Maintaining organisational health during COVID-19

13 August 2020 | Story Nadia Krige. Photo Adobe Stock. Read time 7 min.
Organisational Health and Wellness keeps tabs on the general health of UCT’s staff members.
Organisational Health and Wellness keeps tabs on the general health of UCT’s staff members.

With a deadly virus wreaking global havoc, enforced home-bound isolation and a general sense of unease, the past few months have had a crippling effect on the well-being of many. At the University of Cape Town (UCT), Staff Organisational Health and Wellness – a division of Human Resources – is at the ready to support both individual staff members and teams in times of crisis.

Since South Africa’s battle against COVID-19 started in March this year and lockdown measures were enforced, the uncertainty and utter strangeness of the situation has taken its toll on the country’s workforce. Working from home has posed a challenge for many, while others have simply been unable to continue their jobs during this time. Among UCT’s academic and professional, administrative support and service (PASS) staff, high levels of stress and burnout have been reported.

It is precisely for times like these, where staff members could benefit from additional support, that Organisational Health and Wellness was established. In a recent Senior Staff Management Advisory Group (SSMag) meeting, Margie Tainton, who heads up staff health and wellness at UCT, and Dr Tony Davidson, an external consultant in organisational health, shared a few insights about the general well-being of UCT’s staff and the uptake of health support services during this time.

Health dashboard

Working closely with service providers like Discovery Health, which provides medical aid cover to 53% of UCT staff members; Kaelo Health, which provides primary health cover to over 1 200 staff; Independent Counselling and Advisory Services (ICAS); the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG); and UCT’s occupational health services, the Organisational Health and Wellness Office is able to keep tabs on the general health of staff members.


“What we’ve developed over the years is a health indicator dashboard.”

“We have an organisational health consultative forum where we meet with healthcare providers on a quarterly basis,” said Tainton. “What we’ve developed over the years is a health indicator dashboard.”

As Davidson explains, the dashboard is a means of documenting organisational health activities at UCT and their outcomes. It provides information on everything from the adoption rate of wellness programmes like Discovery Vitality to the numbers of staff members who have been hospitalised, incapacitated or passed away during a specific quarter.

It also offers insight into the screening, prevalence and treatment of lifestyle conditions, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and HIV, as well as psychosocial ailments. Currently, there is not enough data available from service providers about COVID-19 to add to the dashboard, but Davidson says this will be added to the dashboard in due course.

Psychosocial support during a pandemic

Of course, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures, the wellness drives and screening programmes that would normally have been available to staff members on campus have come to a halt. Psychosocial support, however, is still available from both ICAS and SADAG, albeit telephonic and online instead of the usual face-to-face sessions.


“In Q2 – the lockdown – the actual engagement with ICAS has dropped quite dramatically. That is of concern.”

Unfortunately, the uptake of these services among staff members has been somewhat disappointing.

“In Q2 – the lockdown – the actual engagement with ICAS has dropped quite dramatically. That is of concern,” said Davidson.

During the first quarter ICAS reported an engagement rate of 17,4% with UCT staff members. This took the form of 93 telephone calls, 55 face-to-face sessions and 99 group participants. The engagement rate dropped to 7,5% during the second quarter, consisting of 101 telephonic contacts, 19 face-to-face sessions, six online sessions and five group participants.

“A lot of the work that was done in the first quarter was about group work,” explained Davidson. “This involved going into particular areas where there had been a death in service or where there was a problem with team dynamics. Obviously, that had to drop off now.”


“During the second quarter, the symptom complexes ICAS dealt with were largely stress-related – specifically individuals battling to maintaining a work–life balance”

During the second quarter, the symptom complexes ICAS dealt with were largely stress-related – specifically individuals battling to maintaining a work–life balance while working from home and interpersonal issues with partners or family members.

ICAS has been able to assist UCT staff members through various well-developed programmes focusing specifically on life in lockdown and reintegration into the workplace post-lockdown.

Similar to ICAS, SADAG also reported a drop in engagements, from 414 in the first quarter to 347 in the second quarter.

Depression and anxiety were the top two issues that SADAG dealt with during this time. These were related to dealing with COVID-19, feelings of isolation and a sense of being “trapped” at home. Unfortunately, there were also a number of calls related to gender-based violence, which Davidson said is “of grave concern.”


“Depression and anxiety were the top two issues that SADAG dealt with during this time. These were related to dealing with COVID-19.”

As with ICAS, SADAG has various programmes in place to support staff members. These include dealing with substance abuse during COVID-19, the psychological impact of COVID-19 and mental health during lockdown.

Return to UCT in numbers

Organisational Health and Wellness has also been assisting the COVID-19 Coordinating Committee (CCC) with the Return to UCT programme. This has involved tracking and tracing staff members who have contracted the virus and offering support to bereaved families of staff members who have passed away.

In preparation for the second semester, which started on 2 August 2020, UCT’s Occupational Health Clinic sent out a COVID-19 questionnaire to those staff members and postgraduates who were invited to return to campus. It was answered by 1 440 people – 991 staff and 449 postgraduates.

The questionnaire is being used to assess whether it is safe for these staff members or postgraduates to return to campus.

