Liberty Leading Edge Symposium

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Investment in human capital has long been recognised as a driver of growth, innovation and profitability among South Africa’s small, medium and microenterprises (SMMEs); but firms must take a dynamic and flexible approach to expenditure in this area to ensure they have full buy-in from their employees. The challenge facing small businesses as they seek to accelerate South Africa’s economic and jobs growth outcomes is how to lock in the benefits from comprehensive employee benefits solutions without alienating their most important asset – their skilled and experienced employees.

Liberty Corporate has long advocated for comprehensive employee benefits solution as an underpin for our employer-clients’ human capital development programmes. The thesis is that firms can stand out over their competitors by offering employees an appropriate combination of retirement funding and planning, discretionary investments, group risk insurance benefits and other financial product value adds. In fact, we are so confident in the long-term economic and financial benefits on offer from this strategy that we hosted the Liberty Leading Edge Symposium on 31 October 2022, to showcase best practice for employers in the employee benefits discipline.

This year’s event showcased subject matter experts from within Liberty and our parent, Standard Bank Group, as well as trailblazers from various disciplines and industries. The engagement sessions focused on sharing and unpacking insights around the future of employee wellness and how firms – and especially SMMEs – can accelerate post-pandemic profit and revenue despite the range of macroeconomic ills and policy uncertainties they face. Imagine, for example, trying to fight the scourge of rising inflation and interest rates when your workforce is not aligned to your firm’s vision!

The symposium also explored opportunities and threats under various wellness themes, including employee well-being, mental health and work-life balance. One of the important contexts for the full-day discussion is that employees’ needs are continually evolving. In our extensive deliberations with employee benefits consultants, employer groups and other professionals involved in this field, it has become clear that yesterday’s ‘winning’ human capital development strategy will not always stand up to the rigours of the post-pandemic work environment. This is due to the pandemic and lockdown having altered the traditional rules of employer-employee relationships, as well as employee expectations.

To become an employer of choice, firms must accommodate employee demands for flexibility, including making allowances for how, where and when staff deliver on their employee contract. Such expectations grew out of the lengthy pandemic-related lockdown period which saw the birth of work-from-home and hybrid home-and-office work arrangements. Nowadays, many employers are struggling to get their employees to return to the pre-pandemic arrangement that saw employees simply rock up at the office and compete their 9-5 work stint without fuss.

To further complicate matters, we have already seen evidence of some of the employee preferences that developed during pandemic coming unglued. A great example is the so-called ‘great resignation’ which occurred in 2020-21 as millions of developed market employees left the structured work environment in favour of contract or freelance work. Today, the great resignation has morphed into something called ‘the great regret’ as these employees realise that the freelance world is not everything it was talked up to be, and begin flooding back to the formal employment sector. From a South African perspective, the great resignation never really gained traction, perhaps as a consequence of the country’s rather dismal unemployment statistics.

Another workforce trend that is becoming increasingly prevalent among global firms of all sizes is that of ‘quiet quitting’. This phrases is described by as ‘an application of work-to-rule, in which employees work within defined work hours and engage in their contracted work-related activities only, and solely within those hours’. Again, this is more pronounced globally than locally, but something worth considering, especially if your firm is lagging in areas such as employee engagement and / or staff incentive programmes.

A firm that integrates human capital development into its strategy – by implementing comprehensive, holistic employee benefits solutions – will sidestep the negative impact on employee morale and group profitability brought about by the trends such as the great resignation and quiet quitting. They will also discover that human capital is a key driver for earnings and revenue growth, with positive spin-offs in areas like talent acquisition and retention.

Initiatives that contribute to employee wellness, which include sensible remuneration and retention policies, will ensure that the SMME workforce is more focused on the job at hand, and less inclined to take their valuable experience and skills elsewhere. Contented, well-remunerated employees are less likely to have to engage in moonlighting or side-hustles to earn extra income and will be in a stronger position to resist approaches by headhunters, who are always on the prowl for scarce skills. The fact remains that engaged employees give you an advantage in the ‘war on talent’ that is raging in many sectors in the South African economy.

Concerns that employee benefits solutions are costly are easily countered. Employers, working with employee benefits consultants and financial product providers are able to structure cost-effective solutions to deliver win-win outcomes for employers and staff. These simple, cost-effective solutions are a key differentiator in protecting an SMME’s investment in its most valuable asset class, human capital. Another way of looking at the cost-return equation is to consider that each employee that leaves your firm represents an immediate loss to the human capital investments that your firm has made over time, not to mention lost productivity and the cost of replacing and / or re-training that skill.

To conclude, employee benefits solutions should become part-and-parcel of your human capital development strategy. For South Africa based SMMEs, making ongoing investments in your employees remains one of the best ways to stand out from the crowd in an increasingly competitive domestic marketplace. We maintain that firms that develop, energise and inspire their staff – through ongoing investments in human capital – will benefit from a leading competitive edge that will reflect on the bottom line. The men and women who drive productivity and boost your bottom line are the beating heart of your business: nurture them, take care of them, and your business will grow from strength to strength.

This post and content is sponsored, written and provided by Liberty.

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