Find­ing mean­ing in the work we do

Finweek English Edition - - Insight - MARC HASEN­FUSS

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.

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