Something is Clearly Wrong with Employee Engagement in South Africa

An article in the Sunday Times Business “SA Strike Rate highest in the World” certainly caught my attention. This article set out the days lost in SA as being nearly double that of other countries and some instances at nearly 10 times the days lost in a country like Italy.

However what really got my attention was the these two contrasting statements:

  1. Mike Schüssler, Economist – “All over the world labour unions act mores strategically and think more tactically than SA unions do”
  2. Patrick Craven, Cosatu spokesman – ‘ Employers cannot try to blame workers for their own inability to conduct negotiations in a constructive ways which would avoid strikes’

Constructive ways? Not thinking strategically?

These contrasting statements points to a problem with employee engagement and internal communication and should be addressed rather urgently by companies.

Adcorp also pointed to this in its latest employment index report and I quote – ‘The inability to get workers to perform and the inability to pay them for their performance, are the single biggest drivers of low employment”.

The word engagement came to me whilst reading this article. To me Engagement means how to capture the Hearts, Minds, Hands and Heads of the people that work for you.

I wrote about this in my blog post – The Employee is NOT a Stakeholder –

I received quite a number of responses to my post ranging from supporting my stance to some querying my use of international models. One post queried the use of the concept of employee stakeholder profiling when dealing with unionised employees as it might be seen as “discrimination”.

The reason that I wrote the post was to evoke debate. I wanted to raise an understanding of the need to segment the employee stakeholder or at least considering ‘different strokes for different folks’.

Obviously there are many models or windows through which to look at the employee stakeholder group. This is why I use these models and various research studies in my workshops to show up differences and enhance dialogue and learning’s.

One author once said that there is nothing as practical as a good theory. One of the biggest dangers that I would caution against is that everything must be home grown.

Benchmarking against international research is crucial and taking the parts that can be used.

Nevertheless, the conventional wisdom about generational differences in the workplace is mostly wrong, according to a new book by Jennifer J. Deal, a research scientist with the Centre for Creative Leadership.

The shorthand used to describe the four generations that now make up the workforce goes something like this:

  • The Silent Generation (born before 1946) values hard work
  • Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) value loyalty
  • Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) value work-life balance
  • Generation Y (the generation just entering the workforce, also known as Millennials) values innovation and change.

Or, in terms of negative stereotypes, the Silent’s are fossilized, the Boomers are narcissistic, the Gen Xers are slackers, and the Gen Yers/Millennials are even more narcissistic than the Boomers.

Not so, says Deal. She argues that the generations now of working age value essentially the same things. Her findings, based on seven years of research in which she surveyed more than 3,000 corporate leaders, are presented in her new book, Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young & Old Can Find Common Ground (Jossey-Bass).

“Our research shows that when you hold the stereotypes up to the light, they don’t cast much of a shadow,” says Deal. “Everyone wants to be able to trust their supervisors, no one really likes change, we all like feedback, and the number of hours you put in at work depends more on your level in the organization than on your age.”

Clearly, people of different ages see the world in different ways. But Deal says that’s not the primary reason for generational conflict. The conflict has less to do with age or generational differences than it does with clout—who has it and who wants it.

“The so-called generation gap is, in large part, the result of miscommunication and misunderstanding, fuelled by common insecurities and the desire for clout,” says Deal.

Miscommunication. Misunderstanding. Deals says it. Craven refers to it.

This clearly illustrates to me a need to take a relook at the process and rationale of employee engagement and internal communication, because something clearly is not working.

This is something that I am going to explore in more detail in my upcoming workshop on Strategic Employee Stakeholder Engagement on the 18th – 19th August in Johannesburg.