Thanks to stigmas around mental health increasingly being removed, there is greater scope for those in high-stress occupations to seek help where needed.
South Africa’s private security industry, which includes some 10 000 companies and almost 2.7-million registered personnel, is among the sectors transitioning to a greater focus on physical, mental and emotional well-being.
It has become apparent that general wellness is pivotal to security officers being able to carry out their duties effectively, particularly in a nation where violent contract crimes like murder and rape are all too common.
As industrial psychologist Dr Gerhard Schoeman has noted, people whose jobs put them in life-threatening situations understandably experience far more stress than others. Without having the necessary coping mechanisms, there could be negative outcomes for themselves, company and community.
Equipping security personnel with such mechanisms requires extensive training.
Managing stress is not something that can be learnt overnight, nor can the ability to handle traumatic situations. It requires a focused mind and willingness to do the work over time.
This is where training comes in.
With so many security officers nationally, it is not easy for companies to ensure they receive wellness training. However, the growth of eLearning is certainly playing a role in reaching more personnel than ever before.
Michael Hanly, MD of South African learning solutions provider New Leaf Technologies, says aside from the ability to offer online training to personnel no matter where they are in the country, there are numerous other advantages to this model.
A great benefit of eLearning is its flexibility. Irregular schedules are part of the security industry, so for personnel to be able to access wellness training at their convenience is a big plus.
“Another factor is the privacy that is offered. Particularly in a sector where men and women often have to put on a brave face as they go out each day or night, being able to access wellness resources discreetly is of considerable value.”
The ability to track progress is also crucial for officers. Taking part in programmes is all very well and good but unless a real difference is being made in their lives, there is little point to the courses.
“What is particularly pleasing about modern learning management systems, like the aNewSpring platform for example, is that a variety of resources can be included in the wellness programmes. These can range from video modules on stress management to interactive sessions on mindfulness,” Hanly says.
Importantly, security companies should make use of learning management systems that yield results, and there are a variety of criteria to consider. These include:
- Employee feedback: Companies should hear from security personnel themselves on whether the system is working or not.
- Absenteeism: Lower rates of absenteeism and staff turnover may indicate improved wellness.
- Well-being metrics: Physical and mental health indicators like mood and stress levels should be tracked; and
- Performance metrics: The company can establish if the system is working if officers show improvement in their jobs and enjoy better relationships with their colleagues.
Security work can be extremely taxing and its impact on individuals should not be taken lightly, Hanly says.
However, introducing formal programmes that are easily accessible is a positive step in creating a mentally resilient security workforce that makes good decisions in an emergency.