As a former social worker turned lawyer, Master of Laws graduate, Ms Pamella Mlonzi is using both her expertise and experience in these areas to focus on the prevalence of depression as a mental health issue affecting employees in the workplace.
The Director of her own Law firm, Pam and Partners Inc, who has 10 years’ working experience at the Department of Social Development, is using her research study to advocate for employers and all relevant stakeholders to work together in supporting employees suffering from depression by applying reasonable accommodation in accordance with labour laws.
‘Pandemics such as COVID-19, and loss of lives and incomes further contributed to declining economic activities and drastically affected the mental wellness of the majority of workers. This means employers are directly affected and are expected to make certain adjustments to accommodate employees who are suffering from depression,’ said Mlonzi.
The study is titled: Effects of Depression in the Workplace and Retainability of Employees through Reasonable Accommodation. It highlights that there has been a surge in depression diagnosis and the World Health Organization has acknowledged it as a disability likely to affect individuals holistically for different reasons, including workplace pressures. The research study was supervised by Ms Nicci Whitear-Nel.
‘Mental illnesses, like depression, are more prevalent these days than in the past and it is certainly costing the employers productivity either through absenteeism or presentism (which is caused by attending work while unwell and yielding no profitable results). The balance of focusing on the interests of the employers and that of employees is a difficult one yet it remains very critical. Mental health issues ought to be addressed with sensitivity to eliminate stigmatization and discrimination,’ said Mlonzi.
While she had to extend her studies by an extra six months due to the pressures of being a candidate attorney, a wife and a mother of three while studying during a pandemic, Mlonzi is proud she persevered.
‘When I decided to enrol for my master’s, I knew it would be a stretch for my family to sacrifice another two to three years for my studies,’ she said. ‘During this time, I also gave birth to my last born, which meant doing studies and nursing an infant. I can’t thank my supportive husband enough for helping to hold the fort all these years and ensuring that our children’s homework was done while I was attending evening classes. I’m also grateful to my supportive wider family and friends.’
Words: Thandiwe Jumo
Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan