CHROs share ways to cope with burnout, build resilience and prioritise psychological safety

HR executives joined a Community Conversation to share how they are coping with 2021.

In this week’s CHRO Community Conversation hosted by CHRO SA in partnership with Workday, CHRO’s and HR leaders were invited to an ‘open line’ to share ideas on how they lead and cope with burnout, how the year has been so far and to raise any relevant topics in their respective organisations.

The Community Conversation was not held in the usual format, in that there was no agenda and no speaker, and HR executives shared their feelings and asked questions on topics they needed help with.

HR cluster head at Google Avanthi Maharaj who hasn’t joined the conversations for some time as she was on extended sick leave shared the story of her road to recovery.

“I have been trying to recover from major surgery and get my life back on track. This year has been a great lesson in learning to help myself first. I thought I could do it all but having that real hard stop of ‘Do I survive and see the year through?’, versus having the moment of gratitude to exist, recover, and having leadership in a company that supports that. I had to recalibrate my whole approach to looking at wellbeing and be an advocate of taking care of your wellbeing first at all times.”

Commending her company leadership, Avanthi said, “I recovered at home without the fear of losing my job or being looked at less favourably because I am not at the office. And for six weeks, all I got was messages of encouragement, no follow-ups and my business did not fall apart!” she said.

She said it was a wonderful feeling to come back healthy after six weeks, knowing she could pick up where she left off and that the business was still functioning.

EOH’s HR director Malisha Awunor touched on the issue of burnout and stress. “Seeing an increase in stress and burnout in March, I had to seriously ask myself ‘is it burnout or post-traumatic stress?’ because there has been nothing normal about the way we have been operating. Psychologically everybody thought the first of January would be a new start and things would go back to normal and in fact, that was the worst for us around Covid because the people that were dying were people we knew.”

Malisha said she thinks from a leadership perspective, matters that related to people in her organisation, she takes personally. She found that she was sometimes lying awake at night thinking what more leadership could do for their people, and whether they are being available enough, until she got to a point where she realised she needed to stop.

She took a break from work to recoup. “In doing research for a managing burnout playbook I asked myself, ‘am I practising what I am advocating to others?’ And that’s when I stopped and went to the ‘mountains’ because I believe that when you surround yourself with that which is greater than you, it recentres you around what is important.”

LexisNexis’s HR director Gcobisa Ntshona had more to say on the issue of psychological safety, saying that her organisation has prioritised it, “Where we have been lucky in our organisation is that before Covid hit, as part of our inclusion package we had included psychological safety as one of the things we needed to enforce and we went ahead with it as the pandemic started.”

She added that in South Africa we have a multitude of social dilemmas but she’s proud to belong to an organisation that truly values the contribution that diversity and especially gender diversity can bring, “We have policies in place that reflect our desire to look after women and we’ve also created an organisation where the development of women is prioritised. For example, our exco make-up is tilted in favour of women leaders and this certainly strengthens the tone of leadership, collaboration and empathy across the organisation.”