Advice on navigating the new world of work from ProTalent’s Cindy Norcott

Are people becoming an old-fashioned, unfavourable resource? After all, they can be emotional, unreliable, can pass on viruses and even loot businesses. There has been a rise in retrenchments and automation, often due to cost cutting pressures, fear of trade unions and one-sided labour laws that protect employees, often at the expense of the employer. We also hear of careers becoming redundant within a few years as artificial intelligence takes over and singularity becomes the norm. Does this mark the end for the employee in South Africa?

No, says Cindy Norcott, business coach, motivational speaker and author who also is the founder and CEO of specialist recruitment agency ProTalent.

The launch of her second book, How Does She Do It? which is aimed at inspiring entrepreneurs to learn from her experiences couldn’t have come at a more pivotal time.

“Not every industry is open to automation and it is both expensive and difficult to automate. Certain jobs will always need people. I also believe that, in South Africa, many businesses are not ready or willing to automate and probably never will. As much as employees can be unreliable, emotional and unpredictable, they are also able to do work that machines cannot do (yet) such as care, create, collaborate and empathise. In companies that need these skills, there will always be jobs for humans,” she points out.

But she, too, cannot ignore the latest unemployment statistics published by Statistics South Africa (March 2022) which show that the official unemployment rate rose 0.4 percentage points to a record 35.3% in the fourth quarter of 2021 with the expanded definition of unemployment reaching a more realistic and disturbing 46.2%.

As head of ProTalent, she regularly encounters those who have been retrenched or lost their jobs due to company closures.

“Since the onset of the Covid pandemic, we have seen a huge increase in candidates losing jobs. I have had countless conversations with newly unemployed candidates who are distressed and the common phrase “I didn’t see it coming” has become an ongoing refrain,” she says.

For the very many who still have jobs but are deeply afraid that they will soon add to the jobless statistics, she has some valuable tips:

  1. Be relevant. Are your skills up to date? If not, how can you upskill? In this new hybrid / remote world, do you have the skills needed and are you up to date with the new technologies? This is not a time to rest on your laurels, believing that you have been with your company for so long that they won’t consider letting you go.
  2. Be visible. Many companies have retrenched staff who have been “in hiding” or invisible. Ensure that you show up at the office when necessary and that you are on time on zoom calls, that you meet your deadlines and that you contribute your share. If you have been working from home but now your company wants you back at the office, you might be putting a target on your back if you refuse to return to the office. Answer all calls on time and respond timeously to emails. Ensure everyone knows that you are committed and reliable.
  3. Add extra value. Can you volunteer to take on an extra task? Have you checked on your boss to find out how he or she is doing? If your company has sacrificed to keep you employed, have you shown some acknowledgement? Have you come up with a cost saving idea or have you added to the bottom line? Have you been an active team member, contributing your ideas, input and positive energy? Have you assisted a colleague who might be snowed under? Have you been loyal to the company and supported decisions?

Having created ProTalent in 1994 at the age of 23, grown the company significantly and then launched the Robin Hood Foundation (a movement for good that makes resources provided by those with plenty available to the needy) in 2014, Cindy is also all too aware of another huge risk faced by the employed.

This is particularly difficult at a time when the lines between home and office are more blurred than ever and a hybrid model which sees employees working between the two is the new norm.

Cindy notes that, as the Covid threat has started diminishing, many companies have started encouraging or instructing employees to return to the office.

“But many companies have been met with resistance as some employees have enjoyed not commuting, reduced petrol costs, fewer interruptions and some, if we are honest, have enjoyed the slower pace and the freedom to wear what they want and do what they want when they want. I foresee a more hybrid approach going forward where employees will have split weeks,” she says.

However, she also warns that research shows that, while many companies reported an increase in productivity when people started working from home, they have also seen a decrease in productivity after prolonged periods.

“Often, this could also be attributed to people burning themselves out due to not having a work life balance and because of increased demands from their employers. Another factor that can be attributed to the decrease in productivity is that many employers actually thrive due to the social aspects of being at work and prolonged isolation has led to reduced motivation,” she explains.

Right now, Cindy believes that remaining employed and productive entails implementing many of the lessons outlined in her book How Does She Do It?

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