MAY 2024

In this world of uncertainty and chaos – geopolitical crises, skyrocketing cost of living, and looming global and local elections – employees are more distracted and anxious than they have been since the early days of the pandemic.

The combined impact of these factors is being felt in workplaces, because when people are feeling constantly unsettled and fearful over a prolonged period, there is a direct correlation to reduced engagement and productivity at work. It is not business as usual right now, and leaders should take note, and take action, a leadership expert says.

“When employees are emotionally distressed, and in a near-constant real or perceived state of fighting for survival, their focus shifts away from work tasks. High stress levels reduce cognitive abilities, problem-solving skills and decision-making capacity,” says Advaita Naidoo,Africa MD at Jack Hammer, Africa’s largest executive search firm.


According to the 4th annual Mental State of the World report, a yearly report from the Global Mind Project, which was released by Sapien Labs in March 2024, data across 64 countries indicate that the effects of diminished global mental wellbeing have become a new normal.

A key insight from the report noted that mental wellbeing remained at its post-pandemic low with no sign of movement towards pre-pandemic levels. An earlier report released by Sapien Labs, Mental Wellbeing, Work and Productivity, made clear the link between mental health and performance.

Employees with high MHQ (Mental Health Quotient) scores – that is, on the thriving end of the spectrum – missed on average only 0.4 days of work per month while those with the lowest MHQ scores (people who are considered “distressed”) missed on average 11.5 days of work a month. The report further noted that productivity is not all about missed days of work. It said when it comes to being present but being less productive – also called presenteeism – a similar picture emerged with employed adults with low MHQ scores having on average 14.3 low productivity days per month in contrast to only 3.2 low productivity days for their high MHQ scores.


“We see it and the stats show it. The current state of the world is having an impact similar to the early days of Covid, and that has to be accounted for in the workplace,” says Naidoo.

“When the lockdowns were instituted, there was a remarkable coming together of minds which saw leadership step in to provide much-needed guidance amidst unprecedented uncertainty. The time for similar action has again arrived. We are at another moment in time when leaders need to step up and apply crisis leadership.”

Naidoo says leaders must take responsibility for providing clarity and certainty to their teams.

“Even though each day seems to arrive with new and seemingly insurmountable challenges, leaders must now take control in those areas they are able to control. Point your team in a direction and lay a culture of clarity. Your role is crucial in maintaining focus and productivity.

“Decisiveness, adaptability and empathy matter. Leaders must recognise that we’re again in – or perhaps we never left – a crisis stage. Business as usual won’t suffice, and today leaders must heed the call to step up once more.”


Employees also have it in their power to take back some control amidst the uncertainty, Naidoo says.

“It is firstly important to understand that you are not alone. The feelings you are feeling are real and pretty much universal. Although you may feel powerless, it is possible to work towards greater feelings of agency.”

Naidoo says it is now once again time for leaning in.

“We have previously spoken about career cushioning, and it would be wise to create safety nets for yourself again. Make yourself indispensable at work, and raise your hand for opportunities that present themselves. Go the extra mile – now is not the time for quiet quitting.

“If your current role or workplace is starting to feel shaky, start building a network outside of your existing one and consider a side hustle. Don’t be tempted to start mass applying for positions, rather invest your time and energy to establish a routine of engaging with one or two more people every month, outside or your current network. Reach out, but also be sure that you offer value.”

And finally, don’t submit to the perception that you are on a sinking ship.

“Do what you can to right the ship to the best of your ability, while digging deep and going all in to ensure you keep moving forward, which will serve the dual purpose of empowerment and future-proofing your options.”

Jack Hammer Africa is Africa’s largest executive search firm, with on-the-ground presence in all of its major markets. These include South Africa (covering SA, Zambia, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, Angola and Zimbabwe), Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Egypt. Since 2001, they have been helping companies, NPO’s and high-growth PE and VC-backed businesses to build and diversify their leadership teams and boards.

Jack Hammer USA focuses on disruptive and emerging industries, with a spotlight on the Ed-tech and Blockchain sectors.

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