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How ‘Presenteeism’ breaks employees

By CHRIS BUCHANAN, client solutions director for Dell Technologies South Africa

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You could say I’m from the old school. When I first started working in an office, employees had to be seen. A visible employee was a productive employee and slackers weren’t at their desks. This informed my management style when I was put in charge of other people and it made sense. But things often make sense when you don’t know better.

Fast forward to a few years ago and my views have changed. Laptops and BlackBerries let employees take their work with them and even rudimentary internet such as a GSM or 3G connection was not a barrier working where you wanted to. Today this approach to work is seen as the norm and the way to create a vibrant, attractive workplace for talented employees.

Such a workplace is established with the help of modern devices and services. But there is an emerging problem that could damage those efforts. Employees are trying to be seen more than ever before, a trend called Presenteeism.

Presenteeism is the opposite of absenteeism, which sounds great but it isn’t. Presenteeism is when someone shows up at the office with a cold when they should be at home in bed. It’s behind the heroic work hours and deadlines that so many teams deal with and it reinforces the problem with my above-mentioned old school approach: visibility and productivity are not the same and the former can be counterproductive to the latter.

Mavis sniffling at her desk is not doing her best work and likely distracting others as well, maybe even infecting them. Yet can we blame her? She’s feeling the pressure of a demanding, always-on workplace and wants to be a good employee.

Presenteeism is on the rise. A new survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the UK found that 83% of respondents observed presenteeism and 25% said the problem is getting worse.

I frequently advocate for a modern workplace, where the four personas – desk-centric, corridor warriors, on-the-go pros and remote workers – are each catered for with the right devices, services and management support. But we have to be careful not to drive these purely as a productivity exercise. Productivity is important, but people are fragile. Creating a superhuman expectation leads to problems, often exacerbated by our connected cultures. Whatsapp messages can reach us at any hour, demanding emails can find us on holiday, last-minute requirements haunt us while sitting in bed.

These are not good attributes. They create burnout and erode morale. A modern workplace needs modern attitudes around respecting employees and not abusing flexible technologies.

Here are some points to consider:

  • Do your employees hit ‘reply all’ merely to show accountability? Do you have policies to indicate when they can trim that recipient list?
  • Instant messaging like Whatsapp is great, but has many limitations. Do your managers think they can send messages at any time? is the content appropriate?
  • Do you allow your people to show they can do their jobs or does your culture encourage helicopter management?
  • Have you looked at your processes, improving cumbersome ones? Are you listening to your employees suggestions to make them more efficient?
  • Are your employees made aware of mindfulness around tasks? Or do they approach tasks as “tick box” exercises?

I have adjusted my perspective from a few years ago, nowadays a week or two may pass without me seeing my direct reports. However, the real challenge has been finding a way to address the points mentioned above. Modern devices and services have made it easy for employees to work everywhere, but the unintended consequence is that they work all the time as well – and eventually regard that as the status quo. This can undermine attempts to improve their capabilities and choices.

Establishing good work/life balance opportunities is very important, particularly if you wish to attract and retain the best talent. Technology and connectivity have helped make this a reality: employees able to hit their deadline and still pick the kids up from school. It’s a far cry and major improvement over the dreaded ‘be seen to be promoted’ days.

But without looking at your culture, those technologies become traps. People feel the pressure to keep performing, even at the cost of their health. That ultimately is a cost to your business.

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Meet the accountant of the future

The accountant of the future will need a new set of skills, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, as he meets both the local users and the global creators of Xero accounting software

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Buchule and Sivenathi Sibaca get a highrise view of London. Pic by Arthur Goldstuck

Meet Buchule and Sivenathi Sibaca. They are not only partners in marriage, but also in a thriving accounting business. Buchule and Sivenathi are, respectively, chief executive officer and chief financial officer of SMTAX, which focuses on tax and accounting services for small businesses in the Western Cape, but includes the likes of Absa and Old Mutual among its clients. It employs 18 people and has 4,500 individual and business customers.

That’s not what makes the outfit remarkable. The startling feature of this business is that it has been structured to be a model accounting firm of the next decade. Even more remarkable is the fact that the couple both hail from rural areas where thoughts of the future tend to be about survival rather than blazing new trails.

