Given that Stats SA recently announced record-breaking unemployment numbers, the Great Resignation trend sweeping the developed world may seem of limited relevance to South Africa. File Image: IOL
Given that Stats SA recently announced record-breaking unemployment numbers, the Great Resignation trend sweeping the developed world may seem of limited relevance to South Africa. File Image: IOL

Retaining employees amidst record-breaking unemployment numbers

By Time of article published Dec 22, 2021

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By Gerhard Hartman

Given that Stats SA recently announced record-breaking unemployment numbers, the Great Resignation trend sweeping the developed world may seem of limited relevance to South Africa. However, the reality is that local companies are struggling to hold onto their best talent in fields where scarce skills such as finance, technology, management and engineering are sought after.

HR departments and organisational leaders need to understand the importance of what makes their employees tick to deliver experiences that keep them engaged in their jobs. PwC’s Workforce Preference Study offers some pointers.

In the post-pandemic landscape, ‘flexible work schedules and work time’, top the list for the South African respondents to the PwC survey; ‘work that is interesting and challenging’ is third.

While ‘base pay’ comes in second, market-related remuneration is an expectation. What will persuade someone to stay when offered another job with similar career development opportunities at the same pay level? The magic ingredients relate to human connection in the business, workplace flexibility, and the employee’s alignment with the company’s purpose and culture.

Seven practical tips can help you meet these needs and improve your employee engagement and retention:

  • Offer genuinely flexible working arrangements: At Sage, we have embraced what we call Flexible Human Work – flexibility to choose to work from the office, home or both; to decide where you work, including a different country or city; and to choose variable, compressed, part-time or job share working arrangements. While every organisation can’t offer all employees complete flexibility, offering realistic options is key to retention, especially among younger talent – align this to your business’ vision.
  • Foster true human connections: Workplaces with higher levels of human connection will be more successful in retaining employees. Ways to foster relationships include promoting teamwork by giving everyone a chance to contribute and pairing employees with mentors to show them the ropes.
  • Create a sense of purpose and belonging: Purpose-driven businesses excel at retaining employees. These businesses have a mission to solve customer problems and serve communities that go beyond the financial targets for the next quarter. Sage research shows that 48% of South African employees cite their employer’s commitment to corporate philanthropy as a significant driver for working for the organisation.
  • Focus on mental and physical wellness: Employees have a renewed appreciation for psychological and physical health. Companies that support them with well-considered wellness programmes can gain an edge in employee retention. A fundamental way to show a business cares about mental and physical health is to respect that people need holidays, weekends, and reasonable working hours underpinned to what was contractually agreed.
  • Listen to employees: Communication needs to be a two-way street – companies should listen to employees and take their feedback seriously. This includes an informal discussion between employees and leaders, as well as more formal programmes such as employee surveys and performance reviews. It’s critical that employees feel they can share feedback, ideas and even criticism.
  • Offer appreciation: Thanking employees for their hard work and commitment can go a long way. Monetary rewards like bonuses are always welcome, but public recognition and time off are also additional ways to show employees you appreciate them.
  • Personalise the proposition: HR departments can benefit from using data to understand employee behaviour and requirements better. This can help them create customised employee value propositions for people from single parents to young high-flyers.
  • Use technology to streamline the experience: Cloud-based technology makes it affordable and simple for nearly any organisation to implement a modern HR solution. This enables HR to focus on building great employee experiences and propositions rather than on admin. A cloud-based HR system will also offer digital self-service and employee communications features that improve the employee experience.

Employee retention: a competitive advantage

The costs of high employee turnover to a business can be significant. Gallup indicates that the cost of replacing an employee can range from half to twice their annual salary. In addition to the costs of recruiting and training new employees, high turnover can harm workforce morale and the customer experience.

Other employees may wonder if they should also be looking for new jobs or become resentful if asked to fill in for colleagues who have left. Those that cannot secure other jobs in the current economic climate might stay but become increasingly disengaged and dissatisfied in their careers. This, in turn, impacts the quality of their work, productivity, and engagements with customers.

On the flip side, an engaged and satisfied workforce can be a serious competitive advantage. Research shows that committed and engaged employees at work perform 20% better and are 87% less likely to leave their current company. Achieving this level of engagement isn’t easy, but the rewards will more than justify the effort.

Gerhard Hartman is Vice President: Medium Business for Sage Africa & Middle East

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