have policies regarding the EWP. Women were almost twice more likely than men to use the EWP services. This is to be expected, as women are usually the first to seek assistance, from attending clinics to counselling and other services. In a previous study in America, it was found that focus on gender issues was one predictor of programme utilisation.14

Married employees were more likely to use the EWP. Reports on the use of health facilities by marital status differ. For example, a study in Ireland found that marital status had no significant impact on the use of a health facility.15 However, a study from Ghana showed that significantly more respondents (62.8%) in marriages utilised healthcare facilities within the study area than single people.16

In this study, it was found that those who knew how the EWP functioned were more likely to use it, compared to those who were less clear about how it functioned. This is to be expected since, if employees know about services offered, and require the services, the natural progression is to utilise the services.10

Employee attitudes and perceptions influence the effectiveness of workplace programmes.17 If employees perceive the programme to be good and beneficial, and if their attitudes towards the programme are positive, then, ultimately, their use will increase. This makes the programme effective in achieving its goal of getting more people to use it so that, ultimately, there is a mutually beneficial relationship for both the employer and employee. The EWP at the company in this study was, however, not optimally utilised. Although health management programmes are being used increasingly to manage healthcare costs and to reduce the risk of chronic conditions,18,19 many employees do not participate in these programmes.

Operating times were considered inconvenient. For example, services such as gym and yoga classes were offered during work hours but most employees were unable to utilise these services due to their work commitments. Others have also reported work-related barriers to participation in workplace programmes.1,11,20



Communication of the EWP needs to be improved. One inexpensive mode is communication via SMS since most, if not all employees, have cellular telephones. In addition, a dedicated section on the company’s intranet, containing all policies and communications regarding the EWP, should be developed. Confidentiality is a concern and the company needs to work on trust issues between employees and the EWP staff. Mechanisms should be put in place to make certain that employees perceive the EWP services as confidential and, at the same time, ensure that the EWP staff know the level of confidentiality required. The company cannot compromise on this issue. The timing of the services offered appears to be inconvenient. A suggestion is that lunch breaks of employees be flexible so that they can use the services that are offered during the day.



This study adds to the small body of literature on EWPs, in particular with regard to employee awareness, attitudes and utilisation in South Africa. The results of the study provide information that can be utilised to improve programmes.



•    Trustworthiness and confidentiality of the services offered and the staff providing the services are

     critical to the utilisation of EWPs

•    Communication to employees regarding EWPs needs to be readily available and easily accessible

•    If services are offered at inconvenient times, they will be under-utilised by employees



The authors declare no conflict of interest.  The authors have no affiliations to commercial organisations and there was no funding received for this study.  No medical writer was used in this study or in the preparation of this manuscript.



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