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The Great Resignation on Its Way to SA


We’re not talking about a ‘return to normal’ anymore. The topic of discussion for businesses in South Africa today is the ‘great resignation’, as the pandemic has led employees across the world to weigh up employment options and consider whether they actually enjoy their work.

11.5m workers quit their jobs from April to June in the USA, while Gallup Research predicts 1:4 will resign in the next 6 months in the States. SD Worx research found that the great resignation is also hitting Germany, Netherlands, France and Belgium. Remchannel reports a 15% increase in staff turnover and almost 69% of Remchannel remuneration survey participants indicated they struggled to attract new and retain existing talent.

Georgina Barrick (MD: Network Contracting Solutions – AdvTech Resourcing’s Contracting Division) says that while this trend has not hit South Africa in a meaningful way as yet, it is likely to be seen more clearly in the near future.

While South Africa faces a record high unemployment rate, which hit 34.4% in the last quarter (Q2 2021), there is still a dearth of skills in certain sectors. This means highly skilled South Africans have the opportunity to be more discriminant in the work they choose to take on post-pandemic.

Barrick notes it is not about people leaving the country per se. It is about people changing their jobs because they have rethought or reimagined their career and what is important to them.

The pace that we have been operating at (during the pandemic) has been unsustainable, and so we are seeing more organisations addressing mental health and wellness as being locked in your home has been very tough on many people.

This had been exacerbated for professionals who have had children homeschooling during the lockdown, as well as having to deal with other home-based responsibilities while still trying to work.

Barrick says “Your workday is not an 08h00 to 17h00 day. It’s 08h00 to 17h00, followed by a pause, a second job of dealing with your family, and then restarting work at 20h00 or 21h00. This immense pressure has led people to evaluate exactly what they want to be doing, resulting in staff turnover. We are seeing a lot of international companies looking to South Africa for skills, which gives contractors the opportunity to work on international projects and not leave the country.”


As the tsunami of potential resignations looms, the best way to stabilise your business is to increase retention rates. You need to think about the people who are with you here and now – working for, and with you. What do they need NOW?

The short answer is they need to be seen for who they are and what they are contributing, not to mention the importance of acknowledging the loyalty and grit they demonstrated during the pandemic. It is your job as a leader to make sure they’re getting the recognition they deserve.

Employers, leaders and managers have had to deal with uncertainty, change, not having the right people in the right quantities in the right seats to get through the workload, and there is a myriad of other complications the past two years have bestowed on us.

So let’s take a breath and consider the sage advice of Harvard Business Review (Employee Retention published October 2021):


Leaders are watched by staff all the time. Pause and consider how you are showing up in both words and actions. Pay attention to how you message the realities of pain points to staff. Give some thought to how your own concerns and frustrations are experienced by others and be wary of adding to their fear and uncertainty.


This is a time to be grounded in pragmatism blended with possibility, gratitude and recognition of what your staff are going through. Ask employees what they envision as the best possible outcomes, what excites them about it and what does that give us as a team and organisation. This approach to staff communication results in a positive impact – one of potential and possibility instead of fear and uncertainty.


Consider how you and others in your company treat people who leave. In many companies, the reaction to a resignation is akin to an emotional breakup (you’ve been left and feel rejected). This in turn results in a tendency to act to imply the person leaving is ‘wrong’ and some go so far as to cast doubt on their trustworthiness or integrity – even though this was not the case before they gave notice.

Dismissing their presence and devaluing their contribution creates a negative impact on remaining employees. Never forget that behaviour towards employees who do leave is also closely watched by those who stay.

It is helpful to realise the era of lifelong employment is over and – with rare exception – your employees are with your company as a pit stop on their career journey. They have contributed and hopefully benefitted from learnings while employed. Rather than viewing a resignation as a rejection of the relationship, view it as an inflection point in its evolution; approaching these transitions with gratitude creates an altogether more positive impact in your organisation.


Try to think of your employees like you do about customers and pay attention to what you can do to retain them. You cannot take your employees for granted and expect them to stay. Healthy relationships don’t work that way.

Spend time to understand their motivations and ambitions. Help them fulfil unrealised aspirations and ambitions.

Help them see – and claim! – the positive impact they have on the company. Acknowledge not just what they are doing, but why it matters. Tell them what you appreciate about how they show up during difficult times, and how they make a difference.

Make these conversations an ongoing dialogue. Once-off conversations serve no purpose. It needs to be part of all leaders and managers’ approach on a daily basis and it has to be supported with action.

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