The global phenomenon dubbed the “Great Resignation” has South Africa firmly in its grasp, but the profile of workers resigning from jobs differs from the rest of the world, writes Dalya Ketz, MD at Gcubed Boutique Recruitment.Where other countries experienced a mass resignation of low wage workers, in South Africa, highly skilled, qualified workers are not only resigning from their jobs locally but leaving the country entirely in search of better opportunities abroad.

Such a skills exodus is nothing new for South Africa with an estimated one million people having emigrated between 2015 and 2020, but it is particularly worrisome as employment opportunities abroad have increased dramatically, particularly for skilled workers. What do businesses need to be doing to counter the Great Resignation and attract and retain skilled talent in a post-Covid era? To stay competitive in today’s labour market, companies have to offer more than just a high salary, especially if they depend on specialised skills.

Skyrocketing resignation numbers

Even in a job-scarce country like South Africa where workers would be expected to hang onto their jobs, the Great Resignation is having a profound impact and resignation levels are higher than they’ve been for more than a decade. Research from Old Mutual’s reward management platform Remchannel, revealed that staff turnover increased by 16% across all sectors. Almost 69% of respondents in the remuneration survey (largely HR and reward professionals) confirmed that businesses are struggling to attract new talent and retain existing staff.

Although there are other contributing factors for such high staff turnover figures such as retirement, termination of contracts, and downsizing through retrenchments, the October 2021 Salary and Wage Movement survey noted that 60% of people leaving employment between April and October 2021 did so through resignation.

Resigning for better opportunities

Labour shortages overseas are also enticing skilled South Africans, and where international companies are prepared to assist with relocating their entire families abroad it is almost impossible for local companies to compete. The reasons behind South Africa’s mass resignations are varied but many relate to a desire for more flexibility.

There is great dissatisfaction where companies do not offer remote or hybrid working arrangements, even post-lockdown. Stress levels are higher as teams are expected to achieve more with fewer resources due to hiring freezes or difficulties replacing those who previously left the company. Burnout is a very real risk, and employees are taking every opportunity to seek a better work-life balance elsewhere.

Acknowledging shifting generational priorities

This is especially prevalent with Millennials and Generation Z, who are not as attracted by high salary packages as their predecessor generations. These younger generations place less emphasis on fat pay cheques, looking instead for meaning and purpose in their work, and using resignation as a springboard to search for organisations that are better aligned to their wants, needs and their personal values.

They’re not just searching for employment, they’re looking to join a company that is committed to making a difference beyond compulsory CSI lip service and because of this, the attributes that make a company a great place to work must change.

How to make a company a great place to work

To meet the needs of an increasingly self-aware workforce and to restore competitiveness in a candidate-driven market, companies need to recognise that the solution to the problem isn’t throwing more money at new hires. What companies need to be doing is reconsidering their value propositions and their impact on the world around them while focusing more on retention policies.

This includes upskilling and retraining existing staff, in addition to offering clearer pathways for career advancement through skills development and learning opportunities. Individuals are more likely to stay where the opportunity for personal growth is evident. Flexibility is of major importance, and companies will benefit greatly from offering employees more say in where they work, when they work and even how they’re compensated.

However, while money is important, it isn’t everything. Millennials and Gen Zs are concerned with whether the company they choose to work for cares about them as individuals. This means companies need to re-examine their culture, looking for ways to enable employees to strike a better balance between workplace productivity and life beyond office hours.

Here, companies will have to take a holistic approach and focus on employee wellbeing, not only from a mental perspective, but from a financial and personal perspective as well. People don’t leave their problems at home when they come to work, and companies would do well to recognise this reality.

Rethinking the role of recruitment

From a talent-sourcing perspective, recruitment agencies have an important role to play in assisting companies to navigate a candidate-driven labour market. They must act as an important intermediary in ensuring that the expectations of both parties (the potential employee and employer alike) are clearly articulated and reasonable.

Clarity on expectations from both sides means that there is less likely to be disappointment resulting from unmet expectations, which results in further resignations.  Recruiters must enable transparency throughout the hiring process that goes beyond merely checking boxes to meet a job spec. To ensure that talent placement sticks, recruitment agencies will need to have some uncomfortable conversations with clients.

Recruiters should use every opportunity to inspire their clients to relook their value propositions, and act as trusted advisors in setting organisations on the right path toward becoming a company that cares equally about attracting the right kind of talent and holding onto it with both hands.

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