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Pandemic influences workers’ priorities

Back to work? Not quite. According to a global survey, workers are far more introspective due to the impact of Covid-19 and want a better work-life balance.

Back to work? Not quite. According to a global survey, workers are far more introspective due to the impact of Covid-19 and want a better work-life balance.

Published Jun 9, 2022

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OMESHNIE NAIDOO

TWO weeks. A father of a newborn child in South Africa is likely to receive about 10 days’ leave to spend with his infant before having to return to work. Maternity can be up to four months and pay is discretionary. Needless to say policies vary from one company to the next.

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Apart from a worker’s 21 days of annual leave, taking leave can be awkward, whether it is asking to be excused to attend a dentist appointment, a child’s school sports event, a family funeral, or even an emergency.

Covid-19 has changed all of this. It did not just put the discussion on flexible work hours on the table. It placed the table at a remote destination.

At the height of the pandemic, many employers were forced to ask their staff to work from home and thus remote working became a reality overnight.

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Dayalan Govender, the People and Organisation leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and vice chair on the SA Board for People Practices, said for employees it had shifted perspectives, making them more introspective about their lives.

Govender was not just sharing sentiment, but statistics based on PwC’s flagship annual thought-leadership survey titled, Global Workforce Hopes and Fears, which suggests the future of work is hybrid.

Employees want more pay, but they also want a culture that meets their personal needs and this includes greater flexibility to achieve a better work-life balance.

Specialised

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More than 52 000 people from 44 countries, including South Africa, were surveyed.

Sectors included industrial, retail, government, health, financial, technology and energy.

About 73% were professional or administrative workers, 49% said their jobs required specialised training, and 29% said their skills were scarce in South Africa. In the majority, 46% were millennials, aged between 26 and 41.

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Govender said: “Employees are seeking purpose-driven work that adds meaning to the economy, society and the environment. These multi-generational workers want a compelling value proposition.

“Yes they want more pay, but they also want a culture that meets their personal needs and this includes greater flexibility to achieve a better work-life balance.”

He said the findings were that nearly half of the surveyed respondents prioritised being able to choose where they worked.

“Of the 55% who said their jobs could well be done remotely, 63% said they preferred some mix of in-person and remote working. The same 63% said they expected their employer to offer them that mix for at least the next 12 months. About 26% would prefer full-time remote work, but only 18% said their employer is likely to adopt this model.”

While many have lost their jobs in the face of the pandemic, Covid-19 could well be the catalyst for professional workers to gain work-life balance in the future.

Rakhi Beekrum, a counselling psychologist with an interest in mental health in the workplace, said: “Those who found working from home increased their efficiency and allowed them to structure their day to fulfil different responsibilities are now struggling to return to the office full-time.

“They have learnt that remote work is possible, and due to Covid, they have been reminded that they value family time. Now they need their work environment to align with these truths.”

While companies such as Unilever in some countries and Microsoft have reacted to the sentiment positively, not everyone is having it.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk made headlines recently for his ultimatum to staff. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Bloomberg reported recently that Elon Musk delivered an ultimatum to staff to return to work. The leaked email to executive staff apparently read: “Anyone who wishes to remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean minimum) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla. This is less than we ask of factory workers.”

Cindy Norcott, director at Pro Appointments and Pro Talent, said Covid-19 had created a conundrum for those set in the old ways of work.

Survey

“The survey highlighted the revolutionary shift in the way employees are regarding work. Prior to Covid, employees accepted the status quo of having to work at an office, beholden to strict routines, requirements and structures. Now, employees have had a taste of flexibility, freedom and autonomy,” said Norcott.

“Many employees applying for jobs are insisting on work-from-home/anywhere positions and they want it all. They want the market-related salary and they want to choose where and when they work.”

Market-related salaries for remote working is highly sought after. Picture: Ziphozonke Lushaba/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Dr Jay Govender, Senior Lecturer in Industrial, Organizational and labour Studies at UKZN, said the times we are in come with promises and perils and we must acknowledge that as South Africans the workforce itself is separated by power-knowledge relationships.

“Some will be job loss. Yet for others, all their desires are possible. The future is already here.”

He said just as the nature of employment may change, so should the employee.

“The 4th and 5th industrial revolutions demand a new type of person – beyond the definition of the worker. This new type of person must be an independent, critical and discriminatory thinker, possess multiple intelligences and language proficiencies. They must be cognitive and socially and culturally adept.”

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