UWI Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business has organised a Business Roundtable series discussing topics related to the recovery of business and the economy, given our current context during this COVID-19 pandemic
UWI Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business has organised a Business Roundtable series discussing topics related to the recovery of business and the economy, given our current context during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Paula Thomas, Chief Engagement Officer, People-Centric Consulting/Adjunct Faculty, Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business, was a featured speaker at the round table on June 17, 2021, where she discussed the topic of “Modernising Labour Relations in the Caribbean“. The following summarises some pertinent questions raised during the round table.
Caribbean business leaders will no doubt engage in tons of debates to determine appropriate strategies to emerge from the coronavirus crisis. But those who have chosen to practice the art of ‘pivoting’ will undeniably guarantee a more sustainable future. While their current focus may have been pivoting from a physical to a digital work environment, according to the work system model theory, to ensure balance, decision-makers should investigate opportunities to also align the other elements within the model.
An example that comes to mind is a small business owner, Christine, who operated a 12-room guest house targeted at international tourists. When the T&T borders were closed in March 2020 her operations immediately came to a dead stop. After eight months, she successfully pivoted her operations to a “Staycation for Retirees,” integrating her hospitality experience with elderly care. Six months later she has a striving operation, also possibly creating a paradigm shift for elderly care in T&T.
Within the work system model theory, this example illustrates how creating balance in the model leads to a plethora of business success. Firstly, Christine’s organisational model was significantly impacted by the external forces and she was inspired to pivot by re-positioning the operations of the organisation. Implementing this strategy, resulted in her also pivoting the other elements within the model such as the tasks, physical environment, technology and tools, and the people. From the outside, this may appear as a smooth transition within a short period. If so, the question then is, why are so many businesses, small, medium, and large not enjoying the same success, but instead are struggling and have had to resort to downsizing or permanent closure?
As a business psychologist, I would like to present one perspective that may attempt to provide a plausible answer to the question. It is quite apparent that Christine may have been ‘called’ to the hospitality industry, resulting in her motivation to creatively use her talents to pivot to a more viable option. Undeniably, the institution of work plays a significant role in everyone’s life, yet it is experienced differently. Organisational Behaviourist Amy Wrzesniewski (2003), who focused on how people make meaning of their work, conceptualised that while some may experience it as “pain, drudgery, and boredom,” others may experience it as ” joy, energy, and fulfilment,” and still others may experience it as a “complex mix” of these two extremes. The dynamic interplay between the individual, the organisation, and the work itself provides the context for an individual’s perception of work, whether it is viewed as a ‘job,’ primarily for the monetary benefits; as a ‘career,’ for the benefits accompanying advancement through the organisational structure; or as a ‘calling,’ for the fulfilment of doing the work and not for advancements or financial benefits. Approaching work as a ‘calling’ is an end in itself, associated with the belief that the work an individual engages in contributes to a greater good while making the world a better place.
Lately, ‘calling’ as a construct has been receiving growing attention. Recent studies conducted in a multi-industry conglomerate in Trinidad and Tobago and across the English-speaking Caribbean both concluded that individuals who perceived that they were ‘called’ to their line of work inculcated a stronger work ethic than those who were not (Thomas, Wanner, Cheema, & Charles, 2019; Thomas & Saha, 2021). Similarly, studies conducted across the USA concluded that individuals that endorsed their work as a ‘calling’ were more satisfied with their life and work, displayed more organisational and occupational commitment, and viewed life as more meaningful.
Christine’s business success during the global pandemic and the insights gained from the recent studies that investigated the ‘calling’ construct should act as a beckon for other decision-makers to develop and implement recruitment, selection, motivation, and retention programmes that will identify employees who are ‘called’ to their line of work.
While business leaders deliberate how they can utilise the ‘calling’ construct, there are other potential challenges that should also be considered. One such challenge is the different generational cohorts that co-exist among their people. Although there are conflicting perspectives in the developed countries with regards to generational differences at work, some researchers concluded that work values differ across generational cohorts, while others concluded that the work values of the younger generation are rejuvenating and optimistic.
A study recently conducted across the English-speaking Caribbean concluded that work ethic differs across Baby Boomers & Generation Yers and Generation Xers & Yers (Thomas & Saha, 2021). These results suggest that for organisations to sustain this global health crisis, now more than ever, decision-makers must also take the time to gain a deeper understanding of the work values specific to these different generational cohorts.
During the period 2013-2016, the work ethic was reported as the most problematic factor for doing business in T&T. These discouraging results may have significantly impacted the depressed T&T economy and the recent global pandemic would have further exacerbated the situation. There is some evidence of business leaders taking the initiative to pivot from a physical to a virtual environment. However, pivoting the environment without aligning the other elements within the system, with the same people who may not have been ‘called’ to their line of work, and with no consideration for generational differences, more than likely will continue to perpetuate the work ethic dilemma that currently exists in T&T and add little value to the success of individual businesses.
This is, therefore, an urgent call for business leaders to take a more holistic approach as they develop strategies such as: practising the art of ‘pivoting’ while ensuring balance within the work system model; developing recruitment, selection, retention, and motivation programmes to determine if their people are oriented to their work as a ‘calling;’ and designing strategies customised for generational differences. It is expected that these initiatives will ensure more engaged people who are committed to their organisation’s vision, resulting overall in a more sustainable Caribbean society.
Continuing next week