Reports show that bosses are increasingly asking employees to return to the office on a more permanent basis, in a return to the pre-pandemic working environment. The problem is many don’t want to come back in that capacity and would prefer a hybrid model to their working lives.
In an interview with Cape Talk, Advaita Naidoo, MD, Africa at Jack Hammer Global, an executive search firm, said that a large proportion of big firms in South Africa are offering employees return-to-work ultimatums: come back to the office or face losing your job.
“We’ve seen it a lot with some of the bigger companies locally in South Africa, purely because those are the ones that hit the news, they affect the most number of people. But, anecdotally, I can share that we’re hearing from people in small to mid-size companies, business leaders reaching out to us, asking what options they have at this stage, trying to do a temperature check on the market,” said Naidoo.
Return-to-work ultimatums have become more common than anticipated given that the country successfully managed work-from-home for two years, said Naidoo. The hiring expert said that these ultimatums have been met with some surprise, as a result.
Naidoo said that employers asking staff back to the office is less about physically returning to work, but more about company culture and the employee value proposition. She said there is nothing inherently wrong with being back in the office, workers simply want to know the rationale behind it.
Have employees been consulted? Suddenly with very little notice, employees are being called back to the office, said Naidoo. She said that this speaks to how the shift back to the office is more about a managerial style than productivity.
Despite these ultimatums, Naidoo said that South Africans have been grateful to have their jobs and due to the country’s fragile socio-economic situation, we are unlikely to see a great resignation to the extent of many countries abroad.
Linda Trim, a director at workplace design specialist company Giant Leap, said that more people have left the office environment to work from home as they struggle to concentrate. She said that the way in which people work has significantly changed, with video meetings being the new norm and people wanting more privacy.
“People need to give a reason for workers to come back to the office. They want so much more,” said Trim.
“A lot of companies are realising that they cannot keep people at home, but they struggle with fixing or creating alternative solutions that will not only encourage a return, but also foster a better working dynamic amongst themselves.”
A recent study conducted by the consultancy found that when asked what they would prefer, either privacy at the office or remote work, 55% of employees said they would work from home two or fewer days per week if they had an assigned desk in the office.
The study conducted by Steelcase, represented by Giant Leap, revealed that the most important factor for people in office now, compared to pre-pandemic, is privacy. More employees want spaces for hybrid collaboration, single-person enclaves, privacy, workstations with full or partial enclosure and reservable work areas.
The trend of more people wanting to remain working from home is not unique to South Africa. As reported by Bloomberg, similar findings provided by the Policy Institute at King’s College London showed that people enjoy and value working from home and do not see a future that includes a return to the traditional five-day work week.
Hiring firm CareerJunction said that in the ever-evolving employment landscape, one thing remains constant – retaining employees can be difficult to achieve.” In South Africa, on average, candidates stay about two years and 10 months in the same job before moving on.
“Employees who have been in the same job for more than three years are considered above average when it comes to job tenure.”
The group’s Employment Insights Report for May provides some indication of an increasing shift back towards the office. It pointed to growing hiring activity over the past three months for office-related positions. CareerJunction said the biggest increase – 23% – in hiring activity is for admin, office and support-related jobs.
The jobs in this sector include:
- Administrative Clerk
- Client/Customer Support
- Human Resources