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Monday, August 29, 2011

Relax and be yourself when on probation

(The author is an Organisational Development Practitioner)

‘Why do I have to be subjected to a probation period when I have gone through three interview processes and have been confirmed as the best person to take up this job?’, Onesmus wondered as he approached the end of his first week at the audit firm. He had been through a written interview and 2 oral sessions in which he had competed with a total of 65 people. Only 5 of the 65 candidates had been considered for the jobs and were all now serving their probation period.

The probation period is a requirement in most of the labour laws. It is provided as the opportunity that the employer and the employee have to ‘test and taste’ each other before making the final determination on whether the right choice had been made. The employer takes the time to gauge the appropriateness of the hired candidate. This is critical since at the hiring moment, the employer relies a lot on what is indicated on the CV and the oral presentation by the candidate. It is then necessary for the employer to observe the hired candidate at work, and make the final decision on the capacities and potential of the candidate.

For the new employee, the probation period is critical. As much as many people indicate that they would pursue just any job that presents itself, the probation period provides one with an opportunity to scrutinise the real expectations of the job vis a vis personal interests and dreams. It is worth noting that during the recruitment process, many potential employees only rely on the job advert and the scanty information provided at the interview for their appreciation of the expectations of the job. The probation period hence provides one with a hands-on experience on the real tasks and the pressure associated with the job.

The fact that either the employer or the employee can cancel the contract within a relatively short notice during the probation period is however a key concern that many people have. Both employers and employees fear any eventuality and this causes anxiety in both should any decide to terminate the contract. The fear is more pronounced on the part of the new hire. Many of them engage with the new workplace with a lot of caution that they barely perform. They are careful not to make any significant decisions that relate to their roles for fear of having the decisions backfire on them.

On other occasions, they fear over involving themselves with the processes and systems lest they over step their mandate. This is understandable although it leads to leading a relatively plastic life. In such cases, I advise persons going through probation to throw a part of the caution to the wind and be themselves. Remember that you are being observed and if you project yourself as an indecisive staff, it could just be taken that is who you are. Remember that your colleagues, and especially your supervisor is interacting with you for the first time and hence need to study as much as they can about you. Your decision to hide a part of yourself could hence be counterproductive.

Be free; interact with people and clients as though you have been around for long. To be safe, seek for clarification on issues that are not clear before making any grand decisions.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Can you supervise yourself?

Words by Francis Kahihu

One of the increasingly common phrases on many job adverts is the requirement for candidates who are able to work under minimal supervision. This is a subtle way of hinting on the need for workers who are able to supervise themselves. This concern comes from the realization by the employers that supervision is costly and adds little value since it wastes a lot of the company’s time and human resources.

Remember the behavior of the students in school when the teachers were away or the kids at home when the parents we not watching. Just observe our roads and get mesmerized at the behavior of the drivers when there are no traffic cops. We all like the freedom that comes with lack of supervision only that few have the capacity to manage such freedom. Many people mess up their lives whenever there is no one watching over them. Since we can never have people watching over us at all times, self supervision then is a soft skill we need to develop if we are to achieve our purpose for living.

At the workplace, many people have been unable to manage their freedom hence have to be supervised. You only need to check out a workplace when the boss is away on leave or on a trip. Workers exhibit a total lack of focus leading to great losses for the company. This implies that many people perform best when under supervision, yet that is never a guarantee. If you cannot perform well under self supervision, the truth could be you would never perform optimally even with outside supervision. The who you are when no one is watching is the who you really are.

I have interacted with numerous resumes and one common feature is the indication that many of us can work under minimum supervision. This has been used as a bait for employers to hire yet has not been a reflection of the reality on the ground. The same people who indicated can work with minimum supervision have to be herded at work for them to produce positive results. This then means that a mere phrase on the resume that you can work under minimum supervision may not necessarily guarantee you a job. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Many times we fail to perform to our optimal capacity when we fail to value our work. When we do not derive satisfaction from our engagements at work, we tend to require constant push for us to perform. The motivation is not inherent but has to be acquired from outside of us. This is a risky practice as you tend to move through life under pressure from other people. You only move when pushed. Believe it or not, you will not have pushers available every time. Unless we develop the capacity and desire to supervise ourselves, we shall eventually get stranded in life as the steam to make us move will eventually fade away.

Setting personal goals and targets and working towards achieving them is one way of seeking for self motivation. When we own the targets and develop an inner zeal to work towards achieving them, we do not wait to be supervised by external factors. The supervisor in this case will be found within us. We will push ourselves hard enough to achieve our goals. This experience provides great satisfaction as we see ourselves attaining levels of excellence we set for ourselves.

I have heard a few people indicate that the reason why they relax when their bosses are away is because they are usually overworked by their supervisors. The absence of their superiors signals an opportunity to relax ad recover overused energy. This may sound a justifiable excuse yet the truth is that you will be seeking for revenge. Unfortunately, such are the experiences that easily lead to burn out at work since staff tend to have little or no motivation to deliver on their work. They fail to withdraw energy from within hence leaving great potential lying unutilized thinking they are punishing the bosses.

