Covid-19 had a profound impact on how we view work as part of our lives. Africa People Advisory highlights a few key trends on the continent and unpacks which HR skills are required to ensure companies have the right people to execute their strategies in the future.
The workplace in Africa – new ways of work and what it means for the continent
In a few years, the world will hopefully have moved on from using the phrase ‘post-Covid’. Who knows what terms we will have coined by then to refer to an external impulse pushing the world off course into a new direction?
However, for now, novel nomenclature like ‘quiet quitting’ and ‘the great resignation’ all flow from a new way of work and work-related employee behaviours that has been thrust into the spotlight after the pandemic.
Globally, various studies continue to unpack the impact. Pan-African advisory group, People Africa Advisory, recently conducted a survey of 180 companies.
In ‘New Ways of Working: An African Report 2022’, the advisory firm argues that while a change in staffing dynamics may be a global trend, companies in Africa need a regional understanding of the changing environment and how they can pivot to retain talent from 2023 onwards.
“We’ve picked up on a few big trends that should be on the agenda for HR practitioners,” says Nicol Mullins, managing partner at Africa People Advisory Group.
Check your structure, then staff strategically
In the past, organisations and companies would typically employ people through permanent or fixed-term contracts to help them execute their strategies. This is changing rapidly to an approach where companies often look for talent on a gig-work or project basis.
Mullins says Africa People Advisory Group is increasingly finding that organisations are supplementing their workforce with short-term or gig employees.
The benefit of this approach is, of course, that your gig workforce can be found across the globe if the required work is remote.
Companies are therefore no longer limited to searching for talent only within a regional geographic pool.
“Covid showed us that we may not need all employees, all the time, within a business. There is the ability to in-source for a specific period at a reduced cost, cutting overheads and driving up profitability in a revenue-constrained economic environment,” he says.
To find the right talent for short-term jobs, skills marketplaces like UpStack, UpWork and Fiverr are some of the internationally recognised platforms that can be used.
“On the continent, Africanfreelancers.com is a good platform that is gaining traction,” says Mullins.
Quiet quitting, acting your wage and the Great Resignation
Mullins jokes that Africa is more known for the Great Migration in the Serengeti than the Great Resignation, but does admit that a changing attitude to work – which is being felt globally – is evident on the continent.
“I would rather call it the ‘Great Rethink’. We are observing it as a trend. People are actively looking for new employment opportunities,” he says. “For example, many Nigerians are currently relocating to Canada.”
The reasons for rethinking traditional employment at current workplaces range from people doing lifestyle audits and evaluating whether they want and need a change, to reconsidering their current positions for better offers in other parts of the world.
“Organisations that see the current levels of volatility as an opportunity will attract new talent. People are looking for employers that embrace this new way of working. Companies that have not embraced it are softly suffocating the productivity and creativity of their employees,” says Mullins.
That is when you find people who insist on ‘acting their wage’ or ‘quiet quitting’ – basically quitting through your actions, but not leaving.
“This does not bode well for company productivity … Ask employees in your organisation what would make them more engaged, give them autonomy and create an environment of psychological safety,” he says.
Mullins advises that organisations rethink their talent management strategy and retention of people. He says they should analyse their data and not be caught unawares if the top people suddenly leave.
Hybrid work and productivity
Being able and allowed to work from a location other than the office definitely brings practical productivity gains and has become the norm for many organisations on the continent.
Not having to spend hours in traffic and cutting down on idle office chit-chat and small talk around the water cooler helps, but there are also pitfalls to not spending time with colleagues face-to-face.
“We miss a level of social connectedness in the working environment if everyone works remotely,” says Mullins.
For the African workplace, he suggests that companies unlock discretionary effort by having flexible remote work policies. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Performance management – let it go
Mullins states emphatically that he does not believe in performance management and urges companies to rethink this approach.
“I don’t believe you can manage people’s performance. What you can do is to create the environment where people can thrive and offer up their discretionary effort to align to the strategy of the business,” he explains.
He says the worst possible thing you could do is to segment your workforce into high- and low-potential employees.
“You should rather find ways to create career momentum for every person in your organisation. Secondary to that, you then ask how the company strategy fits into that,” he says.
Mullins does however see a role for outcomes-based key performance indicators (KPIs), because hitting these short-term targets may create momentum and passion in employees to continuously improve their way of working.
“There is nothing that can drive this process better than a simple conversation between the stakeholders, whether it be manager-employee or a coach or mentor.”
Do you know how to move with the times?
Clearly, a critical skill that is needed in HR teams to thrive in the new world is strategic workforce planning to determine who is required, and when, in order to execute on strategy.
The second, says Mullins, is the ability to analyse data and then draw insights.
“HR practitioners cannot only look after the people; you have to show business acumen and have finance skills to understand whether the current team in the business can attain the strategic vision they were employed for,” he adds.
The future HR professional will be critical in managing a very fluid, diverse and dynamic workforce, with people coming and going as and when strategy requires it.
People with problem-solving skills will be needed to guide companies through the Great Rethink, past quiet quitting, towards a future of gig workers and project teams.
Brought to you by the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS).
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