Putting your own oxygen mask on first a challenge for CHROs


HR leaders delve into the importance of taking care of their own wellbeing.

Some of the top HR leaders gathered around a dinner table at the magnificent Saxon Hotel in Sandhurst, Johannesburg on 22 September to share insights into how they are looking after themselves and other executives at their respective workplaces.

The dinner, hosted by CHRO South Africa in partnership with HealthImpact, was an intimate affair that started off with welcome drinks and was followed by a selection of delectable dishes.

CHRO South Africa’s community manager Sungula Nkabinde welcomed the guests, and to make them feel comfortable around one another, asked each of them to share a bit of interesting information about themselves.

Themed “Putting your own oxygen mask first”, the event gave rise to a conversation around how the HR executives were taking care of themselves in high pressure situations.

One HR leader shared that they neglected their own wellbeing to a point where they had to be told by their CEO that they needed to take time off. “I’m probably the worst to put on my oxygen mask first. I was reminded by my CEO to take time off,” the executive said.

Another shared that a lot of corporates do not prioritise the wellbeing of executives. “Nobody wants to be seen to be weak, which is a wrong idea to have.” He emphasised the important role HR leaders need to play to take care of the executive, including themselves.

The guests agreed that while it is easy for them to tell everybody else at work to take a break, they themselves do not practise what they preach.

“As leaders we talk the talk, but how many of us live what they say? We say the right things but when it comes to modelling, we don’t do anything,” said one CHRO.

Another said: “There could be more we could do to not allow executives to slip into [depression]. It’s not an easy space to navigate, but we need to be agile and adjust as we go along,” said one leader.

Another executive shared how Covid-19 had changed the game in that leaders have discovered that it is okay to be human too.

For another executive, the past two years have presented an opportunity for executives to form alliances and offer support to each other. The period, he said, also allowed people to be open about their mental health issues.

One CHRO said he has a routine to keep their wellbeing in check. “I’ve got a routine and I refuse to change it. I’d rather not take a role if it will not allow me to stick to my routine.” The HR leader said he makes sure he gets enough hours of sleep every day. “When I wake up I do a 45-minute workout. I try very hard to eat healthy.”

He said when he feels he is fatigued, he takes time off. “You are useful when you are well. I have seen instances where high-performing executives burn out because they don’t look after themselves.”

The evening ended with the guests making connections with some promising to reach out to each other to take the conversation forward.

Those in attendance were:

Athol Swanepoel: HR Director, Nestlé East & Southern Africa 

Edwin Hlatshwayo: HR Director, Glencore

Jedd Myers, Chief Executive Officer HealthImpact

Juba Mashaba: Chief Human Resources Officer, Cell C

Julia Modise: HR Director, BMW SA

Sharon Taylor: Chief People and Culture Officer, Standard Bank

Sphiwe Mayinga: Chief People Officer, Empact Group

Tamara Bell: Executive: Sales and Marketing, HealthImpact

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