24 January 2013

Zambia: Addressing Poor Work Culture in Parastatals

IT is said a Chinese makes 500 bricks per day, a Zimbabwean makes 300 in a day, and a Zambian makes about 80 to 100 bricks a day.

Obviously, this is not good for a country that is in a hurry to develop. It is also sad news that Zambia's productivity levels are among the lowest in the region.

This was a revelation by Labour and Social Security Minister Fackson Shamenda recently.

And as the year begins it's important for workers to reflect seriously on such a revelation as it borders not only on the social well-being of individuals but will certainly have a lasting bearing on the economy of the nation as well.

Mr Shamenda, being in charge of a ministry focused on labour and industrial issues, is concerned with the country's poor work culture especially in parastatal organisations and other Government departments.

There is no doubt that the poor work culture in Zambia, which is growing has continued to manifest itself in different forms.

For instance, if you need to have your papers processed, you have to wait a long time before you can be attended to.

And one wonders why this should be the case when we can resort to efficiency.

Sometimes the papers go missing and you have to start the process all over again. Imagine, you have travelled a long distance, probably from a different town, and this is the kind of service you end up getting?

Most members of the public who visit parastatals (and other Government departments) come back frustrated, this is a clear indication that there is something amiss in the whole service delivery system.

The idea of looking at faces before one can be served is what distorts the reputation of most parastatals.

How often have people been turned away just because they belong to the low class?

It is now a general perception that Zambia has a poor work culture, especially in Government institutions. But this needs to change for the better if the country is to develop.

Workers are not usually in a hurry to get things done. There is always this laissez-faire attitude, which is a policy of leaving things to take their own course.

They get to work late and leave early. The customer service is very poor.

Sometimes, you walk into a store and the attendants would not pay attention to you.

Instead, they would keep on reading a newspaper or carry on with their conversation.

That is just the way it is, but some things have to change.

The business of reporting for work late and knocking off early and abuse of company vehicles, stationary, computers, phones and other items for personal reasons, seem to be an order of the day.

The fact that certain trends and patterns seem normal does not make it right.

Effective service delivery and great productivity are not an act of lack. It comes as a result of good work culture and personal discipline.

As Mr Mr Shamenda rightly put it recently during the Workers Compensation Fund Control Board (WCFCB) staff improvement meeting, there is need for a complete mindset shift towards work in Zambia, the country has to reach great heights.

The trouble with parastatals is that recruitment was never done on merit, something the minister observed and said would soon change.

"If we find that you are a manager and you can't do your job according to expectations, then you will be transferred to the security department where you will be chief of security guards," he said.

How often have people engaged in gossip, shuffling between offices without purpose, at the expense of contributing to the growth of their organisation, which subsequently reflects at national level? This is not to say, story-telling is wrong. It is part of the oral culture.

It is just that there is time for everything. The greatest mistakes most people make is misuse of time.

Zambia's poor work culture is a huge source of concern and is something that needs to be addressed if productivity has to be improved.

How many people sit in offices yet do nothing but expect to be paid a full salary at the end of the month?

The year 2013 should spell lots of things for Zambia.

Without, doubt, the civil service is the backbone in implementing Government policies.

It is therefore not surprising that it accounts for the majority of the workforce in the country.

Nevertheless, most Government institutions are operating below par because of the current poor work culture, something that the labour minister wants to change.

Procrastination seems to be the order of the day.

Without any follow-ups, it is almost a miracle to be served in Government offices.

As Wisdom Kaunda put it in his letter to the editor in one of the local newspaper, most civil servants are being paid for reporting for work and not reporting to work.

He was said "It's about time unionists and supervisors promoted a positive work culture rather than just negotiating for good working conditions for people who can't deliver," he said.

The work culture among many Zambians, especially those in Government departments, leaves much to be desired and something certainly needs to be done about it if the country is to move forward.

Except for those working for the mines and other privately-owned firms whose nature of work demands that they start work at what we call "awkward" hours, labour laws of Zambia require that those in formal employment start work at 08:00 hours and leave at 17:00 hours.

