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Employee engagement – Jamaican style - May 30,2008
H.R. Manager to employee: Why didn’t you come to work yesterday?”
Employee: My car broke down.”
H.R. Manager: “Why didn’t you call in?”
Employee: “I didn’t have any credit.”

The above exchange between the Human Resources Manager of a Jamaican company and an employee is one of several funny but true-to-life excuses given by employees to explain their absence or lateness. These ‘defenses’ were kindly shared by participants, including H.R. and training officers and managers, attending the Jamaica Employers’ Federation (JEF) 2008 Convention last week-end at the session, entitled “The ROI of internal communications”.

I am impressed with the work being done by Mrs. Audrey Hinchcliffe (I am a fan), Mrs. Jacqueline Lloyd-Coke and their team, including Barry Robinson, Convention Director for pulling off successfully once again a mammoth task. So, for the sins of your ancestors you will read my mini-tome underscoring the importance of employee communication and engagement in the Jamaican workplace. I am grateful for the involvement of persons who attended this session and will of course respect the privacy of all in this column.
It is a fact that when we workers are actively engaged and ‘plugged into’ our company, there are no mountains over which we will not climb for the company. The hours on the clock become a great big blur as we are often times the first to arrive and the last to leave office. Many of us, the engaged ones do not watch the clock, so intent are we on completing our tasks. We are zealous ambassadors of our company’s products. We will walk a mile to ensure that said goods are sold and we are the ones who wear the Oxford button-down shirt, emblazoned with the company’s logo, with fierce pride and it is not because we have nothing else clean to wear on a Friday. Yes, we are indeed engaged. And when the company shares information in a timely and palatable manner it helps greatly with our engagement. It is unfortunate though that not many organizations get the simple connection between the creation of an engaged workforce and positive business results.
But check out our compatriots now: the moderately engaged and his side-kick ‘Mr. or Ms. Disengaged’. So tuned out of their jobs are they that, at the drop of a hat, they will manufacture any excuse to get out of coming to work. They will fabricate fables rivaling the creativity of Aesop as to exactly why they are late today and will be tardy for work for the rest of the week. Here are some of his ’n her true-to-life excuses to explain the daily missing in-action status: “I did not come to work because my hair was not completely braided” and “I am not sick but I do not have the strength” or, my all-time fave: “I had to go pay a bill so I could not come in today”. And lest we forget the perennial Jamaican staple: “I have no electricity (or water) at home”. Only in Jamaica.
The reasons for dis-engagement are predictable. Excessive workloads and the pressure that goes with them, distant and uncommunicative senior leaders and bosses, and lack of any realistic opportunity for professional development, are all part and parcel of the malady.
So, you ask: (quite rightly) how can any internal or employee communication ever invented by man ever help any of these staff members who have obviously made a pact with the man-down-stairs and as such will do everything in their power to confound even the most gifted communicator? But I daresay, yes he or she can be helped if the organization has the corporate will or if that person has the personal will.
So, what’s the cure? John Smythe, author of The CEO, Chief Engagement Officer: Turning Hierarchy Upside down to Drive Performance, researched the meaning and value of employee engagement among 59 organizations worldwide. Writing in Communication World May-June 2008 issue, he revealed that his research led him to conclude that the primary driver resulting in engaged leaders and employees, “is the appetite and ability of leaders at every level to engage their subordinates in everyday decision-making and bigger-ticket change. In other words, to share their power and reach down to those who deliver the service or make change happen on the front line.”
I like his suggestion that engagement is a good opportunity for communicators. It is an opportunity he says, “…for communicators is to help leaders distinguish between old-style ‘tell’ communication and employee engagement…It also means knowing how to contextualize engagement with communication that helps people to understand the invitation that is being extended to them.” Is corporate Jamaica ready to make this offer to its employees? I wonder.

Here are some of the Jamaican gems we gave our supervisors why we cannot come in today:
“”I thought it was Saturday.”
“I had to iron some clothes.”
“I have no money for bus (or taxi) fare.”
“It’s my birthday and I do not work on my birthday.”
But the hands-down-Disengaged Employee of the Year Award went to this sadistic slacker who excused him/herself from work by explaining: “I woke up this morning with a tummy ache and I am watching to see if it’s diarrhoea.” Now I ask you? There is not a newsletter or misguided e-mail sent by any management this side of Hades, that could ever redeem this Mr. Disengaged.

Kudos: Although I have had many struggles with my favorite telecommunications provider, I think I have struck gold in the service provided by Simone Brown and Gregg Russell
Credit Specialist. They are truly engaged employees and C&W is lucky to have them.

Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson MBA, ABC, is a Business Communications Consultant with RO Communications Jamaica, specialising in business communication, employee communications and financial publications. Contact: yvonne@rocommunications.com; Website: www.rocommunications.com and post your comments.


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