Monday, May 17, 2021

Should perpetually underperforming workers be blacklisted?

In a year that parliament has promulgated a law to put the names of all child abusers in a national register, a businesswoman who knows all too well the frustrations of dealing with incurably incompetent workers has suggested that the latter should be blacklisted.

In the course of a wide-ranging interview, Michelle Gebrial, the Projects Director of Sprint Couriers, has to answer a question about challenges that her otherwise successful company still faces. Her immediate response is: “Human capital. Human capital problems will always be there and the biggest challenge that the company faces is that of human capital.” One such problem that Sprint Couriers, a courier and logistics company, faced when it was established was finding time-conscious employees.

Whereas other businesses can be flexible with time, there is no such luxury in courier and logistics where deadlines are very strict because consignments have to arrive and be delivered on time. Gebrial’s idea of solving this problem is adopting a uniquely Middle Eastern practice where, as in the United Arab Emirates, perpetually underperforming workers are “blacklisted everywhere in the country.” Citing an example relevant to her industry, Gebrial says that in Botswana, it is possible for a problematic employee to hop from Sprint Couriers to DHL to FedEx, bringing to each his/her poor work ethic. She is keen to stress that that wouldn’t happen in Dubai, a city whose meritocracy she has come to respect.

If Botswana did what Dubai does, a problem employee kicked out of Sprint Couriers would find it difficult to get a job anywhere in the country because his/her name would be in a national register of other people that no employer would want to touch with a barge pole. Conversely, Professor Monageng Mogalakwe, a labour studies scholar at the University of Botswana frowns upon such practice. He says that “labour productivity/performance is not just a matter of an employee arriving on time at work and getting on with it.”

Central to such performance, he adds, are both internal and external workplace factors. Mogalakwe defines internal factors as relations in production that include correct match between knowledge and skill and the job assignment; company policies and practices; co-worker relations – relations between the supervisor and the supervised; compensation and reward, both monetary and non-monetary; prospects for upward mobility; and a sense of belonging to the organization. External factors include living conditions of the employee including basic things like housing and transport; the cost of living; facilities and the work environment; and family/personal relationships (good or sour) outside the workplace.

“I will say before an employee is blacklisted, there is a need to understand why there is poor productivity. I mean, people do not just deliberately decide to work poorly, and even if they decide to, there should be an explanation,” Mogalakwe says. Whatever the explanation might be, Botswana’s labour productivity in both the public and private sector leaves a lot to be desired. At a time that labour productivity in other parts of the world is outpacing wages, that is not the case in Botswana.

In his 2015/16 budget speech, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Kenneth Matambo, said that “a recent challenge to the promotion of growth and economic diversification has been the declining total factor productivity in the domestic economy, especially labour productivity.” Total factor productivity refers to the productivity of all factors involved as a whole in a production activity. The principal measure of productivity is labour productivity, which measures the productivity of workers in an economy and is considered an important measure of an economy’s ability to expand.

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