HR leaders shift their thinking about stress and wellbeing


Stress guru Richard Sutton highlights the science and opportunity of stress during scrumptious CHRO dinner.

Stress is one of the most worrying health epidemics globally and South Africa is listed by Bloomberg as the second most stressed country in the world. During an intimate dinner at the luxurious Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg, nine of South Africa's top HR leaders explored the role of stress in their work life and their organization - and debated the effectiveness of corporate wellbeing initiatives.

The dinner was made possible by technology giant SAP and the discussion was fueled by some incredible insights from famous sports and corporate coach Richard Sutton , who looked at the science of stress and wellbeing. “What is so compelling about Richard's story is that is data-driven. It has shifted the way I am thinking quite a bit, "said Sharon Taylor , head of human capital at Standard Bank

Drawing from many scientific studies and personal examples of working with tennis stars like Tommy Haas , Kevin Anderson and Maria Sharapova, Richard explained that the way we see stress manifests itself in our health, and the worst you can do is to run away and hide in the corner. If our mindset is shifted, stress should be embraced. It can help us cope and overcome our challenges and drive our motivation to perform and better ourselves.

Richard and the HR execs then delved into current corporate wellness programs and the challenges faced by getting the most out of their staff while trying to assist in addressing the day to day stresses. The discussion led the HR execs to question the way they were doing things from a policy perspective.

"The discussion was absolutely great," said Discovery 's chief people officer Tswelo Kodisang . “It has made it very clear to me that we need to be more fluent in these topics. I need to read a lot more! On a personal level, it has also reminded me that we have the opportunity to prepare our children for a positive way to deal with stress. ”

Stress levels tend to be highest at the lower levels of organizations, as most bad stress emanates from lack of control, lack of support, an imbalance between effort and reward, coupled with a lack of appreciation. That's why wellness programs aimed at individuals usually don't work, because they address the symptoms of stress. Good corporate policy, however, can manage the roots of stress and turn pressured situations into an environment for top performance.

Edcon 's Darryl Feldman said he felt inspired by the dinner, indicating how refreshing it was to realize that he is not the only one grappling with issues. Other participants like Elanie Kruger ( Tsebo ) Thabo Mogobe , Mbali Maseko ( Sasol ), Liziwe Masoga ( Old Mutual Insure ), Esther Letlape ( Barloworld Equipment ) and Nivy Moodley ( South African Airways ) All Thanked Richard for his insights and Said They had gained a new outlook on the way in which mental health within organizations should be addressed.

SAP’s Gabriel Wiskeman , HR Director for Africa, and Bruno Bianchi , Global Executive Advisor: HR Strategy & Transformation, also took some valuable lessons and were full of praise for the great dinner discussion. 

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