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Will South Africa’s version of the ‘Great Resignation’ lead to a boom in small businesses?

Ben Bierman is the managing director of Business Partners Limited.

Ben Bierman is the managing director of Business Partners Limited.

Published May 8, 2022

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THE “Great Resignation”, which refers to the global upsurge in voluntary resignations amid the Covid-19 pandemic was coined in May 2021 by Professor Anthony Klotz from Mays Business School.

This trend has risen to prominence throughout the United States, where almost 50 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021 alone. Another trend, however, has been developing in tandem with these mass resignations – there was a boom in the number of people starting new small businesses, which saw new business applications rise by 55 percent in 2021, when compared to the same period in 2019.

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These findings have led some experts to conclude that the flipside of the “Great Resignation” is a small business boom. But whether South Africa will follow suit is dependent on a number of factors that are unique to our socio-economic climate. To understand how South Africa differs as a case study from the rest of the world, we need to take a closer look at the reasons behind the mass resignation.

Numerous workplace studies have indicated that South Africans were compelled to work longer hours during lockdown, resulting in burnout becoming an unfortunate reality for many. Furthermore, remote working has opened up the world’s borders to South Africans, who now have more options to work remotely for overseas companies.

In South Africa, where the socio-economic climate is characterised by record-high unemployment, the status quo is very different to other regions such as the US. The “Great Resignation” in America is arguably a white-collar phenomenon. In South Africa, however, where the majority of the unemployed are blue-collar workers, South Africans simply do not have the luxury of quitting their jobs and relying on the state.

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These realities, therefore, beg the question: will South Africa experience a small business boom as an after-effect of the pandemic and the subsequent “Great Resignation?”

The answer, is both yes and no. It is “yes”, in the sense that remote working culture has given rise to a new generation of digital nomads – individuals who choose to spend their time working remotely, from different geographical locations.

This trend is most apparent among Generation Zs and Millennials, who frown upon office-bound working environments and are doing much to resist the 9-to-5 mentality which may not be the most practical solution to obtaining a work/life balance. These digital nomads may work as freelancers, consultants and workers in the emerging gig economy. As such, they may very well be the new generation of small business owners.

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The answer is also, “no” in the sense that much work needs to be done in the way of refining the process that aspiring entrepreneurs must abide by in order to start their own businesses.

With the president’s appointment of a red tape committee to decrease the bureaucracy that exists within the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) space, hope is on the horizon.

However, as the latest findings from the Business Partners Limited’s forth quarter (4Q) 2021 SME Index indicate, cash flow problems and limited access to funding remain two of the biggest challenges that face SME owners. Unless these challenges improve, there will be little to no impetus for the rise in small business opportunities.

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Whichever way we choose to look at these difficult questions, it is clear that the workplace of the future, for large and small businesses alike, has changed beyond recognition.

In the post-Covid context, much will depend on aspiring entrepreneurs’ view on the SME environment and its potential for profitability. As the Q4 2021 SME Index reveals, confidence levels are returning to their pre-Covid levels – this is indeed a good sign and may very well be a welcomed precursor to an upsurge in new and innovative small businesses.

Ben Bierman is the managing director of Business Partners Limited.

BUSINESS REPORT

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