What Will the New Normal Be for Employment in Africa Post-COVID-19?

After five complete days of being at home, I finally stepped out this morning to pick up some essentials. The roads were eerily quiet; there was ample parking in an otherwise extremely busy shopping centre; and the few people in the grocery store had a look of sombreness not normal amongst sociable South Africans. Like most of us, I am finding it hard to see the silver lining in these conditions particularly with no clear end state in sight.

But the truth is, there will be a cut-off point and life will return to a new normal. As most have predicted, this normal will inevitably be very different to the normal of yesterday. Just as life and mindsets post-apartheid and post-9/11 changed, we can expect a new post-COVID normal. Perhaps hand sanitiser will continue to be a rare commodity, perhaps our medical staff will finally get the pay and respect they deserve, and perhaps companies with pending digital strategies will find that these very strategies have already rolled themselves out through dire necessity.

Whatever the next few weeks and months hold, there is a unanimous understanding that there will be some fundamental shifts in the interactions between employers and their employees. This is particularly pronounced in Africa where we bade farewell to 2019 having acknowledged a grave unemployment crisis. According to Statistic SA’s quarterly Labour Force Survey published in 2019, the narrow unemployment rate increased from 27.6% to 29.0%. The broad unemployment rate, which takes into account people who are no longer looking for work, increased from 38.0% to 38.5%.

Let that sink in for a moment: The number of unemployed individuals within South Africa who had given up on the possibility of finding work in 2019 was estimated to be over 10 million. One can only guess what this figure stands at in today’s bleak economic climate

On the side of employers, we are all very much aware that the operational disruption caused by COVID-19 alongside a 21-day lockdown and a downgrade to junk status, will inevitably affect the ability of businesses to recruit new hires even as normality returns. And yet, the optimistic amongst us predict that there will be a surge in demand in the latter part of the year and businesses will find new ways to address this demand whilst simultaneously managing costs.

My personal guess is that employers will look to leverage new models of work which enable a win-win situation for all parties. And a no-brainer at a time of strained cash flow and increased demand will be the use of contract or temporary workers – individuals who can address any growth in demand without ultimately becoming a liability on employers should the demand fizzle out after some time. However, managing temporary labour comes with a unique set of challenges which might not be so pronounced when you are dealing with permanent staff and standard new hire processes. For example, if you are bringing in workers for a 3-month period, how do you ensure that you are complying with the relevant health and safety legislation without investing in an extensive onboarding programme? Or if you are bringing in a specialised skill-set to complete a unique task, how do you know that the hourly rate you are paying is in line with market rates?

In 2018, SAP Fieldglass completed a study on temporary or external workforce amongst large corporations. According to this study, spend on temporary workforce for many large enterprises is over 40% and yet, many of these organisations have very little visibility on this category of their spend. Under-management of temporary workforce prevents organizations from unlocking the full potential of their employees, and exposes them to risks in security, compliance and more. Whilst this potential risk of under-management in 2018 was concerning, it is all the more concerning in 2020 as companies need to navigate a host of new risks with increased caution. SAP Fieldglass provides a holistic solution to help organizations find, engage, manage, pay, and unlock more value from a temporary workforce that is likely to grow.

What are your predictions for the new African normal post COVID-19? How will you be managing a changing employer-employee dynamic?

Kaunain Nurani is Director of Value Advisory, SAP Africa