Nkosikho Mbele sparks debate on corporate care for employees

The writer says Nkosikho Mbele's employer Shell's donation to charity is probably in line with Shell's policy.
The writer says Nkosikho Mbele's employer Shell's donation to charity is probably in line with Shell's policy.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

Media, social media in particular, was bustling in the past week with news of Nkosikho Mbele, a Shell petrol attendant who offered to pay fuel for a woman motorist at a garage along the N2 in Cape Town.

Firstly, his actions say a lot about values and speak volumes on excellent customer service.

The focus of the social media backlash was on BackaBuddy administering money raised through the crowdfunding campaign, where people from all walks of life opened hearts and wallets, with the money now standing at just over half a million.

The petroleum company's decision on Mbele choosing a charity to benefit from a R500,000 donation was also not spared criticism.

Reaction could largely be on the expectation of transparency and accountability, as evidence of stakeholder engagement and buy-in having taken place can be seen below. Mbele is reported to have clarified on the crowdfunding money, saying: "I cannot be in possession of such a huge amount of money in my bank account; can you imagine what people would do to me or my family? I asked BackaBuddy to make special provisions of the money, for my two children instead."

What is one to make of the perception that most players in the petrochemical industry are not people-centred, often to the detriment of their reputation and good causes?

The company might also feel that it would have been within its right if they did not act at all for fear of having a flood of "good employees" all wanting the same treatment. In terms of their response, was it a PR faux pas noting the socioeconomic challenges faced by most petrol attendants?

What about this being a missed opportunity for career development and demonstration that employees come first whilst building on a customer-centred culture, which is good for their brand and sales spin-off?

There was also a feeling that the company should have noticed the media feedback and directed the resources to the employee or in a trust fund for his family and not to a charity of his choice.

Donation to charity is probably in line with Shell's policy, especially considering that they may have been worried about setting an unsustainable precedence that if you give a client R100 you could get half-a-million.

As the debate is going on, the question is how organisations can instill a sense of care and active citizenship in their employees within a corporate culture context. There is also a strong argument that most needy people are known to be the ones able to share the little they have.

In terms of developing a culture of care among employees, let us look to Richard Branson statement: "Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients."

My hope is that to Shell's credit, they can leverage on the good PR and promote good employees beyond the courtyard. Indeed, Shell may well have to look no further than Mbele for a Corporate Social Investment (CSI) Ambassador.

*Maubane is a public relations strategist and president of PRISA

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