Mothers Make Life Work

Balancing Work and Home Life during the Pandemic is an Art for Working Mothers  

Videos and audio clips have been making the rounds with mothers having to run or participate in a meetings while fending off their inquisitive bundles of joy. The Covid-19 pandemic has tested every facet of South Africa’s economy and society, and nowhere is this more felt than in the home, particularly with mother’s juggling the challenging task of working from home and caring for their children.

As workers celebrate National Workers’ Month in May, working mothers at Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA) reflect on how they needed to dig deep for the inner resources to perform at their peak and still support the healthy development of the next generation, their kids.

Through its corporate wellness programme Phofula, CCBSA provided various forms of support to workers, including financial management tips, mental health, self-care, dealing with domestic violence, addiction and many more. The journey has been quite unique for working mothers.

CCBSA’s Mintirho Foundation Office Manager, Rachelle De Beer says boundaries and clear expectations were vital to ensuring productivity throughout the lockdown and beyond. However, she grappled with her fair share of challenges.

“Initially, my computer was never off, as the team all worked different hours and it didn’t matter what time of the day it was, there was just never any silence,” she says. “So, we all adopted a more structured daily routine that determines when it would be time to work, and when it is time to attend to children or just relax, and even what time to go to sleep.

“As there was no formal schooling for our children, it was a struggle for me to focus on work and kids that needed help with school assignments. Eventually, I just let the kids do their schoolwork and I focused on work, as that remained my priority as co-breadwinner. Thankfully, both my kids passed in the 2020 academic year,” she adds.

Rachelle handed over the cooking responsibilities to her husband, who took over many of the home chores and all the shopping, as he had become bored. This caused her to withdraw from her household activity and social activity, hardly leaving her bedroom, which had become her working space.

“My marriage definitely had its challenges and my youngest son had to get counselling for a genuine fear of the pandemic,” she says. “Dealing with those issues created anxiety, sadness and even guilt for me. But being at home allowed me to deal with these issues directly and be more hands-on. I was there for my kids and I grew closer to my husband.

There were perks to working from home. “I was also able to help my brother and his wife move to Pretoria from Harrismith. During that time, he had a medical procedure, and his wife attended daily treatment sessions for a condition she has.  If I was in the office, it would have been impossible to juggle all these balls of working fulltime, supporting them emotionally and driving them around,” she says.

Constant communication with the CCBSA team and set times for family time have come in handy for maintaining emotional stability, something that CCBSA Primary Packaging (Preform, Closures and Resin) Category Specialist, Thandi Silinda agrees with.

“The challenges we had to grapple with would have been so much worse if it wasn’t for regular engagement sessions and our human resources representative supporting our work-life balance,” Thandi says. “As women, we have unique challenges, such as our male counterparts in the manufacturing environment sometimes overlooking us in meetings. We have had to support each other, focus on our responsibilities, and make sure that our male teammates understand our duties and responsibilities. I make sure that I share my experiences with other women and assist them in finding simpler ways of resolving their issues.”

While remote work has delivered valuable travel time savings, the lack of social interaction has been a struggle for Thandi, and even setting up time to speak to colleagues has become a formal process, when she previously would have just walked up to their desks.

“There is less disturbance, I can focus more, and my children see me all the time,” she says. “However, I often have long working hours and some stakeholders expect us to respond to requests immediately because we are at home. I am fortunate that my team supports me and while I am happy to work from home, I look forward to returning to the office, just for the social interaction.”

CCBSA Learning and Development, Commercial and Finance Lead, Michelle Armugam says servant leadership is more vital now than ever as the pressure to deliver is higher.

“It was quite an adjustment learning to work completely remotely as I miss the people element, bumping into colleagues in the corridors,” she says. “However, while it can be exhausting moving from one teleconference call to another, I can truly say I have never engaged more with my stakeholders or been this productive in all of my career.”

She says she has found new value in the people that she works with and is now even more invested in their growth and development in the organisation. The distance has meant a stronger focus on having a shared vision and building trust with colleagues and stakeholders.

As a mother of two children, Michelle had to juggle her time carefully, with hilarious results at time.

“Managing meetings while your kids are blasting the TV is not always fun,” she says. “In one director meeting I needed to tell my kids to lower their voices in the background. I couldn’t mute my MS Teams, as I was sharing my screen in presentation mode, so I muted my laptop. Unbeknown to me, my audience could still hear me as I yelled for my kids to tone it down.”

Michelle says her team was very supportive in such moments, with an understanding that the challenges they face are the same.

Continuous engagement with colleagues to monitor the how the business is adapting, as well as training on working remotely and ensuring access to the right tools has been vital in supporting employees to sustain productivity.

Similarly, she adds that being deliberate about spending quality time with her loved ones on the weekends, where they have my undivided attention, is just as vital for her overall health.

“Despite my own hectic work schedule, I ensure I make time to be present in school activities and celebrate their victories too,” she adds. “I have a very supportive husband who has always supported my career. He was very hands on with our boys when I used to travel a lot for work pre-Covid. Most importantly the grace of God over my life has always kept me centred and sane.”

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