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Last week during ICAB’s Accountant’s week, the panellists for the free panel discussion spoke on the “The Economic Transformation of Barbados – A Business Perspective”.
There was much discussion around the current state of the economy and the proposed and in progress plans to bring the country to a place of prosperity.
However, what stood out for me, and certainly was a key area of discussion for the panellists, was the topic of Barbados’ work ethic. Certainly, both the Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association and the President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce highlighted this as an area of concern and drew connections to the Ease of Doing Business report.
They also highlighted that this was identified as a reason why some Investors were sceptical about doing business in Barbados.
Given that a large part of our growth strategy is dependent of foreign direct investments, it would stand to reason that this should be an area of concern in the minds of all persons interested in Barbados’ recovery.
But what is good work ethic?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines work ethic as “a set of values centred on the importance of doing work and reflected especially in a desire or determination to work hard”.
Based on the above definition, I am sure that many Barbadians would declare that they do indeed work very hard and in truth, there are many that go above and beyond for their organisations and communities.
However, the unfortunate reality is that we can go to a place of business ten times and receive poor customer service once or twice, and those instances will be the ones that stand out in our minds. We remember the cashier that was rude to us, the service attendant that made us wait half an hour before even receiving a menu, or the Executive that spoke to us in a demeaning manner.
Worse yet, as highlighted by the panel during the question and answer segment, there are many ways that Barbadians engage in poor work practices that have become so embedded in our culture that we no longer see it as a problem; however, to the outsider looking in, these practices scream poor work ethic. One pet peeve that was pointed out by Dr Kevin Greenidge was our habit of arriving at meetings fifteen or more minutes late and often, unprepared.
This results in much of the meeting time spent catching persons up to speed and delaying the start of other meetings, creating a compounding effect of wasted time; time that potential investors find invaluable.
But how do we as a people change this mindset? We must first reflect on ways that we can each improve our own work ethic. Rather than presume that we are working hard enough and there is nothing that we can do to change, we can start to acknowledge that there is always room for personal improvement.
Another thing that we can do is to look at the examples that we consider to be best in class. If there is an entity, whether here or abroad, that has stood out in your mind as projecting an excellent work ethic, are you also exhibiting those characteristics?
When your employer or a customer makes a request, is your first thought to see how you can get out of doing the work or to pass it on to someone else to make it their problem? Can we see how the actions we take frustrate others, even if it is not explicitly in our job description? If it is truly outside our scope of capabilities, would we be able to at least point the person in the right direction to minimise their frustration?
Rather than avoiding a difficult conversation or task, can we ensure that we understand the nature and urgency of the request, have unprompted discussions which show that we are looking for ways to make these processes run smoother, rather than contribute to making the workload more difficult?
And for the employers, what was also prompted from the question and answer segment was the joint responsibility to encourage and reward the behaviour that exhibits a good work ethic. There are few things more demoralising to an employee that works hard for their employer than to be not recognised. If an employee realises that regardless of what they contribute, there is no reward, you will soon have a stressed or burnt-out employee.
This is only compounded when rewards in the organisation are linked to obsequious employees. Please note that rewards are not only financial in nature and there are many creative ways that an employer can show an employee that their effort is valuable and appreciated.
A larger conversation on improving work ethic has become necessary. It is a twofold responsibility on the part of employer and employee to exude professionalism, discipline, responsibility, fairness and team work. This discussion should benefit not only the organisation, but the country at large.
*Krystle Howell, CPA, CIA, COSO, ALMI, ACS, aka Mavis, is an Internal Auditor by profession, avid artist and a lover of dance.