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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Open the doors and interact with staff

I overheard of a survey that was conducted in the USA a while ago on deaths of people on formal employment. It was reported that the majority of the people sampled had died on Mondays between 8am and 11am in the morning. In a bid to provide explanation of the findings, psychiatrists indicated that it was possible that the persons had died as a result of forcing their spirits towards the direction of the workplace they hated. This made me wonder how many of the persons reading this article today will wake up on Monday morning towards a workplace they loath.
As we consider our feeling about our current workplaces, it is important to note that people work for a variety of reasons. While some work to get money to meet their basic needs in life, other people are motivated by their desire for company, association and the sense of self-worth they get while working and producing positive results. Even in situations when people work for money, one of the key motivators at the workplace is when staff feel valued. When staff feel valued, the employers not only benefit from low staff turnover, but also from enhanced productivity and efficiency. 

One of the tested ways of helping staff feel valued at work is by employment of the open door policy. As much as the open door policy seems to have become a cliché at the workplace, it is a powerful people management concept that would help you turn around your relations with staff at your workplace and make everyone feel pulled to the workplace on Monday morning.

Regardless of the size of your organisation, you would benefit immensely if you employed this policy at work. Open door policy encourages effective communication between the employee and the management. The employees do not feel left out at the workplace as they know there is someone to support them always at the time of need. This way they get attached to the management and are always loyal towards the organization. There is no room for confusion when the employees directly interact with their superiors. They feel motivated and strive hard to live up to the expectations of the management. They never badmouth the management or their organization.

The open door policy encourages healthy discussion at the workplace. Individuals exchange ideas and come to an innovative solution benefitting all. The employees are free to discuss their ideas with the superiors and gain from their talent and mentoring. Gone are the days when people used to fear their bosses. The “Hitler approach” does not work in the current scenario. The management must respect the decisions of the employees to expect the same in return. The management must make the employees feel indispensable for the organization and should lend a sympathetic ear whenever required.

Finally, the open door policy enables the employees to seek their boss’s help and freely discuss things with them for better clarity. The policy is essential for effective communication, proper feedback and better output. With the help of the open door policy, the employees do not crib amongst themselves, rather talk to their superiors, clear all their doubts and look forward towards a long term association with the organization. And so, on a scale of 1 – 10, 1 being poor and 10 being great, how do you fair in respect to implementing an open door policy at your workplace?

Monday, April 16, 2012

All I Want is a Masters Degree

When Jennifer met her former college mates three years ago, they were all in pursuit of jobs. They had great hopes of clinching well-paying jobs in line with their vision while in college. They hence set up a network of friends to support each other and considered each other as possible references. As the years passed, some of the colleagues secured good jobs while others decided to go back to school for further studies. Earlier in the year, Jennifer, who has been job searching since their first encounter realized she has been left behind by her peers and has decided to do all she can to secure a job.

Convinced that her undoing has been the lack of a masters degree, she has decided to pursue a masters degree at all costs. Through a discussion she had with a friend, she indicated all she wants is a masters degree. When her friend sought to know which career path she was interested in pursuing and hence which area she wanted to master in, what Jennifer said shocked her. ‘I am not sure of what I want to master in’, she said. ‘All I want is a masters degree, not necessarily to master in any field’. 

This response seems to echo well with many job seekers or persons intending to grow in their careers. There is a craze pushing and pulling people to pursuing masters degrees with the ‘promise’ of greener pastures once completed. With this craze comes little or no guidance. The challenge has been exacerbated by the fact that most of the institutions of higher learning offering the masters degrees are not adequately resourced to provide guidance to the students on what each of the masters programs entails. The assumption is that all the masters degree students are adults and hence already know why they want to pursue what they plan to. The only guidance they provide relates to the fees applicable and the duration.

A couple of months ago, I sat at an interview panel seeking for a potential candidate for a highly lucrative job. Among the candidates we had shortlisted was a masters degree holder from one of the renowned higher learning institutions in the country. The gentleman had been shortlisted since the review team noted that he had pursued a masters degree is an area relevant to the job on offer and since few persons have mastered in that particular field, the panel was convinced he could be the ideal candidate for the job. But lo and behold, within the first two minutes of the interview, as a panel, we were utterly disappointed since the candidate could barely articulate the theories and practice of the indicated field. He could not even discuss the current trends in the field he had mastered in neither could he articulate how he would manage simple case studies presented to him by the panel. 

The gentleman was truly a replica of many holders or current students pursuing various masters degrees. Many students pursue courses they know very little about or even have little interest in. They are convinced that a masters degree certificate will open all doors they consider knocking. This is a sure way of surprising themselves.

