CHROs discuss how Covid-19 flipped organisational culture on its head

CHROs now have to manage employees’ emotional and psychological states, an HR Indaba Network panel found.

At an Impact Session at this year’s HR Indaba Network titled Culture Concoction – The Impact of Covid-19 on Organisational Culture, CHROs shared how the pandemic has not only had a severe impact on the balance sheet of organisations, but it has also affected their culture and the working experience of employees.

A baptism by fire
Malisha Awunor (pictured), EOH HR director, had a particularly challenging experience, having joined EOH just eight weeks before national lockdowns were imposed. “To call starting my new role as HR director just before lockdowns a baptism by fire is an understatement,” she said. “I got more phone calls asking me what I was doing taking the job rather than phone calls congratulating me!”

She added that she’s a firm believer that someone is either part of the solution or part of the problem and she saw this as an opportunity to make an impact at EOH. Managing employees at this time was a huge challenge, but they came together to come up with a plan.

Her most challenging task joining the team was managing pay cuts, which required a consultative approach to best handle the situation. “After having our consultations, we added up with pay cuts across the board. We had to keep our most vulnerable employees in mind,” she shared.

Some of the solutions introduced included special Covid-19 relief, Covid-19 family responsibility relief, non-cashable relief (in view of days not working) and Covid-19 shares.

EOH had to be very agile in trying to minimise the impact of the pandemic on their staff. Going the extra mile, the EOH team designed the Covid-19 Solidarity Fund website over one weekend. To prove their commitment to employees and minimise job loses, EOH Group exco took a 25 percent salary cut and employees took a 20 percent cut, unless their salary was less than R250,000, in which case there weren’t cuts.

Unpacking flexible work
Mercer runs a global talent trend globally surveying more than 7,000 organisations and close to 90 percent said they were going to move into more flexible working arrangements in 2020, but only 42 percent had a proper action plan to do this.

The concept of flexible work has always been around, but most organisations didn’t know how to go about it, said Mercer CEO Tamara Parker. “What is interesting about Covid-19 is that it has forced leaders to act on the intentions that they’ve had for many years, but weren’t always ready for,” she said.

Although everyone has embraced technology during this time, surveys revealed that Mercer clients were concerned about to things: social cohesion and transparency. “It doesn’t matter how many times you can meet on a Zoom call,” she pointed out. “It is that person-to-person connection that is important.”

The Covid-19 pandemic isn’t a good excuse to hide behind bad leadership skills according to Colin Browne, founder of Happy Sandpit:

“If you’ve done a good job at leading during this time, it’s probably because you’ve been doing a good job at leading all along. If you’ve done a bad job in leading during the pandemic, it probably means you were doing a bad job even before."

Working from home
The impression out there is that organisational culture is all about how you treat each other in the office environment, but what do you do when you’re working from home? Malisha said, “One of the ways we tried to keep organisational culture while working from home was the Jerusalema Challenge. We did the challenge digitally and shared it across platforms.”

She added that the pandemic proved that everyone can be productive while working from home and they even saw productivity increasing. They also kept in touch through surveys that revealed that people didn’t have support at home. Many female employees, for example, struggled to balance being a full-time mom and full-time employee.