Pivoting: The Future of Work and a Sustainable Caribbean Society

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