Welcome

Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why Get All Worked Up When You Can Wuk Up?

How people approach work is always a fascinating subject. Those of us who live and work in the Caribbean but have also lived and worked abroad are often quick to point to certain regional differences that make the Caribbean worker and the workplace different from many others. Francis Wade hails from Jamaica, via the USA and back to Jamaica. His wife, Dale Pilgrim-Wade, is from Trinidad, via the USA, via Jamaica. They are a couple of recent acquaintances, who make their business out of helping businesses. Dale has focused recently on helping people settle and resettle in Jamaica. Francis has been studying and trying to advise companies on how to deal with the Caribbean worker and the workplace behaviour seen in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad.

In a recent article in Jamaica's Observer entitled J'cans rebel. Trnis crack jokes, Francis discussed the complexities of the Jamaican workplace. He thinks this "is not very far from the days of the plantation...you realise that even when Jamaicans quickly learn new behaviours abroad, things don't necessarily change at home...plantation syndrome translates into workers giving very little and even practising sabotage". Anancy lives on, I would say. He says there is still the pressure of feeling workers have that they are under the hand of the overseer, hence they view their tasks as "their work, not mine". Remember what PM Thompson was urging on Bajan workers last week about workers needing to identify more with those who own companies, and needing to see the link between their individual work and the enterprise's success?

Francis makes an interesting distinction though: "I have found that under pressure, Jamaicans become rebellious, Barbadians become restrained and Trinidadians resort to humour." During the recession, however, I do not think this distinction has played out.

I can attest to seeing "employees refuse to be responsible, wanting the boss to be fully and solely in charge, while the boss is expecting an unhealthy loyalty, a kind of subservience." I recall a recent incident at the airport when I asked a worker if she could act independently. She replied, "Yes. I do as I'm told."

He says that in Trinidad, they make fun of their leaders and the boss drives a modest car. "In Jamaica, even as we are criticising the boss, we may withhold our respect if he or she is not living large, complete with fancy car." Another Jamaican friend of mine has seen this difference too in Barbados, where Jamaicans are regarded as 'show offs' because they have fine and nice things prominently on display, feeling that a more modest approach is fitting.

Francis also said, "We like to keep our leaders on a pedestal...And our politicians have exploited this over the years. They give themselves biblical names and offer manna-like promises. But this adulation is not useful because it doesn't build a healthy community." I would add that in Barbados, I have seen amazing deference for those who happen to hold the mantle of authority, to the extent that I would almost say that 'slavish obedience' prevails.

But, as I have noticed and noted, we live a life full of contradictions. Francis has seen people even doing good work and not taking the credit, as they fear it may lead to greater responsibility. That's a part of the syndrome we often see in schools when clever pupils play as if they are less able because they get better acceptance. It's a very socialist way of living.

Francis also warns against the labels we put on our businesses: "Workplaces are not families" He notes that this time of recession presents the best opportunity to call people to "a different way of being". The savvy leader can change his organisation "from kingdom to team". Now, wasn't PM Thompson who has been touting the notion of "Team Barbados"? Does that make him a savvy leader? Shame on those who would anoint him 'King David'.

Anyway, Francis has lots of advice and he seems to like giving it for free. His e-zine, FirstCuts, can be found at http://blog.fwconsulting.com/firstcuts. Now, I know that nothing is free, so we will pay for his advice somehow, hopefully in a way that will make us into better workers.

1 comment:

jayda said...

Interesting article. Just today, I was commenting on this sort of behaviour. I'm responsible for a team of workers here in Ja., and some are content to get by because the pay envelope is faithful. It comes every two weeks.

However, these same people who do little and moan about it, refuse to understand when they get axed first if the business is forced to contract.

Until we stop looking at our work as 'just a job' we'll never see a change of attitude and/or feel better about what we do to earn a living.