A University of Botswana labour researcher, Professor Monageng Mogalakwe, says that it is possible to trace the poor work ethic in Botswana’s labour force to unfavourable work conditions. From the rankings of the 2017/18 Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum, Botswana’s labour force is the worst in the world in terms of this factor. Blaming workers would be very easy to do but Mogalakwe maintains that the issue is not that black and white.
“A strong work ethic is a reflection of employees’ sense of identification with their work and the perceived benefits, material or non-material, that they will get from the employment. This is what leads to high labour productivity ÔÇô employees must be motivated. However, the production process is circumscribed by definite conditions of work relations in production. One question to ask is, what is the employer doing to ensure the loyalty and dedication of the work force to the organization?” he says.
The ideal situation that he recommends is one in which employees have a sense of belonging and ownership of an enterprise in order that they can be motivated to perform optimally. “To me it takes two to tango. Most employers and their managers have the tendency to treat their employees as if they are doing them a favour, as if they are not part of the organization. In that case, employees will not do their level best. My point is that we must also look at relations in production and not just relations of production,” Mogalakwe says.
Typically, the Global Competitiveness Report doesn’t define what it considers to be poor work ethic. Respondents (who never include trade union leaders) are asked to select the five most problematic factors for doing business in their country. Mogalakwe contends that the surveys are unhelpful because they don’t establish a framework that accommodates the points he raises.
He poses: “What are these people saying about that? Are Botswana workers happy and well-motivated or is the assumption that they must just be grateful that they have a job?
A related point worth pondering is the link between income and wealth inequality and labour productivity. It so happens that Southern Africa is the epicentre of this inequality and it is interesting to observe that three countries in this region (Botswana, Namibia and Seychelles) score poorly on work ethic. To extend Mogalakwe’s argument, it could well be that a situation where wealth exists cheek by jowl with poverty can have a negative (meaning demoralizing) effect on workers.