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Dwarfed by the task ahead

Stuart White
THE WORLD IN BLACK-N-WHITE

Doesn’t every person deserve a job that makes them fulfilled?  This is the sentiment of Arthur Brooks CEO of Barry – Wehmiller who said

“I have known that my ‘work’ is a source of fulfillment. In fact, whenever my team members say I am working too hard, I tell them I don’t consider it work; I tell them I am having fun. To me, work is energizing, stimulating, and intrinsically rewarding. I feel lucky to have found joy and happiness through my leadership of the 7,600+ people within our organization. I wish the same for every single one of them”.

I think we all know the answer to that question is ‘yes’, in theory at least, but perhaps that is nothing more than castles in the air?. Can we really create work environments where everyone feels that what they are doing is fun, stimulating and full of purpose? And if we were able to create it, is it realistic to think we can sustain it for 8 hours? Even joyful stuff gets boring after a while. So the answer to that is probably ‘no’ but it doesn’t mean management should not be constantly on the lookout for ways to make some elements of work more enjoyable.

We know that when people are happy and fulfilled  at work they do more, produce more, create more harmony, take less sick leave, behave better etc. And we know the sort of havoc that ensues when workers are unhappy, dissatisfied or frustrated – look no further than those French truck drivers blockading the motorways in and out of Calais this week – gridlock and chaos. So what actually can be done to make work more aligned to positive outcomes?

Some of the questions my management team has been grappling with recently are: If we reduced staff’s hours would it increase productivity, improve customer service and make the work environment and the people happier and progress our standing as an employer of choice? For a long time I have believed that it isn’t possible for people to perform optimally for long periods of time.

I don’t think anyone can concentrate at work for eight hours solid, but perhaps something like 6 hour sessions are more achievable? From my own experience any boss who thinks that their employees are working flat out for an entire day are kidding themselves.

To make the day bearable we break it up to  interact, socialise on the phone,   
Facebook or LinkedIn, do personal chores etc. And it can’t be helped because we need to get away from that 8 hour stretch -in my opinion that is just too long.

I am involved as a shareholder in a few companies which all operate differently when it comes to working conditions, so I am able to observe where productivity appears to flourish and where it doesn’t. In one company we have been playing around with more flexible working arrangements for staff. 

If there is no work they don’t show up…and they still get paid.  The staff members manage their own time and only check-in with management when and if they need to. So far it looks like the most profitable and happiest of all of the companies, with good customer service and a happy and contented workforce with practically no staff turnover.

There is another company which is characterised by frequently unhappy faces whose only multi –tasking appears to be watching the clock while pretending not to be on social media and gazing at the door ready to knock-off time, much like a salivating dog waits for dinner.

In this company the workforce appears despondent, discordant and about as eager to serve as a Muslim pork salesman. I am not saying that this is the magic bullet solution between coming to work,  doing what you do best and then clocking out versus show up, endure your prescribed time and go home as soon as the bell rings… but I wonder if there isn’t something in it?

I don’t think you simply wake up one day and create a flexible working environment. Personally, being raised with the Calvinist notions of hard work, the harder the better in fact, whereupon one day you might benefit from the fruits of your labour (but you shouldn’t expect it and you probably wont get it), I believed that people, including myself, should go to their job and toil for their money.

They should work their backside off and their fingers to the bone, and as if that wasn’t enough, do so happily and with gratitude while whistling “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go”, like those irritatingly perpetually cheery Disney dwarfs.

And I would always go to work with the intention of working hard and being optimally productive. When I worked hard I felt good about myself and when I did not I would be angry and disappointed, with a measure of shame thrown in to feed my guilt for betraying my Protestant work ethic.

Sometimes if I had not worked very hard then I would take work home, and do it in the evening. I immersed myself in work. I was either intending to work, working or punishing myself for not working. This wasn’t a road to happiness and I needed my Damascus moment!

The problem with many people’s thinking is how they frame the concept of ‘hard work’. Hard work is not when you are putting in time and effort that result in quality, output and impact – that’s work satisfaction. 

You see, when you enjoy and love something, even if it’s not the process, just the result, it doesn’t feel like hard graft. It’s a means to an end and totally bearable. Hard work is when you have to show up and do time, like a prisoner, with no reward bar time off for good behaviour. 

Yet that reward is meaningless. You had liberty in the first place and you can’t be rewarded by giving something back which was taken away.  As for salary, when work is a misery to be endured, you are the original wage slave.

My first  ‘aha’ moment came when I realised that when I wasn’t working hard enough it was because I couldn’t see the end result or I felt I was just putting in the hours. People’s toil and struggle with pointless tasks, unsatisfactory working hours and conditions and waiting for knock-off time only seemed to produce terrible results like stress, unhappiness and resentment – it did for me at least. Any gains under those conditions are short-lived and not nearly as fruitful as what can be gained when you are happy and not overstretched and under-appreciated.

Another came when I realised that I cannot perform 12 hours a day, 5 days a week, nor really be expected to. And I don’t want to. I am susceptible to moods, just as I have higher energy levels some days and dips on others;  I operate better at different times.

So when I am feeling good I make proverbial hay while the sun shines and recharge my batteries when the sun sets. When I don’t have work, or can’t work, I don’t pretend to be busy.  I pack up my bags and go home.

I know that work won’t go away but if it can wait till I want to tackle it and I see its purpose better. And just like Arthur Brooks I want that for my staff too…looks like more flexible working is about to be introduced at HRMC. Watch this space!

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at  www.hrmc.co.bw

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

9th September 2020

Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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