MEET: Abongile Mcoteli, Senior Employee Well-Being Practitioner at EWP@UP

Posted on August 06, 2021

Abongile Mcoteli, Senior Employee Well-Being Practitioner at EWP@UP, tells us why she gave up her private practice to join UP and why she is passionate about employee wellness.

Where did you work prior to joining UP?

Over the span of two decades, I have worked in various fields since qualifying as a social worker. I have worked in NGOs, and in the public and private sectors in South Africa and England. I have experience in health, education, social development, children and families, mental health, disabilities, the HIV/AIDS sector, and now in employee wellness. I have been part of multidisciplinary teams, dealing with individuals from birth to adulthood. The social work training equipped me with skills that can be transferred into different disciplines.

What attracted you to UP?

UP grew into me so much that I gave up my private practice to take on the role of a wellness practitioner within the Employee Wellness Programme (EWP). I joined EWP@UP as a sessional worker, rendering individual counselling; this included trauma debriefing. I have always loved transferring knowledge, whether formally or informally. I am a “why” and “how” person, and have always been drawn to learning and development. What better place to do that than at the hub of knowledge, where most academics and professional staff are always happy to share their knowledge. As a research-intensive university, UP feeds my curious mind. 

What does your day-to-day role entail?

No two days are the same and there are no dull moments in my working day. Tasks differ, from responding to enquiries about EWP services to selling EWP services and debunking myths about seeking help. Occasionally, I need to respond to a trauma debrief – less so, since there are fewer staff members on campus – or attend to walk-in counselling enquiries. I also plan and coordinate the virtual weekly activities, research content for our monthly wellness activities and engage with service providers who provide the various wellness activities. It is also important for me to attend virtual training and follow current trends in the wellness space in South Africa and globally. Finally, I spend time evaluating our services and exploring different modalities to better service the UP community.

Why is the EWP important and how does the UP community benefit from it?

EWP@UP is designed to promote a wellness culture among UP employees. We all go through periods when life throws us off course. Various life circumstances can impact on our functioning and performance at work and on our personal life. When that happens, we need a safe space to offload, reflect and realign our thoughts and feelings so that we can continue as the high-performing individuals that we are or can be. We need to foster a culture where we should feel safe to say “I am not okay” and know where to get help without feeling judged.

In terms of wellness services, EWP@UP offers health risk assessments that focus on the prevention, early identification and treatment of health conditions, as well as lifestyle diseases awareness groups, which offer awareness and psycho-education about healthy living and lifestyle disease. Also, lunch talks create awareness of a variety of health-related topics, and fitness classes encourage a more active lifestyle.

What would you like to improve in your section/department and why?

I would like to have access to more resources to enable us to extend our services to everyone who needs them so that we don’t have to refuse services to any staff members.

What do you enjoy most about your job and why?

The human element is central to what we do. I enjoy interacting with various UP employees, whether they are enquiring about EWP services or getting information for me about the various services and resources available within UP. I also enjoy engaging with internal and external stakeholders, and exploring mutually beneficial collaborations. Exploring different alternatives to make EWP services meaningful or more relevant to various levels of employees at UP is also exciting.

What is your least favourite part of the job?

When I have to say “sorry, we can’t help” and not be in a position to offer an acceptable alternative. Filing is the least exciting part of the job – I have to give myself a pep talk and a bribe to do it!

What do you do in your free time?

I love gardening, weather permitting; spending time with family and friends; and playing Heads Up, Charades, Scrabble and 30 Seconds.

What is your advice to colleagues with regard to the pitfalls encountered in the workplace?

It’s important to understand the relevance of your role in terms of the wider vision of the organisation, no matter how insignificant your job might feel. This makes you feel relevant and valuable. It helps to keep one motivated and carry out your duties passionately, even when no one is watching or giving you a pat on the back. Also,  find a healthy integration between your work life and your personal life. 

What are your personal likes and dislikes?

I am curious and adventurous – I like to explore different alternatives to tackling issues. I like to have a sense of purpose and meaning in everything I do. I dislike malicious behaviour, dishonesty and close-mindedness.

Quick quiz:

Sport: Swimming and aqua aerobics. I find being in the pool supportive yet liberating.

Food: I love traditional African dishes. I enjoy trying out different dishes from different African countries.

Movies: Disney cartoons, all the Shrek movies, Ice Age and Blended 

Music: My love for music is diverse – it’s very mood-dependent. I love music that I can interact with, and mbaqanga and maskandi do that for me. I enjoy Ed Sheeran, Brandon Lake and reggae.

Actors: Taraji P Henson, Melissa McCarthy, Adam Sandler

Hero: Street vendors seem to always “make a plan” to maintain a competitive edge. Despite the weather, they don’t abandon their grind; they are always cheerful and encouraging. They go out of their way for a win-win and will make their customer feel like they are a priority.

- Author Jimmy Masombuka

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