The financial services industry fulfils a critical role within any economy. In South Africa this is no different. Organisations within this industry support the creation of a sustainable and prosperous society – cultivating economic growth, capitalising on business opportunities, and responding productively to economic and fiscal challenges. By Nicola van der Westhuizen

Although it is commonly assumed that work conditions within the financial service industry are more favourable compared to other industries, in reality this is frequently not the case. While work conditions may differ among organisations within this industry, it typically involves sedentary work, regular contact with customers, and the recurring use of computers. These work conditions negatively affect employees’ physical and mental well-being. To make matters worse, the increasingly complex and demanding nature of work is also taking its toll on employees. Employees are no longer engaged in their work – often seeking alternative opportunities for employment. My research has shown that this trend is especially prevalent among employees from South African audit firms. Empirical findings demonstrate the problematic nature of employment within audit firms and its resultant impact on employee engagement and retention.

Audit firms represent important service providers within the financial services industry. These organisations help to ensure that organisations trade fairly, and that financial statements presented to the public or shareholders are accurate and well-supported. To overcome current challenges of sluggish economic growth and widespread corruption in South Africa it is imperative that audit firms function optimally.

Sadly, an alarmingly low number of organisations within the South African financial service industry have endeavoured to develop and implement holistic employee-centric engagement and retention strategies. Most organisations concentrate on the replacement of staff as needed. However, this does not address the core problem. Without making the necessary amendments to business strategies, these organisations risk incurring significant financial and human capital losses.

Based on my empirical findings, I would like to highlight the importance of ‘job crafting’ in addressing concerns regarding employee engagement and retention among South African audit firms. Job crafting encompasses proactive, self-initiated changes employees make to enhance goal attainment, while at the same time aligning work with their passions, preferences and motives. This resourceful and unplanned process helps employees create and sustain a viable definition of the work they do and who they are at work.

As opposed to traditional top-down work design practices, job crafting positions employees as active participants in the design of work.

This begs the question, ‘How can South African audit firms encourage job crafting?’

I propose a number of practical recommendations to encourage job crafting among employees from South African audit firms.

  • Select the right people: Personality characteristics influence employees’ willingness to engage in job crafting. Do not only select candidates based on their technical skills. Include personality characteristics in the selection process.
  • Empower employees: Autonomy is a precondition for job crafting. Empower employees to take ownership for their own work. Refrain from micromanagement.
  • Cultivate confidence: Employees who believe in their own abilities are more likely to engage in job crafting. Provide employees access to opportunities for development. Develop and implement coaching and mentoring initiatives.
  • Recognise and reward: Recognition and rewards nurture feelings of acknowledgement and appreciation, which reinforces future behaviour. Recognise and reward job crafting in a fair and consistent manner. Notably, this does not only allude to formalised or monetary recognition and rewards.
  • Lead by example: With any organisation leaders set the tone – their actions cascade through the entire organisation. Encourage leaders to role-model job crafting.
  • Build the right culture: The prevailing culture of an organisation influences employees’ attitudes and behaviours. Cultivate a culture of psychological safety and trust. Eliminate negative reactions to job crafting.
  • Clarify work roles and expectations: Uncertainty and ambiguity discourage job crafting. Provide clearly defined work-roles and expectations. Create an environment where employees can identify and understand the boundaries within which their work can be crafted.

Employees are the brain, heart and muscle of any organisation. To ensure that South African audit firms function optimally, a physically and mentally well workforce is required. It is therefore imperative that audit firms encourage employees to become active participants in the design of work.

AUTHOR |Nicola van der Westhuizen is a PhD student in Industrial Psychology at Stellenbosch University