Seek for adequate career guidance before you enroll for a masters course to ensure you are well informed about the possible destinations the degree will lead you to. If you are a recent undergraduate, consider taking at least two years in the world of work before enrolling for a masters degree so that you gain clarity on what you would want to master in. Remember that time has a natural way of enhancing clarity and focus. As it has been said, if you leave your house not knowing where you are headed to, you can never get lost. No wonder, many degree holders are still walking around, busy and fatigued but to nowhere in particular.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The office can be your second home

On average, we spend about 8 hours every weekday, and for some, even the weekends, at the workplace. The self-employed spend more time at their workplaces to the tune of 10 hours per day. Bearing in mind that the time we spend at our workplaces is the most active of our time, when we are fresh and energetic, it is important to consider the comfort and homely feeling we get while at work. On the contrary, by the time we get back home in the evenings, we have exhausted all of the energy, having spent the remaining energies as we navigated through traffic and hence have to share our tired states with the ones we love. This is the irony of life.

But since this is what life has handed over to us, it important to consider ways in which we can transform our work environments into homely atmospheres. In most of the cases, for the work environment to be transformed thus, both the employers and the employees must make their contributions. The employer contributes in terms of any required structural support while the employees bring in the softwares.

The motivating thing in making the work place a homely environment is that it must not be expensive. In some ways, it does not call for resources that are not already available within the teams and for those items that must be bought to enhance this environment, nothing appears unaffordable when the staff join hands. One of the simple ways that an organisation can facilitate this experience is by having team lunches. It is indeed true that sharing food is a magical way of enhancing homely feeling and spurring relationships. As food serves to create and enhance bonds with your family, with your chama, with your religious groups and neighbours, so will it enhance relationships at work.

Depending on the space available, you could plan for food to be prepared jointly and served to all at the office or even in cases where staff carry or buy their own foods, you could consider some space within the office premises from where staff eat. This has a dual benefit. One, it pulls staff away from their computers over lunch and secondly, it enhances team talk away from their office chat. This is a great relaxation opportunity and leads to enhanced productivity.

Secondly, some organisations have found pleasure in sharing in the birthdays of their staff. Believe it not, just as little children get excited when sharing their birthday celebrations with other children, the child within every adult is aroused whenever other people join in to celebrate their birthday. This is truly an opportunity to reach into the innocent and emotional person within the staff. The celebration leaves a mark within the staff and makes staff feel truly valued. The celebrations come along with fun talk and games and this helps relieve stress. It also makes staff see the softer part of every colleague.

Finally, every so often and this could be annually, the staff could consider seasons when they hold family fun days. These are opportunities for office mates to take time off and have fun activities with their families. In addition to the staff feeling happy playing with their colleagues’ children and spouses, the children find it truly hilarious playing with mummy’s or daddy’s workmates. It makes the life of the children truly memorable and helps demystify the workplace. The children get to realize that the parents work with real people and helps when children later on send greetings to some of the office colleagues. You honestly feel at home at work.

Celebrate your pregnancy at work

Is it true that some ladies take advantage of their pregnancy to go slow on their performance at work or is it always that it is the body that decides to naturally slow down a lady at that season? Joyce Mwangi, the HR Manager at Help Age International, provided some insights into this dilemma. She starts by indicating that the behavior of a lady during pregnancy is usually determined by two factors, mainly the bodily reactions and the work environment. 

As much as it is true that the hormonal imbalances within a pregnant woman’s body naturally slows her down, there are documented cases of women slowing themselves down and taking advantage of their situation. According to Joyce, when the work environment is appreciative and supportive to a pregnant woman, the tendency is that she will push herself beyond limits to remain productive and an active team member. However, in situations when the work environment does not seem to respect her and appears inconsiderate of her state, the pregnant woman would easily decide to take advantage of her state to fully withdraw from the workplace. Such ladies have been known to take time off to visit the antenatal clinic for long hours and severally fails to turn back to work or reports very late in the afternoon.

There also seems to be a difference between how majority of private sector and not for profit sector players treat women who are expectant. Through observation, Joyce notes that the private sector tends to exert more undue pressure on pregnant workers as compared to  the not for profits. As much as the not-for-profit sector, and this includes the government, would consider hiring temporary replacement to fill in the gap when the pregnant woman is immobilized, the private sector insists on saving costs by distributing the roles to the other staff. No wonder the rest of the staff do not approve of a pregnancy among the team members since it implies more work at no extra pay.

Getting pregnant while working should be a reason to celebrate. Celebrate life and celebrate the opportunity given to you to bring up new life. This is sacred. There have been cases of women being discriminated against at their workplaces by virtue of being pregnant. This is against the Employment Act (2007: 5:3a) which expressly states that a worker shall not be discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy.
Due to the concerns above, it is however important for the pregnant woman to be considerate of the welfare of the other staff, as much as all life at work ‘revolves around her’. The lady should ensure she sets up and implements a clear handing over and coaching processes to ensure the staff who are left when she departs for maternity have a seamless transition. This is important for both the woman and the company as the results are sustained while the lady ensures her work flow is not significantly disrupted by her brief maternity leave.

Finally, in the process of adjusting to the new found state, the pregnant woman should consider potential risks at work and discuss suggested means of avoiding them with her supervisor. She should be keen not to lift heavy luggage, not to sit or stand for long hours and also avoid working for long hours or working in areas with heavy concentration of industrial chemicals. All these have a potential effect on the pregnancy and could lead to regrets later on. Consider your health and the health of your unborn child even as you navigate your way through the job tasks.

