/ 3 August 2022

How to keep your skilled employees happy

Gettyimages 1349030489

Workers have had more than two years to find a work/life balance and have become savvy about working productively while participating more fully in family life. Everyone is now used to exercising, shopping and doing their chores when it suits them, rather than ramming these things into weekends and tiny time slots at the beginning and end of the day. The Dutch parliament recently approved legislation to establish work-from-home as a legal right, making the Netherlands one of the first countries to grant remote working flexibility by law.

As a result, some organisations are giving up their office spaces because they know all staff will not return full time. Others have maintained smaller spaces to accommodate the new normal – the hybrid model. And those employers trying to return to a pre-pandemic “normal” face the great resignation.

According to PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey of more than 52 000 workers in 44 countries and territories, one in five workers globally plan to quit their job in 2022 — this is in addition to the nearly 50-million workers who left their jobs in 2021 in the US alone.

Work/life balance now means something real 

So many office workers no longer want to dress up every day, leave the comfort and safety of their homes to navigate traffic, try to be productive within a disruptive environment, and then navigate traffic again to get back home. Nor are they interested in paying the dramatically increased cost of transport. Other workers who left the cities during the pandemic don’t want to return — their new lifestyle suits them and their families better. 

Countries such as the US, Canada and Australia are experiencing record low levels of unemployment. Current forecasts for US unemployment following a decline to 4.6% in 2021 is now set at 3.4% for 2022. Employees in these geographies have enormous leverage and high resignation rates have resulted.

The opposite is true for South Africa, where our unemployment rate continues to spiral upwards, and only a select few have the flexibility of being able to quit their jobs for a lifestyle change. 

South Africans with in-demand skills have more choices

Employees with scarce skills have many choices right now. They can be selective about where, how, and for whom they work. Some are choosing emigration for access to better opportunities (which doesn’t only refer to salary). Others are semi-grating within the country, knowing that the negotiation power is on their side. Others are choosing to stay in the same physical space but work for corporations in different locations. And others are choosing the more lucrative gig economy. As a result, employers who want to retain their highly skilled staff have to rethink their retention strategies.  

Why are highly skilled workers reevaluating their careers? 

Everyone’s reasons vary. Some are introverted and prefer to work independently. This works for many roles. Some take care of ageing parents or home-school their children, or now own pets, and can do this more productively from home while knowing they can still deliver on the work expected of them. Covid taught us way more than that we don’t need a physical office. 

The younger generations, the digital natives, the Millennial and Gen Z cohorts who have so many of today’s sought-after skills, simply value well-being and balance more than previous generations did. Work for them must be attractive and beneficial — specifically curated to encourage collaboration, creativity and camaraderie.

Companies doing well with staff retention now are taking all these factors into account and adapting to new ways of working because they understand what it takes to retain the scarce skills they need. They’ve increased focus on outputs rather than time spent in office, and they’re often prepared to forgo the office in favour of away-days and off-site meetings when staff need to collaborate. 

Skills are suddenly more important than ever

LinkedIn compared the skills its members listed as most important for jobs in 2015 with those for the same jobs in 2021. A quarter of the skills had changed in six years, partly because of accelerated automation during the pandemic. It is estimated that 39% to 44% of vital skills could change again by 2025.

And it’s not just technical skills that are important. A 2020 World Economic Forum report suggested the top five skills for 2025 would include analytical thinking and active learning, precisely the “soft” skills that are harder to teach, quantify and digitise. And McKinsey reports that success in the digital economy requires participants to excel at social, emotional, technological and higher cognitive skills.

Growing the skills required to operate in the hybrid working world will not come only from formal education. Employees and the self-employed will have to keep their skills current by supplementing with high-velocity training in fast-emerging tools and techniques as they’re needed. 

Companies can increase productivity in a hybrid working environment while simultaneously creating policies that attract scarce skills. This is a time of experimentation and testing, adapting to more accommodating schedules, providing benefits people actually want and enabling more flexibility. We are all working this thing out as we go.

Martin Pienaar is the chief operations officer at Mindworx, a provider of digital skills training.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.