More South Africans are quitting their jobs – and experts warn its a ticking time bomb

 ·7 Nov 2021

New research suggests evidence of the global ‘great resignation’ trend is emerging in South Africa as overworked employees are quitting their jobs. Reasons include longer working hours, fewer opportunities to take leave and toxic workplace culture.

Remchannel, Old Mutual’s reward-management platform, said that higher staff turnover and accrued leave costs could be a ticking time bomb for corporates in the country.

Speaking at a recent webinar, René Richter, managing director of Remchannel, reported that staff turnover has increased by 16% across all sectors.

Almost 69% of remuneration survey participants – namely HR and reward professionals – indicated that they struggled to attract new or retain their existing talent.

“Whilst there are various reasons for labour turnover such as retirement, termination of contracts, and downsizing, the October 2021 Salary and Wage Movement survey revealed that the leading reason an employee left employment between April and October 2021 was due to resignation (60%), suggesting aspects of the ‘Great Resignation’ trend, which started in the US, where millions of people, from frontline workers to senior executives, voluntarily called time on their jobs,” said Richter.

Looking at the different survey results, she believes that the correlation between the high rate of resignations, shifting workplace expectations, and a radical increase in leave liability since the pandemic started can partly explain this phenomenon.

“With the advent of Covid-19 and lockdown, people were obviously saving their leave to take at a more appropriate time. We’ve seen the leave liability – the rand value of leaving an employee is owed in pay – among survey respondents increase over the last eight years from R8.4 billion to R10.7 billion in the mining industry sector alone.

“The real cost of higher staff turnover and accrued leave, which is registered on the company’s books as a debt, indicates a liquidity risk to corporate South Africa. The pattern of burnout, toxic workplace culture and a drop in productivity suggest a ticking time bomb,” said Richter.


Richter said that the pandemic and remote working experience have also impacted workplace expectations and productivity, with about 36% of survey respondents saying that they expected employees to answer emails after hours.

“People are working harder than ever, and there are no boundaries, suggesting a recipe for burnout and eventual decrease in productivity,” says Richter. Burnout syndrome, caused by chronic stress and fatigue, can partially be attributed to increasing and unrealistic workplace demands, coupled with financial and home pressures.”

“Employees are saying ‘I don’t want more of the same, I need balance’ and ‘I want to work the way I want to work to avoid this burnout phenomenon’. So even in a job-scarce country like South Africa, where you expect to see workers clinging to their jobs, we’re seeing aspects of this global trend,” she noted.

These findings are reflected in a recent survey of 4,303 IT workers by cybersecurity and anti-virus provider Kaspersky. The group’s data shows that more than half (57%) of employees reported an increased workload since switching to remote working.

“The good news is that many businesses are rising to the challenge to seek ways to help manage potential burnout. In fact, 83% of firms are investing in training courses to improve core skills, such as management and timekeeping (41%),” Kaspersky said.

“Companies are also offering perks, such as additional paid time off or annual leave (33%) and providing online wellbeing consultations and courses (33%). However, the report indicates there is still work to be done to mitigate the increased burden of work among remote workers.”

A sense of freedom

While some of these skilled South Africans opt to take their talents overseas, several professionals opt to remain in the country and are contracting their skills overseas instead.

“It is not about people leaving the country per se. It is about people changing their jobs because they have rethought or reimagined their career and what is important to them,” said Georgina Barrick, managing director at Network Contracting Solutions, AdvTech Resourcing’s Contracting Division.

“I think the pace that we have been operating at (during the pandemic) has been unsustainable, and so we are seeing more organisations addressing mental health and wellness as being locked in your home has been very tough on many people.”

Barrick said that the immense pressure created by dealing with both work and home duties had led people to evaluate exactly what they wanted to be doing, resulting in high staff turnover.

“We are seeing a lot of international companies looking to South Africa for skills, which gives contractors the opportunity to work on international projects and not leave the country.”

This was echoed by Johann van Niekerk, managing director of contracting company Outsized, who said that the lockdown has given people a sense of freedom and an opportunity to reevaluate their jobs.

“Many people used to the fixed routine of office work have experienced that heady sense of freedom in the Covid lockdowns, when working from home brought greater flexibility, more trust, a focus on output rather than input, and a significant time saving by not commuting.

“For some, it will provoke a restlessness and sense of possibility that triggers another major shake-up for businesses already rocked by the pandemic,” he said.

When companies begin to recall their workers to the office or move to hybrid models, some won’t go, he said.

“Many of the most talented and innovative will realise they can earn more money, enjoy a greater variety of work and have a happier lifestyle by becoming independent contractors.

“It’s a choice that will appeal to top talent in fields such as actuarial, strategy, data science, programme management, business process management and digital marketing, amongst others.”

Read: Skilled people are leaving South Africa in droves – and the government’s employment plans can’t stop it

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