Never has there been a more important time for employers to have their finger on the pulse of employee well-being than during the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis and its resultant lockdown have sent stress levels soaring.
Dr. Elke Van Hoof, Professor of Health and Primary Care Psychology at the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, produced a paper confirming that around 2.6 billion people around the world are in some form of lockdown. Also that arguably, we’re currently conducting the largest psychological experiment in history. The World Economic Forum published the article. Locally, a Human Science Research Council-led research consortium has also cautioned that South Africa is in a “moment of psychological crisis”.
Unemployment globally has soared. Those in employment must deal with adjustments in their daily lives; changed work environments accommodating for social distancing; as well as new environmental stressors. Those working from home must cope without the regular face-to-face social support they may regularly enjoy in the office environment.
It’s notable that the Chinese symbol for crisis comprises of two characters, signifying both danger and opportunity. The pandemic presents obvious dangers: for businesses, as well as for employees’ physical and mental well-being. It also highlights an opportunity for employers to improve policies around employee well-being, as employees are arguably the company’s most important ‘customers’.
The output-driven business process services (BPS) and business process outsourcing (BPO) sectors in South Africa, and those providing customer services, rely heavily on the competency of employees who have a cultural affinity with offshore clients, as well as their vital ability to connect with customers on an emotional level, to listen with understanding and empathy. With that in mind, it is obvious that overwrought customer service agents are hardly in a position to engage effectively with customers. Therefore, employers and employees need to work together to successfully navigate the pressures resulting from the pandemic, and to deliver a great customer experience.
When it comes to mental health, epidemiologists early on anticipated a surge in the incidence of mental illness as a result of the lockdown and other COVID-19 related challenges. Employers’ efforts to provide channels for employees to discuss their mental health and to point them in the right direction as far as resources are concerned, are a critical form of support for employees during this challenging time. This is most likely to secure employee commitment and loyalty far beyond the pandemic.
Boomerang SA has risen to the challenge, and is changing the way it sees and addresses employee well-being as the landscape shifts. The first step was to create channels whereby the company arranges one-on-one weekly check-ins with every employee.
Physical safety is key to mental well-being, and Boomerang has addressed this through carefully following COVID-19 guidelines for the workplace, and encouraging an ethos of protecting not only oneself, but other people too.
The company has made provision for those diagnosed with COVID-19, setting minds at ease by awarding additional paid sick leave. In addition, Boomerang has made allowance for those with identified comorbidities, prioritizing and facilitating speedy work-from-home solutions so as to decrease related risks.
Looking ahead, Boomerang has an in-house life coach on staff, and provision has been made for individual sessions for those who require it, as well as supplying a guideline for maintaining mental health while working from home.
South Africa’s BPS and BPO sectors are under no illusion about the fact that people do indeed leave managers, rather than companies. Therefore, in order to maintain symbiosis between these two sectors, every effort is made to keep a healthy, motivated and fully competent employee base, fit for service.
The country is an ideal partner for destinations that wish to outsource their core contact centre competencies, Cape Town being ideally located for this purpose, and South Africa’s BPO sector owes it to offshore and local clients to render continued service excellence. But, of equal importance is the preservation of employees’ well-being, without whom the industry would grind to a halt. This cognisance is critical to the continued success of our dynamic BPS and BPO sectors.
We will beat this COVID-19 pandemic together and realize our aspirations to create a company where employees are supported and encouraged to grow into their potential and achieve their aspirations.
Look out for interviews to be posted soon, where we chat to staff about the promises, pitfalls and occasional hilarity of working from home.