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The top three things that motivate South African employees

23 January 2023

The top three things that motivate South African employees - Discover what motivates South African employees at work and learn how to engage and retain your workforce in 2023.

The Motives, Values, Preference Inventory (MVPI) gives us insights into employees’ interests, professional goals, values, and drivers. Understanding what employees really want to feel valued and satisfied in the workplace helps organisations create a better person-role fit, since MVPI results help identify what type of position, job, and environment your employees will be the most productive in. In 2022, over 1,500 South Africans completed the MVPI. So, what motivates our employees and what does this mean for your 2023 employee engagement initiatives?


1. Money, Money, Money

With increased inflation, underwhelming GDP growth, and rising costs of living, the majority of South Africans likely dreamt of all the things they could do with a little more money, making Commerce the highest motivator in the workplace in 2022. Employees continue to look for ways to make their income stretch, looking at ways to save or invest, or even juggle a side hustle, and given the forecasts for 2023, this interest is only going to continue to drive employee workplace behaviour. 
While it is understandable that in these trying economic conditions it may have been difficult to motivate your employees with pay increases or bonuses, in our current reality of quiet quitting and great resignations, it is an uncomfortable truth that staff that value Commerce are generally also ambitious and hardworking and will be looking for opportunities where they will be financially rewarded for their work performance. Fortunately, there are also other ways to keep employees engaged if their core value is Commerce:

  • Be as transparent as possible about the company’s performance and what you forecast for the year ahead, so they have a realistic view of how well (or not) the company is doing. Such communication also goes a long way in building a trusting work environment, and if done correctly, motivates employees to actively look for new business opportunities and ways to make their processes more efficient! 

  • It is important to remember that your staff think about their bottom line as much as you think about business profitability. Provide opportunities for growth – share tips to budget better, free/cost-effective courses on financial management, and impart some of your investment advice.


2.  Having the Power (despite loadshedding woes!)

Like the rest of the world, South Africans also enjoy challenges and competition and being able to show off our successes and achievements. It is therefore little surprise that Power was the second-highest driver in the workplace in 2022, with many employees showing interest in their career pipelines, wanting to advance into influential roles – possibly because such career growth also comes with financial gains. 
In a context like SA, with alarming unemployment rates, a population with a high drive for Power are more likely to create entrepreneurial opportunities for themselves to succeed given their visionary abilities, and they generally perform well in sales and leadership roles as well, since they have an enthusiastic, leaderlike flair about them. For employees already in your employment, some ways to boost their motivation by speaking to their need for Power include:

  • Creating an environment where achievement, like winning a big client, is celebrated. If the context of your organisation allows for it, creating regular, fun competitions will also be appreciated given these employees value feeling a sense of accomplishment. 

  • Clearly communicating each employee’s career trajectory and growth opportunities within your organisation. Individuals who are motivated by Power are energised by challenges, are results-orientated, and enjoy taking responsibility and leading projects.


3.  Ubuntu is still imbibed in SA culture

One thing about South Africans, we really like helping our neighbours and our people have time and again shown we’re “lekker” to be around. So it comes as no surprise that when considering our values, Altruism is our joint third-highest MVPI value, tied with Tradition. Our country has a rich history and while our elders eloquently transfer their knowledge of specific customs and beliefs within communities, we are still able to have a strong sense of a united rainbow nation. 
Our business entities function within this national culture, and as such, it likely comes easier to us to treat diversity in the workplace with respect. In relating these values to work outputs, consider the following:

  • As with the above suggestions, emphasise that you see the individuals in your organisation as more than employees doing a job and invest in them and their futures. Having a company culture where fair treatment, respect, and growth and development plans for all will be a space where employees with a high need for Altruism will feel valued and driven to perform at their best.

  • For staff that value Tradition, having set procedures and processes in place is comforting. They value knowing what’s expected of them, receiving clear instructions and will appreciate a generally more formal workplace with colleagues that share similar values as them. 

Considering South African’s work values and preferences, it’s quite in line with the King IV report on Corporate Governance, where the importance of the triple bottom line is highlighted – as a business you should be able to demonstrate to your employees and clients your economic, social, and environmental contributions, which in turn creates a positive, uplifting atmosphere for your employees to thrive in.


Figure 1 & 2: South Africa’s motives, values and preferences


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