Last week, they made their first trip out of the country, to attend Xerocon London 2019. This 2-day conference, hosted by the world’s fastest growing accounting software maker, Xero, attracted more than 3,000 delegates from the United Kingdom, Europe Middle East and Africa. A total of 57 Xero partners and users, mostly from accounting practices or suppliers to accountants, made the trek from South Africa.

“It was really about seeing how other accountants on other continents operate in terms of how they think and where their headspace is at,” Buchule told us during Xerocon. “Also, being our first time out of the country, it was to see the culture of other small businesses outside of South Africa. 

“London’s quite different in that regard, but it’s been a really a great learning curve, and we were pleasantly surprised to find elements that look like South Africa, where we can say, at least you’re doing something right. The banking environment is quite unique, as it’s been a really good learning curve in terms of where banking might go to in the future of South Africa if they follow the same trend.”

Buchule comes from the “dusty streets” of Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape, while Sivenathi grew up on a farm in a deep rural area near Mthatha.

“I had no idea about technology or the rest of the world or how it could impact the economy in general,” she said. The two met at the University of Cape Town, where she was studying to be an actuary, and he completed a Masters degree in tax. She decided to put actuarial science behind her, however, when the opportunity arose to join Buchule’s business. But her skills helped transform the business.

Said Buchule: “When Sivenathi came on board we did the modeling of the business, and we said that in order to in order to automate the whole bookkeeping journey, we would need to turn closer and closer towards ‘x’, meaning fully automated bookkeeping. We looked at the journey of how long it will it take for us to get to time ‘x’. And then we said, OK, once we get there, what then?

“It was a big realization that when we do get to time ‘x’, the most important thing will be the human touch. That will be the differentiator. So we then spent our time developing that.”

Visit the next page to read more about the Xerocon 2019 event.

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Takealot reveals startling numbers for Black Friday

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Takealot has revealed startling numbers for expected bumper sales this holiday season, beginning next week, and peaking with Black Friday.

South Africa’s leading ecommerce group expects to ship at least one order every second, with roughly 10,000 boxes leaving their warehouses every hour, this shopping season. 

Black Friday was first introduced to South Africa by Takealot in 2012, and has since become an important day in South Africa’s annual retail calendar. It has been a record-breaker for both retailers in the Takealot Group: Takealot and Superbalist. Takealot’s Black Friday gross merchandise value (GMV) grew 125% from 2017 to 2018, with orders up 127%. Superbalist’s Black Friday GMV has grown on average around 50%. This year, CEO Kim Reid is anticipating the biggest Black Friday yet, a culmination of months of tech and operational business-wide focus to prepare for increased predicted traffic and shopper volumes.

ABSA bank estimates that two out of three South Africans participated in Black Friday sales in 2018. And FNB reports in 2018, Black Friday transaction volumes grew by 16% compared with 2017 and anticipates a 15% increase in transactions over the sales period in 2019. 

Successfully meeting this massive growth in orders has been a key focus for the Takealot Group. CEO Kim Reid says throughout the year they have been working to scale operations across multiple areas within the business. “After expanding our Johannesburg distribution centre (DC), our warehouse storage space now stands at 75 000m2. We house over 3.7 million items at any given time, and have opened 47 Takealot Pickup Points in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Limpopo, Free State and Mpumalanga for order collections and returns, with more to open in the coming months.” 

Takealot Delivery Team delivers to more South African homes than any other courier company in the country. On a monthly basis, they carry out over 1.6-million deliveries,  with this number expected to increase to over 2-million during the shopping season. More than 4,500 drivers currently deliver for the Takealot Delivery Team; a number that is growing every month. The Takealot group anticipates they’ll travel over 4,000 000km from Black Friday until 24 December. “To put that in context, it is the equivalent of circumnavigating the globe over 100 times” says Reid.

Takealot.com’s Blue Dot Sale is a five day sale period which starts on Black Friday (29 November) and sees a range of new deals throughout the weekend as well as on Cyber Monday (2 December) and Takealot Tuesday (3 December), with up to 60% off thousands of items. For the first time, takealot.com will also be giving their shoppers early access to some of its Black Friday deals, starting on 24 November. Fresh new app-only deals will be added daily. 

The Superbalist Showdown will run from 29 November to 3 December, with up to 70% off more than 15 000+ items. Superbalist shoppers will also have early access to Black Friday deals on selected days throughout November, with Superbalist’s Black Friday Spoilers – 24 hours to shop deals that they say won’t be beaten on Black Friday. 

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