Mapping out the way to wellness

ONE of the greatest challenges South Africa faces today is the growing prevalence of chronic illnesses, including HIV and Aids, which accounts for millions being spent on healthcare.

To deal with this employers are taking action, pioneering programmes to engage employees in healthy behaviors by making changes to workplace environments and offering workers support.

At Absa, group wellness specialist Wezi Khoza is at the forefront of setting new trends in workplace wellness.

Khoza, who is a nurse by profession, has had an extensive career in health.

She began as a nurse at Baragwanath Hospital in 1994 and left in 1998 when she was a senior nursing lecturer to join Old Mutual as a sales representative.

She later joined SAA as a senior manager for training and development and left after she had reached executive level.

This solid background in healthcare and then in the the financial field helped her to scoop the top job as Absa's group wellness specialist.

Khoza's knowledge of health issues with her numerous qualifications and certifications, which include an honours degree in nursing and an MBA, have been handy in her job.

The 54-year-old mother of two, who grew up in Alexandra township, says she was motivated to get into the wellness field by her desire to help workers create a lifestyle that would support comprehensive health, self-empowerment and happiness.

Khoza says her department uses powerful wellness coaching methods and processes - combined with evidence-based solutions - to encourage self-reliance in managing health challenges.

"Healthy and sound-minded workers give good service to clients.

"Our approach helps prevent disease and helps to optimise workers' health through sensible lifestyle choices.

"We live in a country where people take serious risks.

"It is important to have a wellness programme at the workplace. Workplace wellness centres should be a point of contact before you even refer. "

Khoza says her team deals with issues such as health education awareness, weight loss, nutrition, fitness, stress management, smoking cessation, alcohol and drug abuse counselling, preventative education, diet, de-stressing, physical activity, and social support based on personal health and wellness goals.

She is responsible for more than 20 wellness specialists in all Absa branches around Africa run by qualified wellness specialists.

"Our duty is to assess a broad array of simple to complex health symptoms, analyse the root causes to develop personalised health and wellness programmes that deliver lasting results for our employees."

She maintains an ongoing focus of educating people on making good health choices and on the long-term benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

"My passion is to coach people toward a lifestyle that is well-balanced and filled with happiness and power.

"The aim is to provide hope and encouragement within the employees' world."

With this workload, how does she maintain her own wellness?

Khoza says she spends her spare time helping the needy by assisting in private welfare programmes. She adds that she is also a social golfer.

But mainly, her two children rock her world.

"My children are such a joy to mother.

"I'm fortunate to have responsible children who don't stress me!"