Why strategic HR can improve Generation Y and Z

Generation Y and Z young people born in the 80s and 90s have huge potential to play a positive role in building a much-needed new business environment in South Africa, yet they make up the majority of the unemployed in the country.

Government and business must join together to nurture this crucial segment of our population.

Speaking to a delegation from Utah State University that was in SA to learn more about global HR issues, the work environment in South Africa poses unique challenges and business needs to adapt to these if they want to be successful here.

Many of the challenges we face in this country are global ones. The World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos last year highlighted these challenges: job creation; growing demand for high-end human capital; growing income disparity between university-graduated white-collar workers and the less fortunate; and the need for strong leadership in building and sustaining human development.

But in South Africa these challenges are intensified by massive political, societal, and economic change, huge income disparities, increasing youth unemployment, and HIV/AIDS in the workplace. Skills shortages, especially in nursing and education where 22.8% and 20.6% more skilled workers are needed respectively, have left 300 000 vacancies across various sectors that require priority skills, suggesting a possible mismatch between supply and demand adding to growing inequality.

The unemployment rate among the black population is at 46.3% with relatively scarce access to employment opportunities, recording the lowest labour absorption rate of 34.6%. By contrast, white South Africans have the highest household annual average income of R365 134 six times more than the black population yet whites make up only 10% of the population. With only an unemployment rate of 10%, this population’s absorption rate into the workplace is as high as 70%.

The groups hardest hit by unemployment are generation Y and Z, and these are the groups that the new business environment desperately needs because they bring technological know-how and fresh thinking to the workplace, and are generally turned on to emerging trends, but they are also the most misunderstood part of the population.

Research by Wits University showed that young people from poor neighbourhoods, having had bad schooling and little support and having grown up in environments where multigenerational unemployment is the norm, are likely to spend their lives unemployed many are resigned to this as a reality for them.

Complicating things, research by the Centre for Development and Enterprise last year shows, is that most of the unemployed Y and Zs will only consider employment that is seen to be gainful in terms of salaries salaries that are high enough to support marriage and household bonds as worthwhile opportunities. This research found that menial work is not an option for these generations.

Opportunity really is everything and access to networks and other platforms for entering into the opportunity market is very important. Research at the University of Cape Town showed that networks and connections play a pivotal role in employment among young people.

Government can also play an important role in addressing the skills shortages and unemployment challenges by focusing on FET colleges in manufacturing, engineering and technology sectors, by reviving apprentice schemes, and by ensuring improved technology roll out as the majority of the population has no access to the internet.

Business, should be aiming to build trust with communities, ensure inclusivity and diversity in the workplace, partner with unions in skills development, and build scarce critical skills.

Both private and public enterprises should bolster their HR practices to help with this, what should be a national mission.

All efforts between government and business should be aligned to see that future generations enter school, finish school, and then enter the necessary networks and the workplace successfully. And all efforts should be made to court, develop and retain generation Y and Z in the workplace.

And once this country has solved the conundrum of how to properly supply to the demand for skills it can will save the ‘lost’ generation while increasing the chances of new ideas surfacing in the economy improving the competitiveness of South African business in the global business environment.

Linda Ronnie is the Organisational Behaviour and People Management lecturer at the UCT GS.

Why inspiring leaders is key to highly engaged employees

Research results by Lykins International reveal that the vast majority of South African employees who were surveyed about engagement levels on the job say their co-workers go above and beyond the call of duty.

The survey findings are based on a representative cross-section of the retail, manufacturing, banking and other financial services sectors in South Africa and include responses from more than 47,000 employees who participated in their company-sponsored surveys.

80% of employees surveyed say their work team members frequently go above and beyond the requirements of the job. 86% say their teams produce outstanding quality work and continuously strive to improve performance. 82% believe their co-workers take personal ownership of their job responsibilities. Most notably, nearly nine of ten employees (89%) say their teams go to great lengths to please the customer.

South African employees clearly feel they are operating at full tilt. As organisations struggle to compete in an unforgiving global economy, performance expectations are becoming increasingly demanding. Those organisations whose employees rise to the challenge will emerge victorious. Understanding what most impacts employee engagement is the secret to success.

The leader at the organisation’s ‘coal face’ holds the key to unlocking the energy and potential of employees. We examined the impact of leadership on engagement and the findings are unequivocal. Team leaders who inspire their employees, encourage creative input, act on suggestions for change, recognise good performance and help employees understand how their work contributes to the organisation’s success achieve significantly higher levels of employee engagement than those who adopt an autocratic, command-and-control leadership style. The challenge is getting leaders comfortable with what they may feel is relinquishing some of their control. Simply put, leaders who engage their employees … will have employees who engage!

Organisations should be cautions not to confuse engagement, which is best defined as productive energy, with overall morale or commitment to the organisation. Although 80% say their co-workers go above and beyond the call of duty, only 68% of employees say they are personally “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with their organisation as a place to work. When asked if they are seriously considering leaving at the present time, 23% of employees say “yes”, 27% are unsure and only half say “no”. “When half of its workforce is either seriously considering or unsure about leaving, the organisation is highly vulnerable to absenteeism, retention and other commitment-related problems.

The dynamics that cause employees to feel good about the organisation and want to stay with it are fundamentally different than those that inspire employees to go above and beyond in their work. While the team leader is a critical driver of engagement, views about pay, growth and development, the organisation’s culture and its senior leaders most impact morale and commitment. This shatters the myth that employees quit their boss, not the organisation. In large organisations where other positions are available, employees who are unhappy with their boss, but like the organisation, will search for another position before choosing to jump ship altogether.

Understanding the key drivers of commitment is as important as knowing what impacts engagement. South Africa has such a competitive job market that top organisations routinely get raided for their best and brightest. Given the expense of recruiting, hiring, training and developing the organisation’s human capital, every effort should be made to protect this valuable investment.

Ensuring that the important organisational fundamentals are in place will keep employees smiling and make them want to stay. Inspiring leadership, however, will unleash their full productive energy.

Keith Lykins is an Organisational Psychologist and President of Lykins International.

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