Finding meaning in the work we do
WORK IS IMPORTANT not only to keep the individual out of trouble (as the devil finds work for idle hands!), but it is also the means for sustaining the individual and his/her family. More importantly, it forms the basis for the true greatness of nations: work is integral to any organised activity, which is the core of modern society. It is, therefore, important that people find meaning in the work they do. After all, the better part of our waking lives is spent at work, and even when we sleep, the workaholics dream about work! Work is the most sought after activity for the most active part of the population and over the most active part of a person’s life.
This memo addresses the meaning of the “meaning” in work: how work affects the individual; the role of organisations in designing meaningful work and, finally, how South African workers are faring.
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines meaning as “the quality or sense of purpose that makes you feel that your life is valuable”. How then does work imbue our lives with purpose, direction and meaning? Work obviously gives direction to our lives, as those who are jobless, retrenched or retired know only too well. The income and other perquisites from work determine our standard of living, while the authority, influence and opportunities for growth and learning satisfy higher order needs. In short, without work, a person’s life would be drab, meaningless and useless.
The history of management thought and practice from time immemorial has been largely concerned with how to design work and to get the best out of the worker. The search for the elixir of work, which has spawned many theories, disciplines and professions, is still elusive today. The problem is that “work” means different things to different people in different cultures and the meanings it has for the same individual change over time. The internal and external environments of work also change, making the search for “ideal work” a wild goose chase. However, in the process, a lot of valuable lessons have been learnt: that work is natural and desirable; that work and non-work life are mutually interactive; that workers’ needs are growing more complex and that workers are, overall, undervalued, which suggests that alienation is still a real threat. Nevertheless, organisations that have committed themselves to improving work and quality of work life reap the benefits of superior performance, high commitment and loyalty from their employees.
In the South African context, about 40% of the population is, sadly, without formal employment, thus depriving them and the nation of the benefits of work. However, thanks to the avalanche of government legislation and transformational initiatives since the 1990s, work has become, overall, more meaningful and desirable than in the past. Guaranteeing workers’ and employers’ rights, provision for minimum wages, humane and safe working conditions, skills development initiatives, eradication of discrimination and opportunities for the previously disadvantaged, and many more, are the ways in which working has been made more meaningful and satisfying in South Africa. But there is still much more to be done to entrench the noble principles and practices embodied in the various worker-friendly legislations and initiatives. The onus is on employers, government and trade unions to create conditions in which all workers find true meaning in what they do and, by so doing, catapult South Africa into the league of winning nations. Dr David M Akinnusi (BSc (Hons); MBA; PhD (CWRU) is a professor of industrial psychology and human resource management. He is also the Deputy Director of Research at the Faculty of Management and Leadership at Milpark Business School
pull finger. Before the convening of a special shareholders’ meeting, KCM’s acting CEO Phemelo Sehunelo issued a lengthy statement that tried – rather unsuccessfully – to suggest the board was doing the best it could under the circumstances.
But whatever hope Sehunelo had of boosting the credibility of the board was shot out of the water by a bizarre claim. He suggested one of the reasons KCM couldn’t produce financial statements was because it was cash-strapped after a potential strategic shareholder – Nehawu Investments – hadn’t pitched in promised funds.
Though Sehunelo and Nehawu may have different versions of what construed an investment agreement, it’s most disingenuous to suggest KCM couldn’t afford an audit. Hell, you make a plan – especially when the JSE can terminate a listing if financial statements aren’t produced on time.
Finweek has the impression KCM has really been in no hurry to show its shareholders its audited financial statements for 2009 or 2010. But Sehunelo has put himself on a rather short chain by admitting KCM has spent R900 000 on audit costs and charges and by suggesting auditors Moore-Stephens BKV will complete the audit within the next month.
Come September, shareholders – who clearly still believe there’s value in KCM – are going to be clamouring for those audited documents.