Business Management

The Mental Health Effects of Load Shedding

Aug 28, 2023 | By Jenna van Schoor

Load shedding has been a part of our lives in South Africa for almost 15 years. However, with power cuts occurring every day so far during 2023, we now profoundly feel the effects of power interruptions on our mental health.

A key concern is how a lack of reliable power affects our economy and how this will impact our future. In an organisational setting, developing ways to mitigate the effects of load shedding on business activities takes time and resources, which we don’t always have. 

Based on recent survey data, we’ll look at how power cuts affect our mental health and how we can best  support ourselves during the interruptions. We’ll also give you some ideas for strategically dealing with power cuts in your business.

What is load shedding?

South Africans need no introduction to the term. But, we’ll provide a brief definition for our readers from abroad . Due to a lack of generating capacity, Eskom, the local electricity provider, has increasingly implemented rotational power cuts over the last few years.

While load shedding has beeen happening on and off since 2008, 2023 is the most intense bout of load shedding in history, with no clear end in sight. 

The reasons for the power crisis are complex, mainly due to mismanagement and poor planning. In the late 2000s, experts warned that its facilities would not be able to provide sufficient power in the next decade. Unfortunately, Eskom has not put adequate generation capacity in place and this is worsened by ageing and failing power-generating infrastructure. 

Some attempt has been made to build new power stations, but these still need to be fully functional and are plagued with issues and breakdowns. In addition, adding new generation capacity is difficult, despite continuously growing demand and efforts to increase investment in renewable energy.

How is it affecting our mental health?

Interestingly, load shedding actually happens in many other countries. Power outages also occur in parts of the USA and in countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Lebanon. Immediate reasons for power outages vary according to climactic, geopolitical and bureaucratic issues, but they all come down to one problem: insufficient electricity supply to meet demand. 

Despite the many local reasons for load shedding, a lack of reliable electricity is a crisis. South Africans feel this crisis’ effects on many levels. First of all, the uncertainty it creates can lead to anger and anxiety. Rotational power cut schedules can also change rapidly when breakdowns occur, meaning no one is ever 100% sure when they will have power.

At a domestic level, this means not having lights or hot water and being unable to prepare and store food adequately. It also means that garage doors, gates and security systems like electric fences and alarms are only sometimes functional and suffer from wear and tear. 

Not being able to predict the schedule is frustrating. An additional layer of uncertainty comes when the power is scheduled to come back on but doesn’t due to a fault. This damage comes from constant wear and tear, leading to power failures that leave people without power for days while they wait for the problem to be fixed. 

In addition, the impact of load shedding on our economy and the subsequent financial pressures means many of us are going through a difficult time.

SADAG mental health survey results

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) recently surveyed respondents to find out how South Africans cope with load shedding. Not surprisingly, South Africans are struggling with helplessness and work-related stress.  

According to the SADAG survey, 4 in 10 people reported feeling depressed, and 62% struggled with anxiety and panic. For those already experiencing psychological challenges, these are reportedly worsening. New psychological challenges include road rage and struggling to regulate emotionally. 

As discussed, the scheduled power cuts aren’t always the most distressing part of load shedding. It’s even more stressful when the power doesn’t return for long periods. The level of anxiety that we feel when we don’t know when the power is coming back on also relates to more generalised feelings of panic around the state of the electrical grid (and if it’s going to black out completely). 

Overall, the day-to-day realities of navigating power cuts are incredibly stressful, especially for those who don’t have the resources to buy backup generators, solar panels and other power-generating devices. Other daily concerns include negotiating traffic, worrying about security and businesses losing revenue.

How do we cope with load shedding?

There is no easy answer for coping with an unprecedented situation that the average citizen has no control over, especially when shocking and gloomy headlines appear daily. The ramifications for our sense of wellbeing and safety can be too scary to contemplate. However, as power cuts continue to plague us, empowering ourselves as much as possible can help.

We don’t have all the answers, but from a business perspective, one of the ways to deal with situations beyond our control is to strategise. Depending on your business, this can involve developing innovative ways to manage your business’s practical realities in an agile way.

Not all businesses can install expensive backup power systems, but we can collaborate and develop ideas. Strong leadership and management skills come in here. For example, if you’re unsure when you will have power, you might need to structure your days and shifts differently. You must also devise ways to deal with low morale.

For example, specific management theories can be helpful in building strategies for optimising productivity through motivation and increasing job satisfaction. These theories include Herzberg’s Motivator-Hygiene Theory and the Expectancy Theory of Motivation.

Herzberg’s Motivator-Hygiene Theory

Herzberg’s Motivator-Hygiene Theory is a two-factor theory. It states that there are factors that increase satisfaction and those that decrease satisfaction. These factors are mutually exclusive.

To successfully motivate employees and increase job satisfaction overall, managers must address motivating factors (achievement, recognition and growth) and hygiene factors (work conditions, salary and job security).

Expectancy Theory of Motivation

The Expectancy Theory of Motivation states that people choose specific actions and behaviours over others based on the anticipated outcome. Understanding how this theory works can enable you to motivate your employees by rewarding particular behaviour, which can be crucial during difficult times. 

Learn more about business management with SACAP Global

There is no easy fix for our current electricity challenges, especially in a tense global political climate. However, by empowering ourselves with better skills to manage our businesses during a stressful time, we can develop resilience and continue to adapt to the ongoing and inevitable effects of change.

Although we’ve focused on business management theories in this article, these can also be applied in other spheres of life. In a chaotic world, we need strong leadership and management skills to negotiate challenging times, even if we’re just trying to manage our households.  

If you’re interested in developing your leadership skills and learning more about how to manage change and uncertainty in a business environment, take a look at a few of our most popular micro-credentials in this area:

In these short online courses, you’ll get an insight into the practical challenges of running a business and gain perspective on business management by applying relevant Applied Psychology theories. For more information on how to take these courses as a team, contact us.

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