Global ‘great resignation’ trend seen in SA as long working hours in pandemic rattle employees

People are working harder than ever during the pandemic, often without boundaries - a clear recipe for burnout. Stock photo.
People are working harder than ever during the pandemic, often without boundaries - a clear recipe for burnout. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/milkos

Working longer hours with no boundaries during the protracted Covid-19 lockdown is starting to bite, with many employees feeling overworked and quitting their jobs as a result.

This is according to the latest survey by reward-management platform Remchannel, which found the global “great resignation” trend in other parts of the world, where employees voluntarily leave their jobs, is also emerging in SA.

Remchannel — which is Old Mutual Corporate’s reward-management platform — found  88% of companies which responded to the survey said staff were working longer hours than ever. It also found 32% said employees were expected to answer emails outside traditional working hours. The downside of working too hard, being subjected to travel restrictions, fewer opportunities to take leave and a toxic workplace culture is that many employees simply give up.  

Speaking at a recent Remchannel wellness and performance webinar, René Richter, MD of Remchannel, said staff turnover had increased by 16% across all sectors. Almost 69% of Remchannel remuneration survey participants indicated they struggled to attract new and retain existing talent. 

While there were different reasons for labour turnover such as retirement, termination of contracts and downsizing, the salary and wage movement survey revealed the major reason 60% of employees left their jobs between April and October 2021 was resignations. This suggested aspects of the “great resignation” trend, which started in the US where millions of people from frontline workers to senior executives  voluntarily called time on their jobs, said Richter.

Looking at the survey results, Richter believed the correlation between the high rate of resignations, shifting workplace expectations  and a radical increase in leave liability since the pandemic started could partly explain this phenomenon.  

The pattern of burnout, toxic workplace culture and a drop in productivity suggests a ticking time bomb
René Richter

“With the advent of Covid-19 and lockdowns, people were obviously saving their leave to take at a more appropriate time. We’ve seen the leave liability (the rand value of leave an employee is owed in pay) among survey respondents increase over the past eight years from R8.4bn to R10.7bn in the mining sector alone.  

“The real cost of higher staff turnover and accrued leave, which is registered on the company’s books as a debt, indicates a liquidity risk to corporate SA. The pattern of burnout, toxic workplace culture and a drop in productivity suggests a ticking time bomb,” Richter said. 

The pandemic and remote working experiences had affected workplace expectations and productivity, with about 36% of survey respondents saying they expected employees to answer emails after hours.

“People are working harder than ever, and there are no boundaries, suggesting a recipe for burnout and eventual decrease in productivity.”

Burnout syndrome, caused by chronic stress and fatigue, can be partially attributed to increasing and unrealistic workplace demands, coupled with financial and home pressures.   

According to the April 2020 Remchannel wage and salary survey, conducted at the start of the pandemic, 53% of respondents predicted profitability would be hurt by Covid-19, which would give rise to cost-cutting measures such as freezes on new hires.

“This further affected employee workloads, motivation and wellness by adding additional responsibilities during an already stressful time,” Richter said. 

“Employees are saying, ‘I don’t want more of the same. I need balance and I want to work the way I want to work to avoid this burnout phenomenon’. Even in a job-scarce country like SA, where you expect to see workers clinging to their jobs, we’re seeing aspects of this global trend.”

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