Why companies in South Africa are struggling to keep hold of skilled workers

The retention of talent is likely to remain a significant risk factor for businesses in 2022 as the ‘great resignation’ trend shows no signs of slowing, says professional services firm PwC.

The pandemic has prompted many workers to reflect more on the ‘why’ of their jobs, with unsatisfactory answers contributing to the growing resignation trend, the firm said.

“However, in South Africa where unemployment is higher than ever, this is nuanced. Certainly, there are notable challenges being experienced with finding skilled and executive talent in light of increased emigration and other pressures. Creative retention arrangements, which are more sophisticated than cash alone are becoming an increasing weapon in the talent war.”

According to PwC some of the push factors that are leading more people to quit include:

  • Complaints about the 09h00 to 17h00 ‘office grind’
  • Long commutes in traffic;
  • Employers insist that employees return to the office full-time after nearly two years of working from home.

“In simple terms, in some instances a failure to create employee buy-in and alignment to a company’s strategy and/or purpose and underlying values, and a reduction or absence of incentives vesting, particularly at a C-suite level, has made the barriers to leaving a company much lower.

“This coupled with the introspection mentioned above has led to an acceleration in resignations.”

Traditional incentives not working 

PwC noted that traditional incentives for keeping skilled workers, such as retention bonuses, are also no longer as effective as they used to be. These are incentives not to move on, in the form of equity, which are often ‘locked up’ for a period of time with the employee contracted for a guaranteed minimum period.

The problem with this approach is that employers are attempting to ‘buy’ loyalty rather than growing it by identifying and resolving the retention risk in the first place.

“It is not uncommon for employees to take a retention incentive and leave shortly after the guaranteed period of intention, having used the time to search for a new role,” PwC said. It added that offering retention incentives to too many employees means that some people who have no intentions of leaving are kept on at a higher cost.

It is also not uncommon for sign-on bonuses at a new company to match or even exceed retention incentives at the current place of work, it said.

While a number of companies have also flagged the risk of the ‘great resignation’ and the loss of skilled employees, PwC said that these figures are also incredibly difficult to track.

“Although there are widespread concerns and much discussion about the apparent increase in resignations in South Africa, no official statistics are available.

“It is possible that we are yet to experience the rest resignation locally, but between factors such as the extremely high unemployment rate and skills exodus, it is very difficult to reliably discern any trends.”


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Why companies in South Africa are struggling to keep hold of skilled workers