New data from Microsoft shows a clear change in South African working habits over the last year, as what employees want from work and what they are willing to give in return have changed significantly.
“We’re simply not the same people that went home to work in early 2020. Employees in South Africa are rethinking what they want from work and voting with their feet when these new expectations aren’t met.
“The challenge ahead for every organisation is to adapt to changing employee priorities while still balancing business outcomes in an unpredictable economy,” said Colin Erasmus, director of modern workplace and Security at Microsoft South Africa.
Microsoft’s data shows four key trends around working in South Africa right now.
It’s not worth coming into the office
While most employees in South Africa favour the idea of a hybrid working model, the data shows people are generally unsure of when to come into the office and why. Many employees also feel the commute is unnecessary and would rather spend valuable time with family.
“It means leaders are faced with a key challenge – making the office worth the commute. The data reveals, however, that few companies globally have created new team norms, such as hybrid work meeting etiquette, to ensure time together is intentional.
“The biggest opportunity for business leaders is to reimagine the role of the office and create clarity around why, when, and how often teams should gather in person,” Microsoft said.
Is it ‘worth it’?
Perhaps one of the most valuable insights from the Index is that employees have a new ‘worth it equation’ and are more likely to prioritise health and wellbeing over work than before the pandemic.
This is particularly the case in South Africa, which forms part of a region where 50% of employees report high feelings of daily stress, Microsoft said.
“It’s also clear employees are acting on this newfound priority to achieve a better work-life balance. In fact, more than half of employees in the broader Middle East and North Africa region say they are prioritising a new job in 2022.”
“Managers feel wedged between leadership and employee expectations. They believe leadership is out of touch with employees and don’t feel empowered to help their teams. Employees agree, with around 84% of workers across the broader region saying they are not engaged,” Microsoft said.
The group noted that managers can help provide a bridge between evolving employee expectations and leadership priorities, but, according to the data, most lack the influence and resources to make changes on behalf of their team.
In fact, almost 70% of managers in the Middle East and Africa say they are battling to empower their people, Microsoft said.
Flexibility vs always on
Though employees prize their newfound flexibility, there’s still a need to combat digital exhaustion.
Leaders across South Africa report equal to or higher productivity levels than before the pandemic, but this has taken a toll on employee work-life balance.
For the average Teams user, meetings, chat, workday span, and after-hours and weekend work have all risen over the past two years. In fact, since February 2020, the average Teams user saw a 252% increase in their weekly meeting time.
“If leaders want to offer employees true flexibility, they must shift focus from activities to impact. Views of productivity are changing and according to the Work Trend Index, most employees feel it’s important for employers to reward impact over hours worked,” Microsoft said.