Vandang re daar! — The 12 top HR trends in South Africa in 2021

6 min readApr 16, 2021

South Africa — a country dipped in history, surrounded in an aura of being the cradle of civilization. A young, vibrant country with an average age of 27.6 years, a diverse population, and a melting pot of cultures, languages, food, and lifestyle. One of the most technologically and economically advanced countries in the African sub-continent.

A burgeoning giant with one of the brightest opportunities given its human capital, natural resources, cultural diversity, education, and financial system to lead the way in the future but with its fair share of governance, geopolitical and human infrastructure development problems holding it back.

A strong manufacturing base, a booming services economy, a strong financial sector, and a nascent hi-tech industry attract a diverse talent set across the population and cultural boundaries.

Top HR trends in South Africa

A rampaging COVID epidemic however looking to rip apart human and economic development objectives. What are the challenges facing organizations in their most critical assets? Their Human Capital?

Here are the top HR trends in South Africa that are here to stay in the ‘New Normal’ -

1. Focus on outcomes rather than the inputs and the process

For the longest time in the history of organized work, organizations have focused on inputs into the process. The rules and governance around objectives to organize to drive profit. The shift is however happening. Towards more purpose-based objectives being driven by outcomes will provide for a more flexible structure for the future.

The shift has already been seeded with the COVID epidemic where digital now drives the distance, social is on media.

It would become a trust-driven agenda to focus more on the outcomes rather than synchronizing work in a process.

2. Inclusion is no longer optional

Over 3 decades have been spent exploring all aspects of diversity. Laws enacted, organizational cultures changing from segregation to inclusion. This is undoubtedly one of the new trends in HRM in South Africa. Now, setting inclusion in the workforce and modern economy is no longer optional. Key criteria to operate, govern, comply and cater to in organizations as they become more diverse and vibrant.

3. The adoption of technology in human capital management

The world has embraced cloud software and the new age industries adopt this across all segments to track, measure, and grow fast.

One of the imperatives in the top HR trends in South Africa is to make adoption more broad-based and data-driven to drive faster and exploit opportunities not just locally, but as South African companies become more international.

The diversity management skills learned locally are now being leveraged internationally to capture new markets with products and services

4. Leadership development

Always a focus area as more mature leadership that understands business opportunity, aligning a diverse set of resources to manage the development of goods and services and a financial leverage equation to use capital is the need of the hour.

5. The thirst for high talent continues as a top HR trend

The talent war in hi-tech industries will remain an eternal struggle along with running technology mindsets at non-tech firms. A global workplace for specialized skills especially in the verticals of product, design, software development, analytics, and AI will be driven by outsourcing and enablement of remote work. Therefore, the tides are shifting towards automating hiring cycles to get the right candidates efficiently.

6. Skills development

Human Resources & Management in South Africa has taken a shift even when it comes to skills. Imperatives with mechanization that drove the manufacturing industry will find their way into service-based industries and functions.

Automation using conversational intelligence technologies and platforms like Engati will provide a more efficient way for customer life cycle management and support.

L&D as a focus will shift more towards developing skills for the future as the world of work, workplaces, and workforce is retooled to accommodate new advancements. Modern skills development mandates in countries like South Africa will pave the way for adoption and the necessary impetus needed for L&D.

7. An employee experience focus

Millennials will be a majority of the workforce in just a few years. Workplaces will need reorientation to drive more engagement and experience perspectives considering the millennial employee at the center. Organizations that focus on the experience will attract better talent and as a consequence will succeed more in the marketplace. Platforms and systems will move from a process outlook to a people and experience-centric outlook.

8. Multi-culturalism and remote work

Multi-culturalism, as Africa’s human capital trends, will come center stage as work drives globalization of the workplace and the workforce across many more industries and geographies. Access to the best talent anywhere in the world for specific specializations and the move to project-based organizations, will make teams and objectives more multi-cultural.

Economies like South Africa with a diverse set will benefit from the open, extended, and multi-cultural format of future workplaces with digital communication and collaboration technologies driving the shift.

9. The role of data in decision making

Data-driven decisions will bring the science of behavior to organizational human decisions. This is another among the top HR trends in South Africa. HR analytics will enable leaders to understand the aggregate and work with the outliers. The future will be driven by the complex remote nature of workplaces compelling leaders to concentrate on humane, empathetic objectives rather than a profit or a process approach.

10. The formation of super-teams

As people and their work shift to virtual modes, the focus will move to teams. The spotlight will be taken by organizational pod units, where enabling and supporting a team along with the leader will lead to success. The team will also reconstitute itself to serve the needs of an organization taking on more project-based work rather than more functional or process-based work. A super team will involve setting up the specialists and tools/technologies required for them to complete a project and then disbanding them to move on to other projects and work.

11. Organizational resiliency

While we were focused on flexibility, COVID has thrust resiliency on organizations. Like every other nation, this forms a vital part of the HR trends that will shape 2021 in South Africa. The push to go remote as lockdowns were instituted, forced some to scramble to dismantle teams and processes setup requiring close proximity. As teams and organizations have learned how to work remotely, resiliency needs are here to stay since the dynamic will not clear out in the near future.

12. Focus on mental health

Another of the latest HR practice in South Africa is a focus on employees’ mental health. The pandemic aggravated the issue of mental health and is now the epitome of conversations in many organizations grappling with extended lockdowns and the carried uncertainty in a pandemic situation.

An SHRM report alluded to the problem — 5% of employees surveyed experienced depression symptoms often, while 41% reported work burnout and 45% said they felt “emotionally drained from their work”.

Collaboration, communication, support, and specialized help and wellness programs were hastily put in place. Technology and digital platforms that enabled collaborations, communications, and provided outreach to employees and pre-emptive data to employers like peopleHum enabled organizations to provide a sense of sanity and normalcy to keep business and operations running. More focus will however be required for customized programs to help organizations succeed in employee wellness programs.

About peopleHum

peopleHum is a one-view integrated platform for the complete employee experience and journey from hiring to offboarding.

Enable your employees to communicate, collaborate, and focus on resilience and productivity through a unique approach focused on experience design. All for a value equation for the South African market priced in Rands that is hard to beat.

No wonder a plethora of companies of all sizes and partners, integrators, and consultants are flocking to peopleHum to drive the future of cloud-based human capital platforms in markets like South Africa.

Reach out to us to hear our story and how we can help your organization align and transform into the organization of the future.