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Flexible work, digitisation and the broadest range of ages will challenge managers in the future

Managing a flexible workforce during the next 10 to 15 years will be more important than ever before. These are the findings of an Economist Intelligence Unit study, The Future of Work, sponsored by Ricoh.
Jacques van Wyk
Jacques van Wyk
The scenario in this research, which stems from Europe, is mirrored here in South Africa.

Flexible work, such as part-time, short-time, and flexi-time, will be required by older employees continuing to work for longer and younger employees wanting to start families.

Flexible work hours is a major issue in South Africa. A report by Regus finds that 82% of businesspeople would choose a job over a similar prospect because it offers flexible working hours while the other does not. And 76% say that flexible office hours improve employee retention.

Flexible working alone is not enough

However, flexible working alone is not enough. Businesses must establish the foundations today for truly collaborative and dynamic working environments that attract top talent. The essential building blocks of this foundation include optimised core business processes and advanced technology adoption because they support flexible work environments.

While employees drive demand from inside organisations customers drive demand from outside. The demand for faster customer service and the growing digital appetite of Generation Y and, soon, Generation Z has undoubtedly played a part in businesses fast-tracking digital to the top of their agenda. Ricoh-sponsored research revealed that the majority of business leaders (71%) are confident they can successfully make the transition from digital transformation to digital maturity within the next five years. Such a shift naturally results in the provision of more advanced systems and tools to help employees do a better job.

Packaging the option for flexible working with use of advanced technology, optimised processes and a collaborative working environment is an appealing proposition. After welcoming new employees into the business, the challenge for managers is to ensure the wellbeing of these digital-savvy and highly skilled recruits, which is often seen as a bottom-line issue in attracting and retaining employees. After all, the cost to replace talent is often high.

In 2009 SP Robbins, TA Judge, A Odendaal, and G Roodt found, in their book: Organisational Behaviour, Global and Southern African Perspectives (second edition), that the cost of staff turnover to South African industry is estimated to be several millions of rands a year. The visible costs are associated with increased recruiting, selection, and training. There are less-obvious costs too. For example, new employees typically take three months to reach 60% productivity and six months to start adding value.

The authors of Organisational Behaviour also found that high turnover disrupts efficiency. Average staff turnover for South African companies in 2006 was 12.3%, but turnover in different industries and professions varies. Turnover is only positive when marginal and sub-marginal employees leave the organisation.

There exists the potential for tension that managers must handle with workplaces set to have a broader mixture of employee age groups than ever before. Older people will work alongside the digitally-savvy Generation Y and, soon, Generation Z. Managers will require the interpersonal skills to navigate employees' growth and wellbeing and ensure that business processes and technology are sufficiently optimised to attract and retain top talent.

About Jacques van Wyk

?Jacques van Wyk is Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Ricoh South Africa

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