How to Become Comfortable with Work Uncertainty

Jessamy Amic

Posted: January 13, 2023

Table of Contents

South Africa is experiencing a number of societal and economic uncertainties as we slowly emerge from the devastating effects of the pandemic. Couple this with employment levels that are still below where we were in January 2020, and it’s clear something has to be done to re-ignite the workforce and absorb more (skilled) workers into the economy.

We look at the underlying causes of the prevailing uncertainties, how it affects us, and how we can turn these lemons into lemonade.

What’s causing the uncertainty?

New data from Gallup on the global workforce shows that employee stress is at an all-time high. According to their research, anger, worry, and sadness remain above pre-pandemic levels. These emotions pose organisational risks and could lead to top-performer burnout and high quit rates.

Despite a staggering 32.9% unemployment rate in South Africa, businesses are experiencing a hiring crisis caused by a critical lack of skilled workers and a massive skills mismatch. Add to that job market uncertainty, the high cost of living, rising interest rates and fuel prices, worsening power shortages, transport bottlenecks, the demand for higher pay, and labour strikes, and it’s no wonder we’re all angry, worried and sad.

South Africa’s huge skills gap

Boston Consulting says, of 30 emerging market economies, South Africa has the largest share of mismatched workers – 50%. This mismatch between the current South African workforce and the demands of the work environment is most evident in skilled IT and tech jobs, not only in the ICT sector but across industries. Their data shows businesses are struggling to find people with the skills needed to enable digital innovation, support recovery from the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and drive future growth. This echoes recent comments by Capitec CEO Gerrie Fourie, who noted that South Africa is experiencing a ‘war for talent’ as retailers, banks, and other businesses compete to hire from a very limited talent pool.

ManpowerGroup’s SA 2022 Talent Shortage report shows that from transport to trade and marketing to manufacturing, employers cannot find the people they need with the right blend of technical and soft/human skills. According to the report, these are the roles and skills needed right now to close the skills gap:

Top five in-demand roles

  • Information technology
  • Operations and logistics
  • Sales and marketing
  • Manufacturing and production
  • Administration and office support

Top five soft skills

  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Reliability and self-discipline
  • Reasoning and problem-solving
  • Creativity and originality
  • Resilience and adaptability

HOT TIP: Look at the MasterStart online short courses to see how your employees can obtain the scarce skills needed to fill the skills gaps, drive business growth, and future-proof their careers.

How job uncertainty affects us

Author, psychotherapist and founder of ComfortZones Digital, Dr Bryan Robinson, says work-life’s inevitable uncertainties instantly trigger our fight-or-flight reaction. He explains how our survival brain constantly makes judgments about what’s safe and what isn’t and will do almost anything to recreate certainty. He says that’s because we’re hardwired to overestimate threats and underestimate our ability to handle them.

Robinson says living with job uncertainty takes an enormous toll on our health, even more so than losing our job. It makes us more vulnerable to diseases and exacerbates depression and heart disease. However, it’s not all bad. Studies by neuroscientists found that a certain level of uncertainty can be good for the brain because we learn more when we’re unsure. Getting outside of our comfort zones can cultivate a growth mindset, build resilience, and enable us to succeed and prosper.

The solutions

On a business level

ManpowerGroup suggests South African businesses adopt a holistic talent strategy to close the skills gap. They should take four key actions:

  • Build – invest in development and learning to grow talent pipelines
  • Buy – use external markets to attract talent that cannot be built in-house
  • Borrow – create communities of talent outside your business (think consultants and contractors)
  • Bridge – help people to move on or move up to new roles within your company

On a personal level

Robinson suggests we change our perspective and build a tolerance to uncertainty by balancing potential positive outcomes with negative ones. Worrying is not preparation, nor is it self-empowering. Instead, accept that things will remain uncertain for a while and look for opportunities to grow and reach your career dreams. One of these is professional development, where you learn marketable, transferable skills that boost your value in the workplace.

Transferable skills are especially important in these uncertain times. They can help you land a new job, no matter how unmatched your skill set might appear to be. Employers want these transferable skills because they don’t have to worry about training you on them if you already have them. The transferable skills employers are looking for most are:

  • Problem-solving
  • Analytical reasoning
  • Critical thinking
  • Leadership
  • Adaptability
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Writing
  • Creativity
  • Attention to detail
  • Project management
  • Relationship building
  • Computer skills
  • Management

These skills could help a business developer find a job as a project manager, for instance, or a school teacher become a digital marketer.

So, to become more comfortable with uncertainty and combat the harmful stress of trying to hang on to your job – or find a new one when your skills don’t match expectations – give your career development journey a jumpstart by enrolling in one of our acclaimed business and personal development online short courses and go into the new year with a whole lot more certainty!

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