During the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe, forcing businesses to close their physical premises and adapt their work practices to incorporate remote working. Employers learned that the age-old model of ‘9 to 5’ physical work hours could shift dramatically. In many cases, productivity was enhanced as workers no longer had to endure long commutes and worked longer hours. The crisis brought about reforms in HR practices and taught us that clinging to familiar old practices may have even slowed down our innate ability to innovate and become agile. Some companies even cut their costs by saving on rental and maintenance costs of expensive business premises.
One of the unexpected outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 was dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’, coined by Dr Anthony Klotz. The unprecedented churn in the US Labour market triggered a ‘quit rate’ that reached a 20-year-high towards the end of the year. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that the reasons cited by employees leaving their jobs were: no opportunities for advancement in their current jobs; feeling disrespected at work, low pay, lack of flexibility in work hours, poor benefits and child care issues. The majority of those who quit their jobs in 2021 and did not retire are now employed elsewhere and at least half of these workers say that compared with the last job, they are now earning more money, have an easier time balancing work and family responsibilities and have more flexibility in their work hours.
As employees were forced to stay in their homes during lockdown periods, many of them had time to re-evaluate their lives. Many people cherished the extra time they had to spend with their families or pursue other interests. Discussions around work-life balance came into renewed focus. Many Americans started their businesses during this time and pursued side hustles to boost their income. As more Americans quit their jobs, savvy employers adapted quickly and addressed issues such as employee wellness, and financial and mental health and introduced remote or hybrid work opportunities. The ‘Great Resignation’ became the ‘Great Reshuffle.’ Some companies instituted four-day workweeks, higher compensation and all-remote work schedules to retain their best talent.
The war for talent has led Human Resource practitioners to draft new policies to help their companies to stand out and attract the best candidates. Some companies instituted ‘meeting free’ hours to enhance productivity and help improve efficiency which led to shorter working hours that did not affect the bottom line. ‘Working smart’ practices that reduce inefficient systems and processes have also helped to free employees’ time.
‘Work from anywhere,’ policies have also helped employees to take working holidays. While some employees use this policy to travel, some simply work from where they live. These new models have reshaped HR practices, boosted employee morale and reduced attrition rates. Paid sabbaticals have also been on the increase.
The modern-day world has put more pressure on employees than ever before. ‘Burnout’ has become a common term and many workers around the globe have grappled with this crippling issue at some point in their careers. In Japan, the term ‘Karoshi’ means death from overwork. The country has been suffering from many social issues related to harsh work practices that are not even legal in other countries. However, the government is now stepping in to curb these practices. When the pandemic hit, some workers experienced a ‘wake-up call.’ Could Japan be on the brink of its own ‘Great Resignation?’
In Australia, 1 in 5 workers changed their jobs last year and in India, reports indicate that the information technology industry witnessed a record attrition rate in 2021. Reports from the UK suggest that the ‘Great Resignation’ continues to be a problem in 2022.
Signs of the ‘Great Resignation’ are rippling across South Africa. However, the factors triggering the exodus are different from those experienced in the US. The emerging gig economy is playing a part in driving this phenomenon. Indeed, the emerging gig economy in Africa will lead to many shifts in the world of work. There are many changes on the horizon, workers are more empowered and dissatisfaction is building. HR practitioners will have to steer their organisations through these difficult times and devise policies that help them attract and retain the right talent that will help their companies thrive. Losing good employees can bring operations to a standstill and as they walk out the door with their institutional knowledge, important skills-sets that have been forged over time and technical and social prowess, companies may run the risk of losing their competitive edge. Understanding trends, their local context, employee sentiment and needs and being open to recalibrating and trying new models may be the key for HR professionals to stay ahead of the game and win the ‘war for talent.’
About the Annual HR Summit
The Annual HR Summit is an initiative of the SBS Executive Education Department to support HR business leaders to thrive and optimize their human capital. The theme of this year’s summit is: The Great Resignation: Are African Businesses Off the Hook? Learn more about the Annual HR Summit 2022 here
Article by Shailja Sharma, Executive Fellow and Coach