Businesses are coming to understand the value of a people-centred approach when dealing with a crisis of pandemic proportions


No business can exist without people. The events of recent months have reminded us all that ‘the office’ is just a building. What makes the JSE – and any organisation, for that matter – is its people and not the office buildings that stood empty during the national lockdown.

During this time, companies big and small have been forced to rethink their approach around people and recognise the significance of employee well-being (psychological, emotional and physical). One often hears CEOs saying that ‘our people are our greatest asset’, yet sometimes that’s not a true reflection of their business culture, because, at the core, their approach is at variance with their utterances. They need to understand that this is the time to lead with your heart and not with a spreadsheet and objectives.

When we entered the lockdown period, the JSE’s approach focused on building a positive employee experience, looking at the individual holistically and checking in on the employee’s physical and psychological well-being. This was based on two aspects of leadership: checking in and checking up.

Leaders were asked to check in regularly with the employee as a person and ask them the appropriate questions. How are you doing? How is your family? Do I understand your world and your set-up at home? Checking in like this will help me as a leader to support you in the best way possible and, equally, know how best to support you when I then check up on your work.

Organisations are coming to appreciate that employees cannot deliver the business’s requirements if their physical or psychological well-being is not in a good state and in sync. At the JSE, we want to make sure that our colleagues are in the right state of mind and that they are physically able to look after themselves first, then those around them, so that they are able to focus on the work that we want them to do. It would be inappropriate to say that the business’ objectives come first. It starts with the individual, and that is the deep element of care and empathy we expect from our leaders.

Mental health is a prevailing challenge of our times – not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic but also as a result of the economy and issues in the world at large. We’re seeing individuals – even top professionals and people who have a senior status in society – who are not receiving the appropriate levels of support, and succumbing to depression.

Businesses should be aware of how issues of mental health, anxiety, stress and depression manifest themselves. How can you identify when it is happening, and what actions can you take? For us at the JSE, it’s about empowering colleagues with the knowledge they need to deal with any situation that they may face while they’re in our employ.

Businesses are coming to understand the value of a people-centred approach. It requires striking a balance of privacy with employees being asked to tell their managers about their situation, and with those managers being trusted to understand it, so that both parties can get together and collectively ensure the best decisions are made.

It’s not about lowering the bar. Expectations and deliverables remain the same, but with this new approach, leaders are able to support individuals and enable them to achieve the set objectives – and exceed them.

Our message to our employees is that our priority is you: knowing you are healthy end-to-end, and that your loved ones are safe. With that in place, you will be able to invest your time in our business.

Donald Khumalo
Director: Human Resources