CFOs share stress relief tips for lockdown during CFO Community Conversation

Finance execs agreed that keeping humanness in the dialogue is what's getting them through this.

On Wednesday 8 April, CFO South Africa hosted its second CFO Community Conversation at which a group of leading finance executives shared how they are managing personal and business stress during the Covid-19 lockdown period. 

The energy in the (virtual) room, and the openness with which the CFOs shared their experiences was a testimony to the fact that executives need their community now more than ever. The number of return attendees also underscored the value of checking in with others in facing the same challenges and decisions. 

CFO South Africa MD Joël Roerig welcomed the executives to the Zoom meeting. “There are a lot of things happening in CFOs’ lives, ranging from cashflow anxiety, trying to understand and leverage the rules government has implemented, as well as considering salary adjustments,” he said, before turning to the CFOs for their insights on who they are dealing with these challenges. 

Getting used to working from home was one of the factors that the CFOs felt has most contributed to their stress. 

Deloitte Consulting CFO Aneshree Naidoo has been in a rapid transition mode since the start of the year; returning from maternity leave in January, gearing for moving offices from February and returning home for lockdown in March. “It took a few days for myself and my team to establish a rhythm in response to working from home on a daily basis . In the beginning, we were over-ambitious. We were on calls all day and while we were productive with our work, we quickly realised that there are also personal responsibilities to balance during the lockdown. Parental duties, house-keeping and personal wellness required our focus too. These responsibilities are now meshed into our daily rhythm and routine.”

After a long day at his desk with no breaks, Hatch Africa CFO Craig Sumption realised that he couldn't repeat the cycle and stay healthy, so he's taken steps to introduce a better work-life balance. Now, the first thing he does in the morning is utilise a mini trampoline to get some exercise. He’s also been very disciplined about his eating habits, saying that both body and mind plays a key role in managing stress. 

Craig’s finance team also has catch-up sessions every Monday and Thursday, and some of them have expressed that they’ve had similar realisations to his about physical wellbeing supporting mental ability.

All the attendees agreed that their teams are able to manage their own productivity and that they don’t need to micro-manage indviduals. 

For some businesses, lockdown has required a ramping up rather than a cooling down of operations.

Humanitarian relief and development organisation Joint Aid Management’s operations are regarded as an essential service. “In the last two days we’ve had to deliver many tons of food atop of the 120,000 children we’re feeding in South Africa, and 1,3 million across Africa,  so we’ve been incredibly busy,” said CFO Nico Esterhuizen. They are also in the process of completing their annual audit.

TB & HIV clinical research NGO THINK has recently started focusing their efforts and funding on assisting in the fight against Covid-19. While half of their staff is working from home, they also have field staff who are still working. “We recently had a scare where some of our members were in the same room as someone diagnosed with Covid-19. That changed a lot of things, especially psychologically. We had to open a helpline so they could talk about what they were feeling,” says CFO Trevor Mvundura.

Trevor, like some of the other attendees, is going through a virtual audit. “We all come together in a Zoom meeting and send the auditors everything they need to do the audit,” Trevor said. “It is a lot less stress and a lot less talking.”

Another topic that finance executives agreed was presenting major challenges, was making decisions right now about what to do about payroll management. 

One CFO said their company will be giving employees who are not able to work during this time a mix of 40 percent special leave and 30 percent unpaid and annual leave. For employees who are still working, They have allocated 70 percent special leave and 30 percent annual and unpaid leave.

Some of the other CFOs in the room said that they are still paying their employees fully, but that they have informed the employees of possibly having to implement similar measures if things get worse. “A couple of people have already come forward to say that they are happy to take 20 percent salary cuts and only work a four-day week if we reach that point,” Craig said. 

The attendees concluded that the crisis has improved their relationships with their staff and co-workers, by giving insight into the realities of their home lives, and affording opportunities to meet their children. 

Aneshree said that one of the leadership lessons she’s learnt during this time was to be vulnerable. In a time when leaders don’t necessarily have the answers, you should ask your team for input and advice. “Keeping humanness in the dialogue is what’s getting us through this.”