Is employee wellness the key to thriving in the next Industrial Revolution?


The workplace is changing rapidly. Training, supporting and retaining the right people remains critical to the success of any company – especially with a revolution making waves.

New technologies are developing exponentially, making the present and future a period of great potential for the global workplace and its workforce. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is already combining advances in artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printing, robotics, genetic engineering, the Internet of Things, big data and other technologies, collectively transforming traditional ways of doing business and industries at large.

Leading employers know that the true value and potential of a business lies in the collective strength and talent of its employees. And, with the 4IR on the horizon, it’s the most innovative and adaptable businesses that will thrive.

We sat down with Zaid Margroes, Head of Industrial Relations and Employee Wellness at Discovery, to learn more about the shared responsibility that employers and employees have in ensuring they don’t get ‘left behind’ in the face of a rapidly evolving technological present and future.

Q: How will the 4IR affect the South African workplace?

Zaid: South Africa is a place where innovation is necessary, and I believe there are more opportunities now than there have ever been before. Many people are fearful that robotics and AI are going to ‘take their jobs’, but that’s not quite how it will play out. We will coexist with artificial intelligence and, if we know how to manage them well, these technologies can improve our work in multiple ways. It's important that we understand this change and accept it, because it's already happening.

Q: How can employees prepare for the 4IR and continue to add value?

Zaid: While some specific job functions within a role can be replaced by machines, there will still be functions for humans to perform, plus brand new jobs that didn’t exist a few decades ago. For example, data scientists and social media strategists are now some of the most sought-after employees in the world. The world of work will simply be different, and people will need to think about how they currently add value, how that might change, and how they can adapt, to not get left behind.

The truth is, we will all need to augment our current skill set for the 4IR. So we need to research and link what the changing job market requires with our natural affinities, and almost pre-empt the future by asking, ‘What will someone with my job or skills be doing a decade from now, and how?’ We then need to start building our skill sets with that future-morphed role in mind, so we are ready to take on new challenges and positions when they come. This will require flexibility and resilience on many levels – which is why investing in employee wellness now is so key.

Q: How are preparedness for the 4IR and employee wellness linked?

Zaid: Wellness is a broad concept. It can refer to an employee’s physical health, emotional and mental wellbeing, social and community engagement, financial and legal stability. Being well across all aspects of life makes people more grounded, calm and capable – this obviously reflects positively in their work performance and reliability.

Employees who are holistically healthy are better able to handle change – and your business will lean on their strength, resilience, ingenuity and dedication in times of economic, social and industrial upheaval.

Q: Apart from performance, are there other upshots to investing in employee wellness?

Zaid: Absolutely. When employees are listened to and well looked-after, employers creates a sense of belonging and foster immense loyalty. So, employers need to open up platforms for employees to become engaged and contribute – and they need to show these platforms are taken seriously. When employees feel that their ideas are valuable, this affirmation starts a virtuous cycle that adds to their overall wellbeing.

They engage more readily and creatively with work - which is critical, particularly in a small business set-up.

It does take time and effort to grow your employees through recognition and support – but it is worth it because these people become personal ambassadors for your brand. Their engagement in their work spills over into their personal lives and they are willing to go the extra mile at work when that’s what’s called for. That is the kind of employee you both want and need heading into the 4IR.

Invest in your employee's wellness today

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