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Employees work themselves to a standstill
Wed, 14 Mar 2012 12:21
The recently released World Competitiveness Yearbook 2011, published by Switzerland’s Institute of Management Development has ranked South African productivity at a miserable 52 of 59 countries rated. As if that was not bad enough, South African competitiveness has fallen eight places to 52.
And bosses are responding by beating a dying horse, Karin Wellman of The People Element, a national human resources training group said. “A year ago we noted a shift in corporate culture from a strongly people-oriented, values-based “home away from home” environment in many companies to one in which words such as “mediocre” and “underperformance” are common. We’re seeing a dramatic increase in disciplinary hearings based purely on underperformance. In the past, this would have been the content of performance reviews, coaching discussions, etc. Now it’s a case of you don’t perform, you’re out. Targets are increasing, sometimes to ridiculous heights – burnout and stress-related illnesses are common.
“Senior management is being whipped by EXCO, which is being whipped by the Board, and so pressure gets greater the lower down the corporate ladder it moves. The people who feel it the most are those at the coalface of income generation: the call centre agents, the sales consultants, the account managers, etc.” This matches findings from the United States where Professor Juliet Schor, a senior lecturer in economics at Harvard noted that employees: “Are literally working themselves to death—as jobs contribute to heart disease, hypertension, gastric problems, depression, exhaustion, and a variety of other ailments. Surprisingly, the high-powered jobs are not the most dangerous. The most stressful workplaces are the “electronic sweatshops” and assembly lines where a demanding pace is coupled with virtually no individual discretion.”
Not only are staff working harder than ever before and longer hours (The America Foundation estimates the average employee works at least 500 hours a year more than in the 1990’s): they’re earning less. Statistics tell us that half of South Africans live below the poverty line eking out subsistence on just R500 a month. South Africa’s GINI Co-efficient – a measure of income equality in a country with 0 representing an equal society – is 65; the United States, which is seeing protests because of growing inequality, was 45 in 2007. The situation in both countries is believed to be worse now, as the economic crisis has cut deep swathes into economies.
Almost one in six Americans now lives in poverty, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau report. And in October, the Congressional Budget Committee revealed that since 1979, the richest one percent had seen incomes rise 275%, while the middle class was 40% more comfortable and the lowest fifth of the nation had seen incomes rise only 18% - essentially, they got poorer.
Wellman and her partner, Vicky Eriksson, will host a People Effectiveness conference in Midrand on May 8 to give their findings into a yearlong “Employee Satisfaction Survey.” They say that business confidence is often measured as a key barometer to economic progress, “but the most important component of business success – how happy the employees are, because that is also a barometer of productivity, is usually ignored. We say it has to be measured for companies to get themselves out of the economic crisis.”
Eriksson said, “Last year we realised that people’s reasoning behind attending The People’s Element workplace training programmes had changed pretty significantly. At the start of any programme we always ask the question, “Why are you here?” The standard answers have always been “because I have to” or “because my manager told me to”.
“Last year, those answers changed. They became “because I can’t talk to my manager”, “because I want this on my CV”, “because I’m terrified of conflict”, “because I need help dealing with stress” etc. In our conversations with managers and staff it became clear that stress levels are the highest we can remember. Trust and pride in organisations is very low. Management styles have become harder because they are under such pressure. But happy staff always perform better.”
For now productivity and competitiveness seem doomed to continue sliding as bosses adopt a big stick approach.