Picture: 123RF/ wirojsid
Picture: 123RF/ wirojsid

A new trend of mass resignations across the working world is being seen by some companies and economists as a wave of impending destruction. This trend, emerging in the aftermath of Covid-19, is sometimes incorrectly attributed solely to burnout, with companies fearing the “Great Resignation” will damage corporate performances. I believe this to be a myopic and limiting view.

The skilled employees who are resigning in their thousands aren’t only burnt out — many are fired up with enthusiasm for new possibilities as they envisage a different and more fulfilling future. Working from home during the pandemic has been a double wake-up call. Firstly, it has reminded them that life is transient and too valuable to be wasted. Then they experienced the freedom of working at home with flexible hours, no commuting and a greater sense of control over their own destiny.

They have also realised that their skills make them a hot property for competing employers, or for employers across different sectors. That’s a potent combination of realisations that can reset your life as you think about what you want for your remaining years.

The US Bureau of Labour Statistics found that 4.3-million Americans, or 2.9% of the entire workforce, left their jobs in August. The previous months also saw record-breaking resignations across all industries.

In the UK, a survey of 6,000 workers by recruitment firm Randstad UK showed that 69% of employees across various industries were planning a move within the next few months, with 24% planning to jump ship within three to six months. In normal times only about 11% of workers change jobs in a year.

New skills for a better performance

The term “Great Resignation” was coined by US psychologist Anthony Klotz back in May, when he predicted thatpandemic epiphanies” would motivate people to quit their jobs in favour of greener pastures. Taking a positive view, we should be embracing this moment as a “Great Reset”.

Instead of fearing an exodus of skills, smart companies can turn the threat into an opportunity by hiring independent contractors to boost their performance. Harnessed properly, the benefits can include saving money, finding better skills, and injecting fresh knowledge and enthusiasm into existing teams.

Many companies that lose staff through natural attrition are choosing not to replace them, which adds to the workload of those who remain. That increases the pressure and may inadvertently be a catalyst for more resignations. Even if a company does try to recruit permanent replacements, it can take months to find the correct skills.

The quicker, more affordable and more productive solution is to hire the exact skills you need for the period you need by using independent contractors. They may become part of your team in the office, or they may work remotely. Either way, you can choose someone with exactly the skills you require to work on a specific project, without the long-term carrying costs of a permanent employee.

Many people believe consultants are expensive, but building them into your operating model adds broader values beyond the cost. An instant benefit is that it quickly relieves the pressure and puts skills where they are most needed. Nor is it just a like-for-like replacement. There are specialised skills for hire that companies simply do not have internally, so you can bring in knowledge and resources that raise the bar, allow you to execute faster, and help upskill existing employees. Employees will learn far more from working with an expert for six months than they could through the plethora of online courses available to them in their spare time.

The shift is coming to these shores

Although the numbers are not yet enormous in SA, this “Great Reset” is definitely beginning to happen here. As a platform that places skilled independent workers with companies seeking fixed-term contractors, we are seeing a considerable increase in demand on both sides of the equation.

The pool of available independent skills in SA is often considered shallow in some fields, yet the number of experts choosing to go freelance is growing daily. A survey conducted by Outsized earlier this year found that 81.5% of skilled professionals are considering resigning to go solo. Although SA’s unemployment rate is disconcertingly high, many skills are in short supply and people with experience in those fields will not struggle to find positions.

Skilled professionals are opting to become independent for multiple reasons: flexibility; the chance to earn more money and control their destiny; to work when it suits them and to enjoy more variety. For many, what was previously just a thought germinating in their minds has sprouted because of Covid-19 and the constraints it has caused and opportunities it has created. Moreover, if the skills you need are not available locally another beauty of using contractors is that you can draw from anywhere in the world.

Handling this change requires a different way of thinking, because HR departments are set up to deal with long-term hires rather than to dip into a global talent pool on an ad-hoc basis. Yet tapping into that pool can save the effort of having to sift through CVs and interview people to find the right match, because the supplier can identify experienced and vetted individuals whose talents and temperament best fit the position.

Companies have been able to ignore this trend until now because it was a trickle, not a flood. But the coming weeks and months are likely to see a huge growth in resignations across all sectors as talented individuals opt for freedom, having prepared for the leap and with the security of knowing that their skills are in high demand. Even if only a small percentage of your workers resign, for a big business that could mean tens or even hundreds of key workers leaving.

Once this great resignation begins to sweep across SA it could have a negative effect on some companies. But those that choose to see it as a great reset, and set themselves up to harness the opportunity could increase the range of available skills and therefore the company's competitiveness and output.

• Van Niekerk, an actuary, is MD of financial consultant platform Outsized for Africa.

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