Don’t let your High School scores squeeze you into a box

The results of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) are out. Jubilation and disappointment fill the air in almost equal measure. Some parents feel like they have received the greatest of the expected rewards from their children by virtue of good performance. For others, the results seem to be an indicator of lack of honor. The happy parents are up and about telling all and sundry about their impressive performance while the parents of students who did not perform as well could be tempted to hide their faces from society due to the self-instilled shame and disillusionment.
It seems the pressure to perform well in the national examinations seem to be gripping the parents even more than the students. No wonder, parents wait for the results with more anxiety than the students. The reason could be that the students imagine at the back of their minds that regardless of their performance, the parents will scratch their way to getting a way past the exam results.

Not all parents however get through this season unscathed. We have overheard parents tell their children that if they perform poorly in the national exams, they should seek for other persons to call mummy or daddy. This clearly indicates that for some parents, their attachment and love for their children is highly dependent on the results of the exams. In other words, some parents’ love is conditional. You perform well, you are my child; you perform poorly, you call another person your mummy or daddy.

This can be height of great levels of frustration among the candidates who fail to perform well. The irony however is that in some cases, bright students perform poorly in national examinations due to the tension they experience as they sit for their exams as a result of the pressure piled on them by their parents. Such students get into the exam room under threat and easily leads to loss of memory or concentration. 

Our education system has placed more premium on the passing in national examinations even when the playing ground is not fair. Some students undergo learning experiences in more endowed environments than others yet this is never a consideration when setting the national examinations since the national examinations are set based on the expected ideal situations.  

This is hence a perfect time for parents and students to take a break and reflect on the life past and the life ahead. With the grades in your hands, what can you make out of them? Remember that the grades should never be a determinant of your future life as a student, whether they are impressive or not. The exams could just have served to indicate that you are not wired for the academics. Since the verdict is out, seek for vocational opportunities or creative arts that you could be best wired for. Dare I mention that the fact that you have scored the highest of the marks does not necessarily mean that you squeeze into the box prepared in advance for you by the society. Getting an ‘A’ does not necessarily mean you can make an engineer or a doctor. There is more to career choice than mere KCSE grades. 

The grades could simply be a sign that you can remember what you learned. Your personality and interests matters in career choice. Open up your world and explore the limitless opportunities that exist. Thank God for KCSE and seek guidance from professionals as you make the next move. It might just be what will eventually determine your satisfaction for the rest of your life.

Give your employer adequate notice period

This may sound like a fiction but it is an actual experience as narrated by a HR practitioner. One Monday morning, she realized that one of the staff had not reported to work by 11am and since the said employee had not indicated he would be reporting late that day, the HR Officer picked up her phone and called the staff. To her shock, the staff received the call and indicated that he would not be reporting to work that morning as he had gotten another job the previous week. This sounded like a dream. How would a staff get a new job opportunity on Wednesday and with no notice whatsoever, fail to report to his workplace the following week and only let the employer know about the change when called to check on his whereabouts?

This was a shocker. The staff went on and informed the employer that he was considering passing by the office the same week on Thursday to collect the cheque for the number of days worked that month and the accruing benefits. This does not sound real but believe it or not, some of the staff working for companies are not aware or are just ignorant of the expectations of the notice period as part of their employment contracts.

Most of the employment contracts have a requirement that the employee gives agreed upon notice of intention to resign. Failure to provide this notice requires the employee to pay an amount equivalent to the notice period otherwise referred to as payment in lieu of notice. The expectation of the notice period is important as it helps the employer make proper plans to replace your function or to reorganize the team so that the work flow is not affected. This is good practice.

Let us have a quick shift to the work environment that is your own home. For those of us who have engaged the services of a house helper, it is usually mayhem and distress whenever the house help has left over the weekend and fails to turn up on Sunday evening as expected. Women are especially worst affected as they are forced to quickly call their bosses requesting for a few days off to sort out the challenge at home. And you would bear me witness that even with the few days, you are still not guaranteed of getting a helper who well fits the bill. The pressure is real and you would not want to go through it, neither would you then want to take your employer through the same.

I have overheard some employees indicate that they would hand in their resignations immediately after receiving their monthly pay cheque, especially those with no benefits to tie them to the employer. As much as they feel they have won a score against their ex employers, it serves as an effective way of burning bridges. This is a truly small world and you never know when and where your paths will cross again. As long as you are in the society, seek to treat all people with all due respect and honor as you would also not wish someone treats you with dishonor, not even your house help.
At the point when you are being hired for a new position, the interviewers always seek to know about your availability to take up the new job. In common practice, many potential employers would expect you to provide for the notice period to your current boss. In the event you do not indicate you would have to provide this notice, it could easily lead to your failure to get the job as the feeling would be that if you claim you would be available immediately, the potential employer should also expect the same treatment when your time to depart comes.