Signs of the "great resignation" in SA as Covid-19 burnout takes its tollHigher staff turnover and accrued leave costs may be a ticking time bomb for South African corporates.29 October 2021

Evidence of the global 'Great Resignation' trend is emerging in South Africa as overworked employees are quitting their jobs. Reasons include longer working hours, fewer opportunities to take leave and toxic workplace culture. This was revealed by new research conducted by reward management platform Remchannel.

Speaking at the recent Remchannel Wellness and Performance webinar, René Richter, managing director of Remchannel, reported that staff turnover has increased by 16% across all sectors. Almost 69% of Remchannel remuneration survey participants - namely HR and reward professionals -indicated that they struggled to attract new or retain their existing talent.

"Whilst there are various reasons for labour turnover such as, retirement, termination of contracts, and downsizing, the October 2021 Salary and Wage Movement survey revealed that the leading reason an employee left employment between April and October 2021 was due to resignation (60%), suggesting 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," says Richter.

Looking at the various survey results, she believes that the correlation between the high rate of resignations, shifting workplace expectations, and a radical increase in leave liability since the pandemic started can partly explain this phenomenon.

"With the advent of Covid-19 and lockdown, 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 last eight years from R8.4 billion to R10.7 billion in the mining industry 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 South Africa. The pattern of burnout, toxic workplace culture and a drop in productivity suggests a ticking time bomb,” says Richter.

"The pandemic and remote working experience have also impacted workplace expectations and productivity, with about 36% of survey respondents saying that 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," says Richter. Burnout syndrome, caused by chronic stress and fatigue, can partially be 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 that profitability would be impacted by Covid-19, which would give rise to cost-cutting measures such as freezes on all new hires. "This further impacted employee workloads, motivation, and wellness by adding additional responsibilities during an already stressful time," she says.

"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'. So even in a job-scarce country like South Africa, where you expect to see workers clinging to their jobs, we're seeing aspects of this global trend," Richter cautions.