Make Employee Wellbeing a Top Business Mandate – HR trends 2021 and “the next normal”

I wrote a blog recently, where I referred to an article released earlier this year around HR trends for 2021, and how we have moved into this so-called “next normal” of work.

I unpacked what the concept “the next normal” meant and went on to share what trends were identified in the piece. If you haven’t read the previous blog and want some context – click here

I promised I would then unpack each trend in separate posts. Discuss if the trend is completely relevant in South Africa, and how, and why we might experience the trend differently locally.

In this post, we are going to focus on trend number one identified in the Forbes article – Make Employee Wellbeing a Top Business Mandate.

I 100% agree with this one but believe employee wellbeing in South Africa extends outside and further than just the workplace. The research from the Forbes article showed that workers are feeling burned out, overworked and have concerns over job security.

While on the surface I would agree that the same is applicable here, but for the reason I mentioned above – these feelings are not only directly linked to our work environment. We are often dealing with non-work-related realities that have a knock-on effect on our employee’s wellbeing.  

Unfortunately, job security is not a concern, it’s a reality. Research has shown that just in the informal sector, one in two jobs were lost as a result of COVID in South Africa. In a country with an already high unemployment rate, those that are employed in many instances financially supported more than one household. This means the impact of job losses reaches much further than an individual’s immediate family. We are talking about relatives, close friends and communities feeling the after effects of any job loss. 

Let’s move on to the topic of burnout and stress. I experienced this personally in my business recently. I could physically see and feel the tension and emotions my employees were experiencing. When the third wave hit, the impact of the virus was much closer to home than it was before. We then went into another lockdown, followed shortly by the political unrest that resulted in looting and violence across the country in July. We were all dealing with this onslaught of concerns and emotions which hit us all at once. This understandably had a significant impact on people’s morale, output and ability to solve problems for a future, that at that moment they felt so unsure about.

While, South Africans are unbelievably resilient, we cannot ignore that things like the political landscape, healthcare availability, infrastructure and larger economic challenges impact our staff on a personal level daily. It’s inevitable then that the consequences of these factors will overspill into the workplace.

Here’s a simple example that comes to mind. When we experience long periods of load shedding, working remotely is a big challenge. Many individuals don’t have the means to set themselves up with generators or any other backup systems to keep the power on. This means that something as simple as a laptop’s battery life compromises productivity.

Employee well-being in South Africa is not only looking at what will make the workplace more comfortable and fun. We need to start seriously finding ways of dealing with the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of our staff. While these things are often included in these programmes – they now need to become the primary focus in your employee wellbeing strategies. And, while I know that these types of programmes and activities should be revisited and tweaked regularly based on circumstance – I don’t see this element losing rank anytime soon.