Investing in a changing workforce

The reality of the South African workforce is changing at a rapid pace.

Research conducted by Statistics South Africa shows that by the year 2020, up to 1.55 billion workers will be responsible for work that does not confine them to a desk. Also, 80% of South African companies are opting to employ consultants as opposed to full-time employees. Approximately 59% of those entering the workforce are millennials and 43% of organisations are changing their work models.

How then will attracting, developing and retaining a committed workforce need to shift in order to promote sustainable South African business practice?

In order for organisations to remain relevant within this shifting workplace landscape, leaders must engage with people on the appropriate level (i.e. where they’re at) to move forward as a business. Leaders need to do so openly and with a genuine desire to hear and understand employee needs that mirror this globalised century. This understanding is key, since we cannot manage what we don’t know.

Furthermore, the complex challenge presented by the changing workforce requires authentic care and engagement in order to avoid the transitional gaps of asking without integrating, or knowing without acknowledging and acting. Adaptability, flexibility and pro-activity then become foundational to relevant and sustainable business growth.

So what are some of the changes that epitomise this potentially new workplace landscape?

• Multiple generations e.g. Gen 2020, Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers, Traditionalists.
• The virtual workforce i.e. work is no longer a place to go, it is what you do.
• Compressed and flexi work hours which promote productivity and motivation rather than traffic and being shackled to a desk.
• Gender diversity in line with employee equity legislation.
• Workforce diversity in line with BBBEE legislation.
• Family responsibility e.g. single-parent households, two working parents.
• Cross-functional teams as hierarchical structures dissipate.

The impact that these realities are having on organisational futures affect employment and human resources policies. If recruitment practices, contractual co-creation, flexible engagement and the general employee experience are not considered proactively, South African organisations may risk sacrificing skill for policy or creativity for compliance. The balance between business needs and supporting people to help build a workplace culture that incorporates choice, understanding and adaptability needs to be considered through reviewing organisational structures and processes in order to improve agility and secure talent.

With 59% of the emerging workforce being millennials, legislation, leadership, opportunity and flexibility become less about being accommodating in nature and more about an investment in sustainable organisational success. The alternate reality may well be a disengaged workforce that limits the natural ambition and fulfilment seeking that drives the younger, more discerning workforce.

Additionally, the leadership challenge becomes enhanced as diversity management, complexity thinking, indiscriminate engagement and cultures that support digital and virtual realities need to be optimised.

What leadership support and empowerment will need to be considered in leading the realities of five generations, gender equality, cultural diversity, the range of technological discrepancies and family responsibility? What policies and procedures will need to shift in order to retain talent by considering outcomes, rather than workplace and work hours? According to the Securing Work Spaces for Tomorrow white paper produced for Dimension Data “… close to 80 percent of knowledge workers globally work remotely at least one day per week.” If that is today’s reality, what will tomorrow bring? The risk of ignorance and rigidity may well be a price too great to pay.

Sue Bakker is the Academic Head at TowerStone.

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