The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had a marked effect on the financial performance of East African power utilities. Supply chains are not yet back to normal, commercial and industrial consumers are using less electricity while residential customers are using more, and revenue patterns are unpredictable.
Utilities like Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) and Kenya Power continue to cope with decreased demand for electricity and corresponding decreases in revenue as customers shelter at home and businesses restrict their activities.
Moreover, for utility staff, uncertainty about health benefits, return-to-work policies, and exposure to coworkers who have recovered from COVID-19 impacts erodes morale and decreases productivity. Given the prospect of COVID-19 restrictions persisting well into 2021, it is important that utilities develop and implement policies that address staff concerns about the pandemic and allow for the resumption of normal business activities.
At the outset of the pandemic, KenGen, like other utilities, had to strike a proper balance between maintaining a reliable output of electricity and adhering to health guidelines to protect employees. KenGen enacted several emergency measures, including ensuring socially-distanced workspaces, initiating a shift system (with spare teams in place in case of COVID-19 absences), and establishing backup control rooms to ensure the continuous generation of power.
“As we continue supporting the Government in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in our borders, our perpetual reminder is that we have to do what we can within our capabilities to win the battle,” Mrs. Rebecca Miano, Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear (MBS) Managing Director & CEO.
Being proactive, KenGen also wanted to ensure safe return-to-work guidelines for its staff. Power Africa helped KenGen create an official COVID-19 return-to-work strategy for the utility’s more than 2,500 employees, which included the identification of appropriate return-to-work methodologies and guidelines for their adoption, development of remote working scenarios to ensure the safety and continued productivity of KenGen’s employees, and mapping COVID-19-related risks and mitigation strategies to KenGen and its stakeholders. The strategy also included a catalog of factual information about the global response to COVID-19 (e.g., what other countries and power entities are doing about the pandemic).
Over the course of four weeks — from July 10 through August 7 — Power Africa surveyed over 1,500 KenGen employees and held virtual focus-group discussions with KenGen stakeholders, including the Electrical Trades and Allied Workers’ Union, KenGen clinicians, Pink Energy (the women-in-the-KenGen workforce program), Y-Gen (KenGen’s next-generation leadership program), KenGen’s remote working group, and family members of KenGen staff.
In a Power Africa-conducted survey, 85 percent of KenGen employees said they were concerned about the safety of their spouses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 71 percent were concerned about the level of assistance they would receive if they contracted the virus.
Power Africa’s Recommended Steps to an Effective COVID-19 Return-to-Work Strategy for KenGen
Based on the survey results and focus-group discussions, Power Africa recommended several key components of KenGen’s COVID-19 business-resumption strategy:
Employee commitment and support — Staff who suspect that they have come into contact with a person who has COVID-19 should be encouraged to sign a self-quarantine and isolation pledge.
Reduction of stigma — KenGen should develop a thorough workplace stigma-reduction strategy, driven from the top with adequate resources, so that employees who recover from COVID-19 can return to work and smoothly resume their duties.
Counseling — KenGen should leverage lessons learned from its already existing pre- and post-test counseling program. The utility should also quickly activate peer-support systems for COVID-19 survivors, with embedded psychosocial counseling.
Care and prevention — KenGen should encourage and support home-based care, where applicable, with self-monitoring technology apps overseen by KenGen clinicians, adherence to recommended hygiene protocols and accessibility of personal protective equipment.
Improved communications — KenGen should institute a COVID-19 health-communication strategy that reaches families directly.
“Power Africa’s rapid diagnostic survey for KenGen has helped us understand the knowledge, attitudes and needs for assistance of our employees. It has also enabled us to develop a business resumption framework. We appreciate Power Africa’s support and look forward to more collaboration as our dependable development partner,” Mrs. Rebecca Miano, MBS Managing Director & CEO.
Extending COVID-19 Support to Other East African Utilities
Power Africa is confident that its quick response to KenGen’s COVID-19 request — surveys and focus-group discussions completed in less than a month, and findings reported soon after — can be replicated for other utilities in the East Africa region.
Instituting effective COVID-19 policies at these power entities will help ensure the reliable provision of electricity to East African homes and businesses, as well as the hospitals and health clinics that are on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic.