How SA businesses can support women’s mental health
22 Aug, 2023

Gary Feldman, Executive Head of Healthcare Consulting at NMG Benefits


Women face unique mental health challenges in the workplace due to societal expectations, work-related stressors and personal responsibilities. In fact, more than half of women say their mental health is a concern – and it’s influencing their physical health as well.


According to Deloitte’s Women @ Work Global Outlook survey, only just over half (54%) of women say their physical health is good – down from 65% in 2022 – and less than half (42%) rate their work/life balance as good or extremely good.


That’s where Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) can be a critical tool in supporting women’s mental health in the workplace, says Gary Feldman, NMG’s Executive Head of Healthcare Consulting.


“It’s vital that businesses recognise the specific mental health needs of their female workforces. An EAP can help break the stigma surrounding mental health, provide support and foster a healthier work environment for women, in the process destigmatising mental health and boosting productivity and workplace morale,” said Feldman.


Mental health challenges women face in the workplace


The SA Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) estimates that approximately 17 million South Africans have mental health issues. Women are particularly susceptible to developing depression and anxiety, and face burnout as they try to manage their careers and their household responsibilities. According to Deloitte’s Women @ Work report, 40% of South African women said they were experiencing burnout, and 51% said their stress levels were higher than the previous year.


Tailoring EAPs to address women’s mental health


Most EAPs offer a wide variety of services and support. These services include psychological support for workplace stress and burnout, personal challenges at home, legal support, financial coaching and general health and wellness. All services provided are strictly confidential.


“The mental health of women is often overlooked when structuring EAP packages, which is why it is important to think about customising EAPs to cater to women’s unique needs by considering factors like reproductive health, maternity support and career advancement challenges,” said Feldman.


Promoting EAP usage to break the stigma


Employees often avoid using EAPs because they think their colleagues will judge them. Some fear they will be discriminated against by their employer, their manager or their co-workers. Research has also shown that some employees are sceptical when it comes to confidentiality.


“To overcome this stigma, you must understand the common myths and misconceptions that may influence your employees’ perceptions and attitudes towards EAPs. For example, some employees may think that EAPs are only for people with serious problems; that using EAPs are a sign of weakness or failure; or that using EAPs will negatively impact their career prospects,” said Feldman.


NMG suggests four approaches to promote EAPs in the workplace:


  • Regularly raise awareness: communicate the services offered to keep building awareness. EAPs should be an onboarding element, with ongoing communication highlighting various services offered to the female workforce in particular.
  • Highlight confidentiality: in every communication, the confidentiality of the services should be highlighted to reinforce that the offering can be trusted. Showing how many people have already used the EAP services may encourage others to follow suit.
  • Create a culture that supports women’s mental health: employers should build a supportive environment for women by highlighting specific female-related services that are offered. This should form part of the company culture and identity.
  • Remind employees that the EAP services are free: there is often a misconception that EAP services come at a cost. Make sure employees understand that the employer covers the costs.


“It’s important to foster a supportive and inclusive workplace culture for all employees. When it comes to women in the workplace and mental health, EAPs can provide timely interventions that prevent mental health issues from escalating,” said Feldman.





@Gary Feldman
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