Staff members who have any queries about returning to campus safely or need advice on counselling for psychosocial support can contact Blanche Claasen-Hoskins from Staff Organisational Health and Wellness.

Contact detail for ICAS and SADAG are available on the Human Resources website.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.

Coronavirus Disease 2019 updates

COVID-19 is a global pandemic that caused President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster in South Africa on 15 March and implement a national lockdown from 26 March.

UCT is taking the threat of infection in our university community extremely seriously, and this page will be updated regularly with the latest COVID-19 information.

Campus updates

  •  Information
  •  Normal
  •  Caution
  •  Alert

Daily updates

Friday, 5 February 14:20, 5 February 2021
Monday, 4 January 16:50, 4 January 2021
Friday, 18 December 11:30, 18 December 2020
Thursday, 19 November 09:30, 19 November 2020
Friday, 13 November 12:40, 13 November 2020
Friday, 16 October 10:05, 16 October 2020
Wednesday, 14 October 12:50, 14 October 2020
Tuesday, 22 September 14:10, 22 September 2020
Friday, 11 September 10:05, 11 September 2020
Monday, 31 August 12:20, 31 August 2020
Wednesday, 12 August 10:20, 12 August 2020
Friday, 7 August 11:24, 7 August 2020
Thursday, 6 August 18:26, 6 August 2020
Monday, 27 July 14:00, 27 July 2020
Wednesday, 15 July 09:30, 15 July 2020
Monday, 13 July 14:25, 13 July 2020
Monday, 6 July 16:20, 6 July 2020
Thursday, 25 June 10:15, 25 June 2020
Tuesday, 23 June 12:30, 23 June 2020
Thursday, 18 June 17:35, 18 June 2020
Wednesday, 17 June 10:45, 17 June 2020
Tuesday, 2 June 12:20, 2 June 2020
Friday, 29 May 09:25, 29 May 2020
Monday, 25 May 14:00, 25 May 2020
Thursday, 21 May 12:00, 21 May 2020
Wednesday, 6 May 10:00, 6 May 2020
Tuesday, 5 May 17:05, 5 May 2020
Thursday, 30 April 17:10, 30 April 2020
Tuesday, 28 April 10:30, 28 April 2020
Friday, 24 April 09:35, 24 April 2020
Thursday, 23 April 17:00, 23 April 2020
Wednesday, 22 April 14:25, 22 April 2020
Monday, 20 April 17:45, 20 April 2020
Friday, 17 April 12:30, 17 April 2020
Thursday, 16 April 09:45, 16 April 2020
Tuesday, 14 April 11:30, 14 April 2020
Thursday, 9 April 09:00, 9 April 2020
Wednesday, 8 April 15:40, 8 April 2020
Wednesday, 1 April 15:50, 1 April 2020
Friday, 27 March 11:40, 27 March 2020
Thursday, 26 March 18:30, 26 March 2020
Tuesday, 24 March 15:40, 24 March 2020
Monday, 23 March 15:40, 23 March 2020
Friday, 20 March 16:00, 20 March 2020
Thursday, 19 March 09:15, 19 March 2020
Wednesday, 18 March 16:00, 18 March 2020
Tuesday, 17 March 12:50, 17 March 2020
Monday, 16 March 17:15, 16 March 2020

Campus communications

New SRC and other updates 16:44, 4 November 2020
Virtual graduation ceremonies 13:30, 21 October 2020
Online staff assembly and other updates 15:09, 30 September 2020
Fee adjustments and other updates 15:21, 16 September 2020
Call for proposals: TLC2020 10:15, 26 August 2020
SAULM survey and other updates 15:30, 5 August 2020
COVID-19 cases and other updates 15:26, 5 August 2020
New UCT Council and other updates 15:12, 15 July 2020
Upcoming UCT virtual events 09:30, 15 July 2020
Pre-paid data for UCT students 14:25, 22 April 2020
Update for postgraduate students 12:55, 20 April 2020
UCT Human Resources and COVID-19 16:05, 19 March 2020
UCT confirms second COVID-19 case 09:15, 19 March 2020
Update on UCT COVID-19 response 13:50, 11 March 2020
Update on COVID-19 17:37, 6 March 2020


Video messages from the Department of Medicine

Getting credible, evidence-based, accessible information and recommendations relating to COVID-19

The Department of Medicine at the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital, are producing educational video material for use on digital platforms and in multiple languages. The information contained in these videos is authenticated and endorsed by the team of experts based in the Department of Medicine. Many of the recommendations are based on current best evidence and are aligned to provincial, national and international guidelines. For more information on UCT’s Department of Medicine, please visit the website.

To watch more videos like these, visit the Department of Medicine’s YouTube channel.

Useful information from UCT

External resources

News and opinions

Statements and media releases

Media releases

Read more  

Statements from Government


In an email to the UCT community, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said:
“COVID-19, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, is a rapidly changing epidemic. [...] Information [...] will be updated as and when new information becomes available.”


We are continuing to monitor the situation and we will be updating the UCT community regularly – as and when there are further updates. If you are concerned or need more information, students can contact the Student Wellness Service on 021 650 5620 or 021 650 1271 (after hours), while staff can contact 021 650 5685.