Keeping employees happy is essential to ensure a high level of work productivity

Employee wellbeing is important in any organisation aiming for maximum productivity from their employees.

Employee wellbeing is important in any organisation aiming for maximum productivity from their employees.

To achieve this most big businesses have established employee assistance programmes (EAPs) that help staff members cope with the stresses of either their work or their private lives.

Sihle Zulu is an EAP coordinator at DaimlerChrysler South Africa in East London. She is tasked with making sure that the company helps employees struggling with psychosocial issues that might affect their performance at work.

Problematic issues can range from marital problems to HIV-Aids, substance abuse and financial difficulties.

Zulu's duties vary from day to day, depending on what is planned for the week. In a typical week she will organise campaigns aimed at raising TB awareness, voluntary counselling and testing for HIV and promoting condom use.

She also does walkabouts in the factory to check that educational material is displayed and is accessible to employees, distributes condoms, attends meetings and forms relationships with other service providers who might be helpful when they need to refer employees.

Informal conversations with employees that promote visibility of the coordinator are very crucial. This helps to relax employees should they ever need to consult with the coordinator.

An EAP coordinator also arranges training for peer educators to make sure they get updated information on HIV-Aids. Peer educators are employees who have volunteered to be educators and get training and support from the EAP coordinator. Their function is to educate and support fellow employees who are infected with or affected by HIV-Aids.

Zulu has been helping employees since 2001 when DaimlerChrysler launched its HIV-Aids peer educator programme. In 2004, when she completed her honours degree in Industrial Psychology and started working in the human resources department, she got an opportunity to add HIV-Aids site coordinating to her tasks.

The job of an EAP coordinator is not contained within the normal eight-hour working day, which can be challenging.

"You have to be willing to work more than eight hours as you sometimes get people calling for support after working hours," says Zulu.

"And you have to have dedication and love for the job."

Anybody who wants to be effective as an employee assistance practitioner must be sympathetic to other people's needs, assertive, open-minded, organised, have good stress management skills, and be able to keep issues confidential.

The job of looking after people's wellness came naturally for Zulu, who hails from a family of nurses and social workers. Aside from the fulfilment that comes with helping others, Zulu says her job has helped her understand different cultures and personalities better.

"I become better at my job with every encounter," she says.

Clients leaving sessions feeling better about themselves and successful campaigns and workshops that have made a difference is somebody's life are what Zulu loves most about her job.