CHRO Themba Chakela has a passion for ‘people bias’


The mental health of employees should be prioritised – not romanticised, he says.

In an ever-changing world, HR leaders should always remember that the first letter in HR stands for “human” and act accordingly. So says Themba Chakela, chief people officer at BlueSky.

It’s not surprising then that it was Themba’s “people bias” that underpinned his studies, starting with an undergraduate degree in Social Science (clinical and industrial psychology), followed by an honours in human resources and a postgraduate diploma in organisation and management. This was all done through the University of Cape Town.

Themba then went on to complete an MBA through Henley Business School.

“I think that sort of started my love affair with people as a crucial ingredient, untapped mineral, and final frontier of business,” he said.

Themba is also passionate about transformation and change management, explaining that as organisations adapt and focus on their digital strategies, the nature of work will also pivot. “HR leaders are having to redefine what the digital HR agenda means in an ever-changing context,” he says.

He does, however, caution that the pressures of the digital era can result in HR losing focus and drifting away from the lived experience of employees, as organisations double down on the digital transformation agenda.

“As work and life continue to intertwine, we are all experiencing new and different pressures, and the human condition has become ultimately more fragile. You can find yourself snapping at your child when they don’t deserve it because you’ve just finished a tough meeting on Zoom or MS Teams and they happened to walk into the room. Everybody is going through some stuff,” he explains.

An intentional approach

This is one of the key reasons Themba believes that organisations should prioritise the mental health of employees – and not just romanticise the idea of “taking care of staff”. Actively supporting and enabling adaptive work-life integration is key.

He says that 2022 was a difficult year, with post-Covid-19 pressure and the rush on many fronts to “return to the office” and establish the “new” normal.

Therefore, Themba’s focus for this year is to take an intentional approach that balances the human capacity for change with the business strategy goals and objectives – without compromising the focus on emotional and mental health.

“It’s okay to slow down, find some roses somewhere and smell them. We all aggressively rushed to ‘normalise’ and that comes with the risk of losing ourselves,” he says.

He adds, “The new normal is an ever-changing one: awareness that not everyone will respond in the same way or is equally ready for it is important.”


Themba started his career at Makro as a graduate trainee and later moved into the project and technology team as a change analyst. Makro was also where he first started to understand and work with the intricacies of human resources as a direct link to project, technology and business success.

His proudest moment in that role was automating and systemising various functions within the workplace – positively influencing the way people did and felt about their work.

He then did some work in change management practice at a global systems integrator before becoming the change and training lead at Britehouse. He later joined their executive team as the “people guy”.

After spending a couple of years scaling that business, Themba joined Dimension Data and fulfilled both global and regional roles there, both in the Middle East and Africa. Next, he stepped into the role of general manager, ways of working at Transnet, before taking on his current role at BlueSky.

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