Accenture in Africa CEO, Vukani Mngxati, says mental health consequences need to be taken more seriously.Conventional wisdom suggests that leaders need to be constantly front and centre, on the field and in the thick of the action. That notion of course has changed in the past two years because of the physical constraints brought on by the pandemic. Businesses have had to adapt quickly and embrace what is termed a distance philosophy. According to the CEO of Accenture in Africa Mngxati that change has demanded that leaders now adopt an entirely innovative approach.

Speaking at a seminar in Johannesburg, he said the first and easier challenge was to provide staff with facilities that made remote work possible – simple things like providing a desk. But he says what he did not anticipate was the significant mental wellness issues that came with working from home. “In the service industry, the reality is that you problem-solve jointly through in-person meetings. Working from home means harder work and longer hours with a potential impact on mental health. Recognising the challenges our people, like so many others, are facing, we have a large focus on how best to support them.”

Mngxati says leaders have no choice but to understand the mental health consequences of remote work and to act swiftly where there are problems. He says common traits to look out for are staff feeling isolated, lonely, or disconnected both socially and professionally; as well as being unable to switch off; having difficulty staying motivated; not being able to prioritise one’s workload; and feeling uncertain about progress.

Over-communication trumps under

Mngxati says he has also noticed that the communications dynamic has changed over months spent at home and to be effective a degree of over-communication is needed. Being apart can sometimes result in misinterpretation and misunderstanding. It can also require more explanation and clarification on activities.

But he says Accenture strongly supports the idea of a hybrid working environment which is now here to stay. “When we look at the future, we think work will now predominantly be done remotely and that flexibility is going to be a key driver. We aim to make sure that our people keep a balanced life at work and home to support our clients.”

At the seminar, Mngxati also raised the vexing issue of losing valuable local talent to other countries. “Loss of skills isn’t anything new and I’m now pivoting away from seeing this as a problem and rather seeing it as an opportunity to attract new skills in the market. South Africa’s unemployment rate is sitting at around 34 percent and over 70 percent of that is youth. But imagine if we join forces as corporates, government, academia, civil society and realise the significant opportunity to generate digital skills – we can actually do what India has done and be the net exporter of skills.”

He also says the pandemic has fast-tracked digital transformation by decades. “However, we still have a significant skills gap across the board globally but more so in this country. We still outsource work abroad to China, India, and the Philippines. Why? Because we cannot find the right cost-effective skills here. We must approach skills shortages as a national priority. Unless we do that, we’re going to lose out on creating a substantial skills base in this country that can be used globally and locally.”

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