THE WORKPLACE of the future looks very different to what it did a mere two years ago. The pandemic was one of a myriad of external forces that compelled business owners to change their stance on leadership in order to survive within an entirely new set of circumstances.
The “next normal” is here and is calling on business owners (big and small) to take a more human-centric approach to management.
Here are three of the strategies that managers can use to build effective, future-proof workforces.
Make mental health a priority
Mental health issues have always brimmed under the surface of the contemporary workplace. Over time, they were siloed into their own categories of illness, with human resources (HR) practitioners finding ways to grant concessions to people living with mental illnesses, albeit reluctantly, because they simply weren’t seen in the same light as physical illnesses.
In the post-pandemic context, this has all changed. An alarming number of South Africans reported burnout as a result of the emotional and mental burden that Covid-19 imposed on their psyches.
The South African Drugs and Anxiety Group (Sadag) reported that 10 percent of the South African labour force now has depression due to work uncertainty, the rise in artificial intelligence and the higher work expectations that have become part and parcel of the country’s difficult economic position.
Small businesses are microcosms of the bigger picture, and many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have followed their larger counterparts in adopting policies that cater to better employee wellbeing. These include having a counsellor on call, subsidies for gyms and exercise establishments, leave days for mental recuperation, childcare services at company events, stress management training and flexible work schedules. Now, in the new era of work, mental health issues should be regarded more seriously.
Promote training and upskilling
The pandemic and the subsequent move towards remote working culture have served as driving forces behind new and advanced technologies. Apps that allow for collaboration, file sharing, remote timekeeping and task management have gone from convenience add-ons to essential must-haves.
Along with this rapid advance in technology, employees in every sector have been challenged to learn more and work more efficiently. This is particularly true within the South African context, where the unfortunate reality of mass terminations and redundancies forced many people to upskill themselves or risk becoming unemployed.
The Skills Development Act of South Africa provides a framework for businesses of all sizes to prioritise training in the workplace in the interest of helping South Africans to build viable and future-proof careers. The role of the employer is key in helping to foster a workplace culture where learning and development is ongoing.
The pandemic brought many difficult realities to the fore. Among them were issues around unfair labour practices and unethical workplace policies around absenteeism and performance. Today, we also know that the pandemic affected women employees disproportionately, which gave rise to discourse around the gender pay gap. Coupled with these complexities are matters relating to racial discrimination in the workplace, low productivity rates and the changing roles and responsibilities of leadership teams within businesses.
The companies who fared the best over this turbulent period have been companies that have practised transparency. In the post-pandemic era, employees will hold their employers more accountable in terms of their actions towards building more inclusive, diverse workplaces. For this reason, the role of the HR professional in a small business has become of paramount importance.
The small businesses of the future need to find a firm foundation in open communication, a culture of mutual respect, the fair division of labour and policies that are created around the real-life, grassroots experiences of employees. Listening to employees, hearing their concerns and using their opinions as starting points for change will become even more critical going forward.
Ben Bierman is the managing director of Business Partners Limited.