HR leaders discuss how to equip managers to support mental health

CHRO South Africa webinar reveals how HR guided the JSE into a changed world of work.

In a webinar hosted by CHRO SA on 7 April, JSE HR director Donald Khumalo said that training and equipping line managers is a good way to help manage the performance and mental health of employees.

To begin equipping their own line managers during the Covid-19 pandemic, they wrote a note to their leadership group requesting them to exercise a fair degree of balance and to be very gentle with their employees.

“In the note, we deliberately wrote that we would forgive them for not following HR policies as long they were making decisions that were supporting a colleague to deal with a situation that was challenging,” he said.

Donald said they started with what they called leadership enablement, considering how they could enable their leaders across the business to lead in the new normal.

“None of us had been trained to manage remote employees, to lead in a pandemic and a crisis. So, our first webinar to the leadership group was about helping our leaders to understand that we were dealing with a crisis, how we could lead in this space and what type of new leadership traits we expected from each of them.”

He said the second thing was the importance of being a humane leader and so they focused on building the critical elements of care and empathy. “We brought in Dr Alex Granger to talk to our leaders about what it means to be a humane leader, and how you exercise care and empathy .”

Dr Granger told them it was about understanding where employees were, what their current situation was, and making sure that whatever decisions were taken, supported employees, This would help leaders to understand employees’ individual challenges, he pointed out, which would result in relevant solutions, and in turn employees would reciprocate by delivering above and beyond what was expected of them.

Donald added that the third thing was distinguishing how they would manage performance moving forward, and trusting in their employees was crucial in this. “It was trusting that colleagues would invest time, energy and effort to deliver into our broader objectives,” he said, “and the results are speaking volumes.”

Donald added that the focus on care and growth required them to think about how they could continue to support their colleagues to make them understand that their career is still important.

“We brought in a guy to talk about the growth mindset and why it is important, and we moved to the next phase, which was the managers’ wellbeing.”

He said the last thing they introduced was ‘Proudly JSE’, which involved taking a step back and asking, What is our vision and purpose in the organisation? “We wanted to find out how we could get leaders in the business to reignite the key elements of why people work for us and are drawn so much to the purpose of the organisation.”

Oracle’s strategic business solutions engineer, Rob Bothma, said he does not believe that line managers have traditionally done well in managing talent and teams.

“Their focus is to get projects completed on time, meeting revenue targets and managing costs, and often things like performance management were seen as something HR is required to do.”

Rob said line managers are struggling to manage their teams in the pandemic: “When line managers were in an office environment they had their teams around them and could do certain things, and now that they are working from home because of the pandemic, they are struggling because I don't believe they are equipped to handle it.”

He adds that HR leaders have a big job to do in empowering line managers.

Dr Ajay Jivan, head of research, quality assurance, HR audits and financial controls at SABPP, agreed that line managers were already struggling pre-Covid-19 and said that all the pandemic has done is to put a magnifying glass over the role of HR.

“The pandemic has shown a lot of fault lines in our organisations. We need to look at what was exposed and what was enacted. We have all these beautiful policies and leadership programmes but what happens on the ground is completely different.”

He said what the pandemic and other crises do is to highlight the contrast between what organisations say they are doing, and what they are actually doing: “We’ve got to ask ourselves, ‘What are our outcomes of leadership and management during this pandemic?’ to find out if the outcomes have shifted fundamentally or they are still the same and to work out how we deliver on those outcomes.”