The paradox of commitment in the workplace


The past few weeks have been a long and fulfilling journey of exploring the important subject of happiness and how it relates to productivity.

This week we decided to let the subject go, with the belief that we have done our part in getting our readers consider the subject at least and perhaps one day, begin to explore it fully. We take this opportunity, therefore, to wish the workplace a very happy working life throughout.

This week we look at another interesting subject, which is the issue of employees’ commitment to work. I have heard managers and business owners complain about employees generally not committing to work but wanting to find ways of avoiding work if, and when they can.

That they would grab the slightest opportunity to be absent from work given a chance or come late with an excuse. The allegation has also been that employees know exactly what time to leave work but struggle with their starting time.

Some have even gone further to compare formally employed workers to those in informal spaces or those in self-employment.

The comparison seems to suggest that formal employment generally tends to reduce the employee’s commitment and grit. Once the job is secured and the salary assured, the employee disconnects and wants to be absent from work as many times as possible and even when they are present they tend to not be fully present.

If they smoke they will take as many smoking breaks as possible or just be chatting with colleagues to kill time.

You get a lot of jokes on social media about how employed people view their places of employment. Some jokingly suggest that the weekend should be extended to include Monday and even Friday if possible so that they may keep away from work for as many times as possible.

A joke is also told of a lady who, due to high stress levels, absent-mindedly took her kindergarten baby to her work place and proceeded to the child’s kindergarten school. She was shocked to see kids playing before it dawned on her that she had left her bundle of joy at one hell hole. She took off at a high speed to rescue her baby from a place she detested the most, her workplace.

Music has been done by some musicians that celebrates Friday as the last day of work or that which wishes the week to end. ( and even ( )

Some joke about how people are tired even on a Monday or even before Monday are cracked in many places.  

But how do things turn out this way? And by the way we are not making a big claim that everyone is like that, and that anyone who gets a job behaves this way. We believe we have prima facie evidence to pursue this subject and perhaps provoke some research on the issue. Why do things turn out this way? We are talking here about the most desired place before it is gotten.

Human beings want employment and celebrate thoroughly when they get it. Those who do not get employment are not only affected economically, but socially as well, as they are viewed as poor and not important. They are called loafers with no means of livelihood.

What then goes wrong when we land this job and are coming to work late or customers get bad care from us? Watch the taxi driver almost everywhere in the world.

I consider Zimbabwe, for instance. Taxi drivers go out of their way to run errands that get people where they need to go. Never mind the care, just the service, which is taking passengers where they need to go. This job is done with absolute commitment and desire.

Competition is fought with all might until the day ends. In South Africa, taxi drivers are called Mageza Iface (He who washes their face) because it is believed that they do not have time to bath or wash the whole body as they must be the early bird that catches the worm, or they will be disappointed.

Who or what pushes them? Are they more hard working than the employed person? The relationship, usually, between the taxi driver and the owner, is that of ‘you make this amount of money for me and the rest is yours…’ Maybe there is something there. We do need further digging and scientific enquiry, but one gets the sense that there is a bigger appeal in that arrangement.

Maybe just the fact that this person has more room to work and make returns for themselves?

Could that be the case? I really do not know because if that is the case then it means that all the formally employed who are paid high salaries naturally work hard and have that good relationship with work. That is not always the case as we know, hence my saying that there is need for research so that we may establish with some level of authenticity what the issues are here.

The vender also does a good job for themselves, waking up early in the morning to sell their wares.

There seems to be something to explore about making the relationship absolutely personal or at least close enough to person or self-employment. We cannot declare that to be sacrosanct truth until we have enough evidence but we seem to be onto something regardless.

Within formal employment, there are some jobs that easily get turned into something close to personal. The buyer, for instance, generally has so much room to deal and make money for themselves. It is a public secret for those who care to follow workplace issues that most buyers need not much motivation to buy but have enough by virtue of what they can gain, not just as salary, but also the spoils from their own deals.

We might not have the truth yet but with little observation, we can hypothetically claim that most employers do not see the need to do thorough work study to make such complexities make sense and to make real business, where the employees comes with a total buy in.

It is the buy-in that most employers are looking for but because the norm is that there is a gap between employers/management and employees that should be managed as that of a cat and a mouse, many are happy with that rat game and even employ some people to manage that disability as if there was no way out of it.

There are lessons to be learnt from different forms of work engagements that include informal work, semi-formal, total subsistence like in the village where work and play are not easily distinguishable. Are you struggling with getting your employees come to the party and really dance with you? Well, maybe your music is boring and you need to change the tune. Maybe you need to re-define your employees’ relationship with work as well as your relationship with them. Let us explore further.  

Bhekilizwe Bernard Ndlovu’s training is in human resources training, development and transformation, behavioural change, applied drama, personal mastery and mental fitness. He works for a Zimbabwean company as human capital executive, while also doing a PhD with Wits University where he looks at violent strikes in the South African workplace as a researcher. Ndlovu worked as a human resources manager for several blue-chip companies in Zimbabwe and still takes keen interest in the affairs of people and performance management. He can be contacted on [email protected]

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