Africa Business Communities

[Column] Phylla Jele: Prioritizing people over processes for business success

The workplace today looks very different from the workplace people left behind when remote work was mandated in 2020. Not only did the work model change, but also the mindset of the average employee.

Phylla Jele, HR and transformation executive at leading local proptech company e4, says supporting employee wellness is more crucial than ever before – and this support looks different than it did pre-pandemic. “People have forever been changed: Some of us lost loved ones, we lost colleagues, we had to be teachers while kids studied online, and our lives were upended in so many ways. This means that practices, systems, processes, and values have changed, and workplace culture have been impacted. Prioritising the ‘new’ employee and their wellness is crucial to the success of any business today.”

Not only does poor wellbeing hurt employees, but your company too – it’s estimated that $322 billion in turnover and productivity is lost to employee burnout annually.

So, how can you support your staff in this new business world? Jele provides these tips:

Choose the right work model: Some studies have found that remote work hinders communication, while others suggest it may spur on innovation. Really, it’s all about how you manage it, believes Jele. “At e4, employees were still working remotely until July 2022. But we realised that in-person collaboration has its place and have since rolled out a hybrid policy whereby employees are in the office on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with other days optional. This works for us, but it won’t work for a retail store, for example. Your set-up depends on your unique business needs.”

Adapt to a new culture: With fewer in-office days, it made sense for e4 to move into a smaller space that’s optimised for hybrid working. Updated/Modified work designs, occasional chairs, and a more open-plan design ensure flow and face time so that people can truly connect. “Make sure to adapt your environment to suit your new model, whatever that may be,” says Jele.

Support health and wellness: Talk to your company’s medical aid provider about add-on wellness benefits and be sure to clearly communicate these benefits to employees. Burnout has become a huge problem worldwide since the pandemic, for example, because people stopped logging off while working from home, says Jele. “Our provider, Liberty, offers counselling sessions as an added benefit and we made sure employees knew how they could make use of this, amongst many other initiatives.”  In 2024 our strategy is to incorporate readily available psycho-social services that will align to our overall Human Capital Plan.

Put people first: If the pandemic taught business leaders anything, it’s that employees should be treated as holistic human beings. Managers need to take care to create an environment where employees feel supported in their lifestyle needs, says Jele. “You’ll find that if you’re more flexible, people are more honest – they will tell you they’re going to pick up their child and will finish a report in the evening. Previously, such a relationship of trust was non existent. Such open communication is clearly preferable.”

Communicate your benefits: To retain talent in a competitive global market, perks are becoming more important. For some, this means hybrid work. For others, it means moving the offices closer to public transport or offering lunch subsidies. Jele believes career development, including a budget for upskilling, is crucial. “Giving people a development pathway shows them they’re valued and have a future there – while the company benefits from their new skills. It’s a win-win.”

Encourage open conversation: Employee wellbeing is not a once-off event and should be a constant conversation with employees. Culture surveys and polls to check on the effectiveness of your rollouts, as well as informal conversations, will steer decision-making. This way, HR becomes a partner to the people and can keep its finger on the pulse, says Jele.  The human capital team and the leadership teams have been hard at work with this aspect and as 2023 rolls to an end I have to say we have done well to ensure everyone in the business understands this.

As Sir Richard Branson famously said: ‘Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients’. Jele reiterates: “A people-centric approach that focuses on holistic employee wellness is the key to success in today’s business world. Put people first, and you’ll reap the rewards.”

Phylla Jele is the HR and transformation executive at e4



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