Those in Government so far the majority of the country's workforce, have been given Saturdays and Sundays to rest plus public holidays.

It is also this group of workers who are affected by the 08:00 hours to 17:00 hours daily work routine.

Incidentally, much of the so much talked about bad work culture falls on the shoulders of these employees, who are popularly known as civil servants.

It must however, be noted that there are some Government workers who are hard working.

Even Minister of Mines, Energy and Water Development Yamfwa Mukanga recently advised workers to realise that a new party had formed Government with a different work culture; it is a foregone conclusion that he was referring to Government workers.

And when the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) supported Mr Mukanga's call on workers to change their work culture in tandem with the Patriotic Front (PF)'s pace of running national affairs, it is clear that the union was equally talking of these particular employees.

Civil servants are generally known for their bad work culture.

For instance, instead of reporting for work by 08:00 hours and knock off at 17:00 hours as required of them, they arrive at their work stations late and leave their offices before 17:00 hours.

It is like people report for work and wonder what to do with the rest of the hours.

As if reporting for work late is not enough, some Government workers are renowned absenteeism.

How many people have gone to try and meet Government officials for some business and bounced because they could not find them in their offices?

Only recently, Southern Province Permanent Secretary Chileshe Mulenga made a couple of surprise visits to Government departments.

His findings were depressing. In one incident an agriculture officer was found drunk on duty.

He was drunk at a critical time when he was supposed to spearhead the distribution of seeds to farmers who were affected by army worms. What a tragedy.

In Zambia, you have to be prepared to wait for things to get done.

In developed countries, the situation is different. It is easy to notice the difference.

There is no difference whether one works for the government or private sector.

The quality of customer care and service is just the same.

However, the situation is different this side of the world. People are not usually in a hurry to do work.

Even when one has an appointment with someone, they would come 20 or 30 minutes late without being apologetic.

The truth is you need a lot of patience to do business in Zambia but its proving to be costly.

How many Zambians, desperate to have their papers for title deeds processed, have ended up frustrated because their files are stuck in someone's office tray for years without being worked on? This trend is common especially at the Lands department.

Even at health centres, patients, some of whom go to clinics as early as 06:00 hours, wait for hours before a clinical officer or doctor comes to attend to them.

"As a labour movement, we have also always wanted a change of work culture according to how the Government wants workers to operate in line with their expectations," ZCTU president Leonard Hikaumba.

He, however, said a change in the work culture would not be sufficient if the Government could not convene a meeting with the labour movement to share ideas on what was expected of all parties.

However, not all is lost. There are some organisations that are currently taking up the challenge to address the scenario.

One such organisation is the Workers Compensation Fund Control Board (WCFCB). When Elizabeth Lungu-Nkumbula took up the position of chief executive officer, one of her major tasks was to address among other things the work culture.

The organisation, which has set benchmarks for itself to become one of the top ten institutions in Zambia, has introduced what is called performance management system to set targets between the supervisors and their surbordinates.

Performance management system is a process of creating a work environment in which people are enabled to perform to the best of their abilities through joint planning of work, coaching of subordinates, reviewing performance and rewarding.

"We have introduced this management system to bring about effectiveness and efficiency in the operations of the board," Ms Nkumbula said.

Unlike the appraisal system where workers are assessed annually, this system is different in that monitoring would be done on a regular basis, for the sake of improving service delivery.

In short, each employee, director, manager or ordinary worker would have to account for how they use their time.

There must be a justification as to why one should be paid at the close of every month.

"We are expecting to roll out performance management system in the institution once all staff members have been sufficiently exposed to the in-house training workshop on performance management system," said WCFCB public relations manager Maybin Nkolomba.

The board has realised the importance of enhancing productivity in the delivery of social security services to its clients, most of whom are disabled persons if the rebranding exercise is to succeed.

It is one of the few parastatals that has resolved to do things differently.

If Zambia has to reach great levels like other developed countries, there is need for a complete mental shift from negative to positive.

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