Improving Employee Experience within South African SMEs

Jun 26 / Loren Phillips
I came across a really interesting piece of research last week that I want to share with you. My friends might think I’m crazy, but filling my brain with theories and constructs is totally my idea of a good time.

The paper is called “Antecedents of psychological well-being among workers within small and medium enterprises” and it was published in the SA Journal of Industrial Psychology. The study, essentially, highlights the importance of psychological wellbeing within the context of the South African SME landscape and assesses contributing factors to culture, productivity and business success.

For me, there were a few interesting concepts that I think give us a useful framework for understanding psychological wellbeing in the workplace.

To start, psychological wellbeing has been found to have a direct relationship with an employee’s performance.

Robertson and Cooper (2010) found that individuals with higher levels of [psychological wellbeing] behave in ways that may lead to higher levels of workplace engagement, which, in turn, affects business success.

The Social Exchange Theory

The Social Exchange Theory posits that the employer - employee relationship is subject to a cost-benefit analysis and weighing up of all the party's options. Interestingly enough, it's not all about money, it also takes into account the experience of the relationship.

When an organisation offers tangible and intangible resources, employees will respond in kind.

The Social Exchange Theory forms the foundation for how we can view 3 concepts:
  1. Perceived organisational support
  2. Career goal development
  3. Empowering leadership

Perceived organisational support talks about whether people feel like the organisation cares for their well-being and appreciates their efforts. High levels of perceived organisational support "may play a crucial role in employee readiness, especially during organisational change". How did your employees fair recently when forced to work from home or take a pay cut? Were they with you or were they against you? That's a clear indication of what their perceptions are.

Career goal development
is about people being able to achieve their objectives at work, for example skills development or upward mobility within the company.

Empowering leadership, a hot topic at the moment, refers to the behaviours of leadership to share power amongst their staff, which has been shown to raise intrinsic motivation (that’s the good kind of motivation, the one that comes from within – think of it as dangling a carrot as opposed to beating with a stick).

So, what does this mean?

The study has found that psychological wellbeing and perceived organisational support have a strong influence over each other. Similarly, career goal development and empowering leadership are also positively associated to psychological wellbeing in the workplace.
Therefore, I would argue that if you are looking to improve your levels of engagement and your overall business performance (who could say no to that?), a good place to start would be to:

a) Support your employees. Make them feel that their work is appreciated and do things that show that you care about their wellbeing.

b) Help them to develop their careers. Counterintuitively, this action is likely to make them stay as opposed to make them leave.

c) Empower your people. Help them feel like they have a say in the direction that your business is heading. Help people to express their opinions without fear of rebuttal and take into account what they are saying and then use that data when making your business decisions.

If this is interesting to you, I’ve also put together an Employee Experience Survey based on the above ideas that you can grab right here, to get a read on how people are feeling right now. Sign up here and we’ll email you a link to download the survey questions.

And last of all, please share your thoughts with me in the comments below!

Thanks to Eugine Maziriri, Tinashe Chuchu and Nkosivile Madinga for the great work done on this study.

MAZIRIRI, Eugine T.; CHUCHU, Tinashe and MADINGA, Nkosivile W.. Antecedents of psychological well-being among workers within small and medium enterprises. SA j. ind. Psychol. [online]. 2019, vol.45, n.1 [cited 2020-06-25], pp.1-13. Available from: <>. ISSN 2071-0763.