Strength, bravery and authenticity were some of the overwhelmingly positive adjectives used by HR execs to describe the South African workforce.
Still high from the euphoria brought on by the Springboks victory over New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup 2023, an exclusive group of HR executives gathered at the top-class Aurum restaurant in Sandton to share notes on the importance of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs).
The dinner, held on 31 October, was hosted by CHRO South Africa in partnership with Sanlam Umbrella Solutions.
While still conversing about the Bokke’s exhilarating performance, the group started sharing their own stories of resilience and triumph in times of adversity.
Stories shared ranged from being orphaned as a teenager and using that as motivation to accomplish one's goals and raising a child born with a heart defect and who at this point is beating the odds and living a full life to victorious stories of overcoming Covid-19 in personal and professional lives.
It however became very clear that despite the triumph of the human spirit, a lot of the situations were linked to some kind of trauma. That led to the question: How do organisations support their people? EAPs, said one executive, is one way in which organisations can offer support.
“However, the bigger issues around EAPs are whether the programmes are sufficient in the way they are currently operating? How best can organisations encourage employees to utilise the services, and provide tailored support? Would leadership be able to lead from the front and take up such support services as a form of encouragement to staff members?” an executive commented.
The group agreed that current offerings are not tailor-made, making it difficult for employees to find psychological safety and participate in the various programmes.
“I think the solution is to talk to our people more, find out what it is that they really need and only then work out an EAP that will be fit for purpose,” another HR leader said.
Another CHRO highlighted that there are nuances to tailor-made products. “This beautiful tapestry that is admired across our country and continent should be evident in these programmes. For instance, having these services in our native languages - because we all know that when facing any kind of trauma, people resort to their safe spaces and express themselves better in their native language. It’s alarming that most EAP service providers assume that because the business language is English - most if not all people are proficient in it. The same can be said for our cultural, ethical and spiritual differences. We need service providers who are in tune with organisations.”
Addressing societal problems
The bigger picture, however, is how HR through EAPs can help with mental and financial (un)wellness, burnouts, gender-based violence, depression and many more challenges that employees face.
“Essentially what we are dealing with here are societal problems and not just organisational problems. So as leaders, we should care because these programmes play into the culture. We need to change the landscape by first advocating the importance of holistic wellness in the workplace. As a leader if one shows vulnerability it will change the narrative,” said one executive.
Another CHRO said, “We need to remember that we are business people first and then a functional expert after. If the EAP speaks to the business case then there will be less reluctance to take it on. Any leader knows that healthy people are productive people and productive people make money!”
Spirits remained high within the discussion as the CHROs concluded that there is much to learn for organisations but the starting point should be using available resources to address the core societal issues.
Those in attendance:
Elanie Kruger, Chief People Officer, Tsebo Solutions
Juba Mashaba, CHRO, Cell C
Kanyisa Mkhize, Chief Executive Officer, Sanlam Corporate
Kgaogelo Letsebe, Senior Writer, CHRO South Africa
Lebo Mbana, Associate Director, Accenture
Mags Natasen, Executive: Organisational Effectiveness, BCX
Nzwa Shoniwa, Managing Executive, Sanlam Umbrella Solutions
Sungula Nkabinde, Community Manager, CHRO South Africa
Wouter Dercksen, Managing Executive, Sanlam Corporate Solutions