Working under minimum supervision is an experience we go through to evaluate our levels of maturity. Only mature people can remain faithful to themselves and the expectations of their environments even when no one is watching them. In case you find your self having to seek out for supervision in order to perform, I would suggest that you need personalised support to enhance your maturity. Mature people know what needs to be done and do it regardless of who is around. A professional counselor might be a handy resource in this case.

Monday, August 15, 2011

In search of internships

(The author is an Organisational Development Practitioner)

As the pressure for employment mounts, many young people are being encouraged to consider the value that internships add to the job search process. This is especially important as they realize the demand for work related experience whenever they approach a potential employer. However, not many young people have learned the art of seeking for internships. Many do not take the process seriously due to the imagination that they are seeking to provide free services. There is always the assumption that they are going to the workplace to only give services for free with little or no reward at all. The motivation to search for internships professionally is hence minimal.

It is important for you to note that internships are valuable opportunities just as it is important for the potential employers. Internships provide opportunities for on job training that helps the intern relate the theories they are exposed to in school with the realities of the workplace. This helps them appreciate how to customize theory to the requirements and needs of the workplace.

Persons who take internships seriously also realize that they are great opportunities for networking. During the internship period, you will want to closely engage with both staff and clients at your place of duty since you never know who among the hundreds of people you interact with will provide you with a future employment opportunity. Serve at your workplace as though you are on full time employment. Do not let the attitude of short term engagements affect your performance. The internship period is your ‘employment’ period hence give all your best to the tasks provided. Remember, you are being watched and successful implementation of tasks could just be the indicator that you could be considered for a longer assignment.

Internships also help you make an almost final determination with regard to your career choice. It is an opportunity for you to have a feel of the real world of work in your area of choice. As you engage with the expectations of the job, you would most likely determine whether you naturally flow in that career. Some people have actually made dramatic career changes during internships while others have had a stamp placed on their choice as they served as interns.

I would however wish to mention that for you to land an internship that adds value, you must be strategic. It is not just about getting an opportunity to work as part of the academic requirements. You will need to critically consider where you would want to intern. Once you are clear on what you are looking for, talk to friends and relatives and let them know your passion and the kind of experience you are interested in gaining. They could advise on possible companies or organizations to consider. If for instance you are interested in pursuing a career in humanitarian aid, you will want to seek for internships with organizations such as the Red Cross or World Vision.

In making this determination, you will have to source for as much information as possible on the possible placement opportunities. Visit their websites, read through their annual reports and strategic plans and consider the kind of jobs they advertise for. This clarifies what the organization is involved in and helps you make the decision on whom to approach.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Balancing the needs of clients and staff

The craze in on and the competition stiff. Employers are out to impress and get through to the hearts of clients as the pressure for performance and profits picks up. Surveys and polls are being facilitated to provide up-to-date market information to employers on the best practices that will ensure effective mobilization of a bigger, wider and deeper client base. As a result, new products are being introduced into the market, companies are pushing for longer working hours and new office and operational units are being set up.

This scenario has over time placed the employers and employees at logger heads. The employers are strongly driven by the need to maximize on profits at the expense of the staff needs and interests. Staff are being forced to work for longer hours at the same terms and conditions. Extra working days are being introduced as employers seek to move above the rest gradually squeezing in personal spaces that employees have previously planned for. This forces the employees to regularly adjust their lives in order to accommodate the changing demands.

Let us for instance consider the life of Joe who works for a local bank. He joined the banking industry 4 years ago after searching for a stable job for more than a year. The experience has been exciting until a couple of months ago. In response to the competition, the bank management decided to open up more branches upcountry and with the deployment, Joe was transferred to a remote town in Nyanza Province.

At the stroke of his supervisor’s pen, Joe had to defer studies he was undertaking at the local university since he could no longer make time for the lectures. He has since deferred through two semesters and fears he may have to terminate his studies unless a miracle happens within the next one month. The bank has over the last month made other changes with regard to the working hours. The staff have to report to work 30 minutes earlier and leave 30 minutes later. In other words, Joe has to work for an extra hour every day.

As much as the desire to compete is understandable, we need to sit back and debate on who ought to bear the cost of these changes.  How much should an employer push the employee to achieve the ever rising targets and at what point should the employee stand up and demand audience with the employer. Employees ought to be considered as stakeholders and involved in the making of decisions that affect them. It is necessary for the human resources practitioners mandated with the duty of managing people at these organizations and companies to appreciate the fact that today’s employees are more informed of their rights than was the case awhile back.

It is therefore recommended that employers consider the effects of the changes in the working hours, days and other conditions of work on the staff social, economic, spiritual and academic lives. Would it for instance serve the purposes of both the employer and the employee if the changes also come with reviews of terms of service? It is not fair play when an employer expects the staff to perform better, spend more time at work and travel longer distances with no commensurate compensation. To say the least, this is a perfect recipe for staff turnovers. Staff at this point start working out their exit strategies and before long, the employer has to contend either with a de-motivated workforce or with staff exits.