Employee sentiment research in SA shows that COVID-19 has led to dramatic shifts in the workplace


Over half of South African employees will be likely to look for a new employer in the next 12 months.

Workday, a leading provider of enterprise cloud applications for finance and human resources, commissioned Yonder Consulting to conduct research earlier in 2021 to understand employee sentiment across Europe and South Africa during Covid-19.

South Africa was the first country outside of Europe to conduct this research. Yonder undertook 17,054 online surveys in total, across nine European countries and South Africa (1031) amongst employees below Director level. The respondents work at organisations with more than 250 employees.

The research shows that while workplaces have seen major economic, social, environmental, and technological changes recently, the pandemic accelerated trends including remote working, shifting employees’ expectations, learning and development, purpose and belonging at work, and employee wellbeing.

In South Africa, Yonder found that:

  •  80 percent of employees worked from home, but 96 percent experienced connectivity issues
  • Leaders viewed as honest, trustworthy, caring, supportive, approachable, inspiring and competent are perceived to have performed better
  • 53 percent of employees struggled to motivate themselves
  • 58 percent believe their leaders are not prioritising health and wellbeing.

The shift to working from home
In South Africa an average of 80 percent of employees reported working from home (higher than the European and UK average of 61 percent and 71 percent respectively). Encouragingly, many employees feel their organisations reacted well to fundamental changes in working.

Most employees working from home (72 percent) reported solid morale (as compared to the European standard of 56 percent), and said their productivity increased working from home.

Nearly two thirds of employees (63 percent) reported connectivity issues either all the time, regularly or occasionally, while a further 33 percent said they experienced issues but only rarely.

Employee morale and motivation levels
Compared to Europe (46 percent), a higher percentage of South African employees (53 percent  found it difficult to motivate themselves. The top motivational struggles mentioned are pay rises and bonuses being cancelled or delayed, and employees assuming different roles or additional responsibilities.

Concerningly, 51 percent of organisations made redundancies since the pandemic started, and this figure rises to two thirds in the Retail, Food, Beverages and Restaurants sector. 63 percent of employees believe they lost opportunities to develop their career.

Evaluating leadership performance
Employees generally had positive perceptions towards their leadership and a majority felt their organisations leaders navigated the last year well.

Employees in South Africa are significantly more likely to feel their senior managers demonstrated clear vision, managed resources and understood their role in supporting the organisation compared to the European average.

Role changes and future motivations
Over half (53 percent) of South African employees claim that they will be likely to look for a new employer in the next 12 months. This is significantly higher than the European average of 25 percent.

Forty-six percent of employees said they would switch careers for better training and development. This was followed by the need to seek better pay (39 percent , a more senior role (36 percent), career change (35 percent) or a more interesting role (34 percent).

Half of employees in South Africa feel trapped in their current job due to economic uncertainty, though a similar proportion feel they will get a pay rise in the next 12 months.

Looking ahead
The pandemic and economic downturn have elevated the role of the CHRO to help CEOs manage employees during a time of crisis and chart a course for the future.

Kiveshen Moodley, Country Manager South Africa, Workday, says that the last year has dramatically accelerated the urgency and importance of organisations embracing development in five key areas:

  • Inclusion and Belonging - Organisations investing in diversity, inclusion, belonging, and equity are reaping substantial bottom-line benefits and outperforming competitors.

  •  Digital Acceleration - Digital transformation takes centre stage and is the top priority for business leaders. Employee support and services will need to be delivered virtually and digitally • Enabling Experiences - Creating compelling employee experiences that connect, support, empower, inspire and engage workers in the new, more flexible workplace.

  • Agile Organisation - Automating and augmenting work to enhance, elevate, and extend employees’ expertise, enabling leaders to effectively manage, mitigate, minimise disruption and redirect resources • Skills Imperative – Building critical skills and competencies for the organisation.

“The perfect storm of cultural upheaval, employee stress, business challenges, and opportunity has created a critical moment for businesses, and if they don’t meet it, they risk alienating employees, falling behind technologically, and missing opportunities to retain, engage and develop their workforce.”