Home environments are a blind spot for managers, says Globeleq South Africa's Laura James

Laura says managers should take the potential fragility of employees' family members into account.

Laura James, HR Manager at Globeleq South Africa Management Services, says that, in trying to manage the wellbeing of employees dealing with lockdown, it is important to take into account the impact of the potential fragility of employees’ family members as well as employees themselves.

"Something many people are not talking about is the stress that comes from a spouse or a partner whose livelihood is threatened by Covid-19," she says, adding that, if someone is no longer earning an income, the financial stress is enough to overwhelm an entire household.

"Some families are really struggling, especially when the family’s primary breadwinner and the business that they run has been unable to operate. Other families are in a constant state of anxiety because they know that their reserve funds are dwindling, or that their employers may need to consider retrenchments. "

Globeleq, an Independent Power Producer, owns and operates eight renewable energy (wind and solar) power plants across South Africa, with a combined staff of 100 people. Laura joined the company in 2013 when it was a small, but growing company.  Since then, she has worked to develop a robust HR team, together with systems and structures, overseeing all the people-related aspects of the organisation. As an essential service, the company has continued operating their power plants during lockdown, which means that employees have not been directly financially impacted by Covid-19.

Those who could work from home have been doing so successfully since Lockdown, as the company invested in video-conferencing facilities since it started operations in South Africa.  For staff working on site, a shift rotation system ensures that social distancing requirements are met, which also minimises general health risks. "That said, we are cognisant of the possibility that our employees' partners may not be in the same boat," says Laura, who believes that managing those home-based external factors is a blind spot because it is something that is among the most difficult for leaders to manage.

“An employee whose spouse is stressed by the loss of income, or the news of a loved one contracting the virus, may not be able to perform their duties effectively, regardless of their working conditions. And that is something that we, as employers, have limited sight of or control over. What we can do however, is help line managers build trusting relationships with their people so that concerns are raised and provide support through services like ICAS who offer psychological and financial counselling for our employees and their family members."

Knowledge of self

The topic of self-care is one that repeatedly comes up at the weekly CHRO Community Conversations and Laura says that is because "people look to us as HR practitioners to manage the emotional balance with the organisation." Not only is it explicitly clear in the title of their portfolio, and the specific responsibilities that come with it, HR leaders, along with their c-suite counterparts, also shape the mood of the organisation indirectly by the way they interact with their colleagues and team members.

This is why Laura believes it is important for leaders to understand where their energy comes from, saying that knowledge of self is the key to managing your stress in times like these.

"While some people find it quite distressing to be alone, others get some relief from being in their own space," she says. "There is a quote by Bill O’Brien, the late CEO of Hanover Insurance, which says 'The success of any intervention is dependent upon the interior condition of the intervener.' And that is something that has always stuck with me. Because it really speaks to the extent to which self-care is crucial for good leadership."

It is difficult to keep track of the financial implications and legislative changes surrounding government's interventions, while also caring for yourself.  But that, Laura says, "is the challenge that ensures effective leadership practice is sustainable – for the business, for employees and for leaders themselves."