The work culture in Cape Town

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Updated 2019-10-03 14:53

In general, and unlike in Johannesburg, for example, the atmosphere in Cape Town is fairly relaxed. There may be some exceptions in specific areas, however, in general, professional codes are not rigid in Cape Town. With its idyllic location between the ocean and the mountains, not to mention the abundance of sports and outdoor activities to enjoy, hard work is not everyone's number one priority in South Africa!

The work schedule in Cape Town

That being said, the 35-hour week does not exist in Cape Town. Unless you work in restaurants or tourism, you will generally spend forty hours per week at the office, from Monday to Friday.

The working day starts between 08:00 and 09:00 in the morning and ends at 17:00 or 18:00. But few Capetonians really respect these hours. As mentioned above, the notions of balance and quality of life are important. It is not uncommon to see people disappear quietly on the stroke of 4 pm or to see them arrive a little late in the morning after their workout. As for Fridays, you will rarely see employees doing business after 3 or 4 pm, arguing the problems of traffic to get home.

Coming from Western countries, where schedules are often extreme, this can seem confusing. With paid holidays being limited in local legislation; however, more flexibility is usually granted and may explain the more relaxed approach to working hours.

Social security and insurance

When it comes to the payroll, you should be aware that your employer will not usually contribute to social security or any additional health costs, which you must pay for yourself. There is a minimum unemployment insurance that almost all employees are entitled to, but no pension contribution.

The dress code in Cape Town

Dress codes, aside from those jobs which require uniforms or specific outfits, are also quite relaxed, and reflect European standards. You won’t find "Casual Fridays" in Cape Town ... the whole week is relaxed!

Socialising at work in Cape Town

You will need some time to integrate, and while Capetonians are friendly and pleasant at first sight, it can be difficult to build a closer personal connection. Social circles, school groups, and professional networks are often established over many years and can be hard to access. Take small steps and be patient. Consider suggesting lunch, or even a dinner at home to those colleagues with whom you get along best.

Sports are a great way to break the ice too, so don’t hesitate to ask about your colleagues’ hobbies.

Cultural differences in the workplace

Another element to take into account is the existence of the BEE - Black Economic Empowerment - a law of positive discrimination which requires recruiters to respect very high quotas in favour of the black community who suffered deeply under apartheid. The result can be the placement of a candidate whose skills do not match the needs of the position. Unfortunately, the quality of education has not kept pace with the political drive to rebalance the economy, with decision-making positions given to people unsuited to the task.

This situation is not easy to deal with, both for those employees dependent on these colleagues or for their superiors, whose room for manoeuvre when dealing with mistakes or incompetence is very limited. In the first case, you may encounter hierarchical incompetence, made more tricky by complicated personalities which are forced to overcome their shortcomings and compensate for them. You may not have real means to change things or defend yourself. Indeed, the subject is a very thorny one, and it is often difficult to get past the realm of the politically correct: the "Labor Department" does exist and it is possible to file complaints, but the results are uncertain, particularly for foreigners. In the second case, you will need a lot of patience, diplomacy and imagination to succeed in getting around difficult situations. There is a complex line between the dismissal for genuine error - even errors that are attested and proven - and the crime of racism.

If you are working in sales or planning to start your own business, you will discover that South Africans in the white community often drive a hard bargain, especially when they are very wealthy. Culturally discrete in their spending, they are used to having free access to the riches that surround them (the beach, outdoor sports, etc.) and do not have a culture of conspicuous consumption. Their considerable means also allow them to refuse negotiations, even if it means losing a contract.

In contrast, although much less privileged, the Black community are those who consume more freely, sometimes ostentatiously - especially in the realms of nightlife, clothing and cars - despite having more limited means. South African society is by no means homogeneous: consequently, it is necessary to take into account the major cultural differences between communities when working in Cape Town.

Finally, keep in mind that the international fabric of the city - meaning people as well as companies - is very important in Cape Town, and leads to a fairly strong seasonality when it comes to economic activity and business in general. During the winter (June-August), many internationals leave Cape Town to head for the European summer, creating a lull, particularly when it comes to tourism, catering, hotels and related sectors.

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