IQbusiness on ‘employing the whole person’ and what this entails post-Covid-19 hardship

As the world attempts to move towards some semblance of normality, human beings face a host of consequential challenges relating to the unprecedented nature of the last (over) 18 months. IQbusiness, South Africa’s leading management and technology consulting firm, released a report in September based on a recent pilot study, which revealed over 66% of office-based employees surveyed are experiencing extreme stress, anxiety and depression. The study tested key empirical indicators of trauma including financial constraints, breakdowns in close relationships, retrenchments or caring for a loved one. While South Africans are – by virtue of the distress that has characterised our past and, regrettably, present – resilient by nature, it would be a mistake to assume we have not been fundamentally affected by these events. In order to further understand both the broader implications of the findings of the IQbusiness report as well as the ways in which the report can enable organisations to address these implications, BizNews spoke to Adam Craker, the CEO of IQbusiness, and Nadine Rix, the report’s originator. The importance of acknowledging the findings of the report as well prioritising ways to address these findings cannot be overstated. Engaging with an organisation that recognises this and is working hard to introduce other corporations to the imperative and related benefits was incredibly refreshing. – Nadya Swart

Adam Craker on his background:

I’m, as you say, the chief executive of IQbusiness. We are the country’s largest home-grown management and technology consulting firm, based in Johannesburg with a team of just over a thousand spread across South Africa and into sub-Saharan Africa. You’ll tell from my accent that I’m not originally from South Africa but I’ve been in South Africa for 24 years now. I guess the biggest test is to ask me the question: which rugby team? And after 24 years, it has to be the Springboks.

Nadine Rix on her background:

I’m the head of Governance, Risk and Compliance at IQbusiness. I joined them in January. I’m a CA by qualification and spent about 15 years living and working in West Africa before returning to my home country. As you can tell from my accent, I’m definitely homegrown and as Afrikaans as they come. After all these years, [I’m] still not able to get rid of the Duchy accent. I’ve been working in the space I love. I love risk work, I love governance and the space in which we operate. I think there’s a lot we can do in South Africa in [this] space and IQbusiness, luckily, has given me the freedom to kind of explore different initiatives that we take into that world.

Nadine Rix on the findings of the report:

I’m going to give just a little bit of context in terms of where it comes from. Being in the risk world, typically when we look at HR risk, it’s more or less process and procedurally driven. We look at things like: how do companies onboard, how do they do vetting, how do they ensure keyman dependencies and things like that. And we realised something in January. One of my team members actually came to me to say, “Well, we think HR risk is something different because the employees [who] left the workforce 18 months ago are going to be very different from the people who start walking through the proverbial doors towards the end of the year.”

We started thinking about how we, as a risk fraternity, can address this. And we started thinking about whether or not there is a way we can give organisations a tool by which they can measure the amount of trauma that people have been through. This in no way means that if you’ve suffered these events [or] been through a traumatic experience, that’s dependent on your own personal resilience. But [rather to enable us] to give organisations an idea of what people have been through, so that they can roll out initiatives or controls what we look at to address these things.

Instead of trying to apply a blanket approach and hope we address everybody, [our focus is on] customising the ways in which we deal with a workforce that is coming back, suffering from depression, anxiety, who have been through financial strain, a lot of them have been through divorce, relationship challenges and things like that. So that’s where it kind of came from.

We then went around to different clients to ask if they would pilot this with us. It is uncharted waters. A lot of organisations don’t want to hear the answer, and they don’t want to know what people have been through. They kind of just want to keep their eyes closed. We were lucky enough to do a couple of pilot studies and it very much confirmed what we’ve been thinking in terms of what employees are looking like coming back.

Nadine Rix on the motivation behind addressing the trauma with which people are returning to the office, other than the economic costs associated therewith:

The clients we are looking for are those who essentially put people first. There are, unfortunately as you mentioned few of them in the workplace. We’re looking for values like those in IQbusiness. We value the growth of people first: grow people, grow business, grow Africa. We believe that by taking care of your people, they essentially then become those who drive your customer base and drive your business.

So, if you have an organisation that you follow and believe in what they believe in, you can get a loyal following that will work with you through this diversity they are facing. So, that was the premise of it and I think for us, it became a reality; if corporate South Africa doesn’t start addressing it, who is going to? Because if I don’t feel safe at my workplace, where I spend the majority of my time, to discuss the things that I’ve gone through and to feel supported and comfortable enough to be vulnerable, where do I go? What should I do?

Most individuals don’t know what routes to follow and where to go. So that was the premise: the place where you spend most of your time and energy should really be taking care of your overall well-being, not just your mental well-being, but other areas as well.

Nadine Rix on how receptive companies have been to adopting this approach:

So far, I must say we’ve been very selective in terms of the clients we approach with it. And overall, most of them have been very receptive. Some that we’ve gone into have got very well-defined wellness programmes. We meet with the wellness people in those organisations and 90% of them come back to say, “Wow, we’ve really missed the boat. We thought we were doing well, we thought we’d covered everything, but we realise now why we only have a 12% to 15% uptake in wellness programmes.” So overall, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

I think when it comes to the larger corporations, we need just one or two to buy into it and to start seeing the results for this to roll out. We’ve also presented at various conferences in the risk fraternity because this is essentially where it was born, and overwhelmingly, the response has been, “Yes, this is the kind of stuff we should be looking at and not just process and procedural type of work.”

Adam Craker on how involved, as the CEO of a business with over 1000 employees, he can be on a practical level:

We have to be involved. When we think of those 1,000 IQers [staff members at IQbusiness] in our business, the average age is around 32 years old. So, we’re a very youthful organisation. And when we’ve looked at the profile of our team; on average, every employee has around eight dependants. That’s their immediate family but they also have, of course, their own employees; housekeepers and others who are involved and are dependent on them. That means for every employee, we’ve got 8000 dependants who are involved in our business in some shape or form, either directly or indirectly.

We have a motto at our business: we employ the whole person. We don’t just employ the person we see coming into the work environment. As Nadine says, the approach and the philosophy, the value system that we have in place really focuses on ensuring our IQers are going to be able to do the job they need to do for our clients, in turn. Our wellness programme, our counselling process really has to be part of that while also recognising we are running a business. This is a for-profit enterprise but there is a line we have to cross from time to time in terms of our social obligation and the role we play with our employees.

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