The implementation of a health risk management strategy : the case of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education
Sithole, Glen Bhekizizwe
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The well-being of employees is at the nucleus of Government’s ability to render quality services and to adhere to its constitutional mandate. Amongst the values and principles guiding public administration, as provided for in Section 195(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, is that good human resource management and career development practices should be cultivated, in order to maximise human potential. The same holds true for employees in the education sector, as without educators, there will be no teaching and learning. It is therefore important to uncover not only the causal factors impacting negatively upon employee health, but also the organisational risk behaviour and practices as well as the general health status of educators and officials in the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education (KZN DOE). While the Human Immuno Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) pandemic received global attention and necessary funding which led to the creation of capacity within the workplace, little was done to take care of other chronic diseases like tuberculosis (TB), depression and diabetes. Official reports of the KZN DOE confirmed that more and more educators and employees were succumbing to work stress, fatigue, low morale, over indebtedness and burn-out resulting in extended sick leave. What also became clearly apparent in this study is that some educators and employees were at times manipulating and abusing the sick leave policy by pretending to be sick while not being sick at all. Some educators would apply for medical boarding and be medically declared to be unfit to work. Ironically, shortly after the payout of the pension benefits to the said sick educators, they seem to recover speedily to open and operate their own businesses. To address these problems, the Department of Public Service and Administration, through collective bargaining, decided to revise the leave policy to include incapacity leave and outsourced the management of incapacity leave and ill-health retirement to an independent health risk manager. However, there are critical ill-health factors that had been overlooked and that require necessary attention of the executive management. The KZN DOE has the enviable challenge of managing the well-being of educators and employees within a working environment affected by chronic absenteeism as well as lifestyle diseases. This qualitative study was conducted within the KZN DOE with special reference to the Pinetown and Umlazi District Offices. The aim of the study was to determine whether the implementation of the health risk management strategy over the past few years by the KZN DOE has yielded the desirable and intended outcomes. In addition, this study was conducted to interrogate the challenges faced by the department in the effective implementation and management of policies and procedures on sick leave to curb absenteeism. The study provides critical information with regards to the underlying human characteristics which form the basis of human behaviour. It also points to the need for the executive management to consider employee health and wellness as a strategic human resource management function worthy of adequate financial resource allocation. It is clear from this study that the provision of quality education, teaching and learning and effective service delivery are dependent upon employee wellness. This will translate in healthy educators and employees who work in a generally conducive work environment. During the course of this research project, it was revealed that the KZN DOE experienced an increase in the number of educators and employees who utilise sick leave and incapacity leave. This challenge results in additional costs because of substitute educators who have to be appointed to teach learners while sick educators are on leave. Apart from the additional expenditure, the relatively unhealthy work environment has become a concern for the department, hence the decision was made to explore strategies to deal with employee health and wellness in an integrated and holistic manner. As a consequence, the KZN DOE implemented a health risk management strategy as an intervention measure.