Do you have a smartphone? Does it enable you to read and respond to office mail? Does that impress you? Have you, as a manager, fallen into the habit of sending official communication to staff through their mobile gadgets even after work hours?
As you resume duty in the New Year, think about the new labour law in Brazil that classified responding to office e-mail after official work hours as overtime. It took effect around this time of the year.
The proliferation of smartphones in Brazil had resulted in a habit by managers to engage staff on work issues even after they had gone home, making a joke of the highly recommended work-life balance.
Concerned, authorities decided to act through legislation before the habit could grow out of hand.
Word about the law quickly sparked a worldwide discussion. It emerged that some companies in Europe had come up with policies to block the office system from routing official communication to employees’ mobile phones unless they were on duty or on emergency calls.
In Kenya, thanks to increasing affordability of smartphones, a craze similar to what Brazil moved to contain is catching on.
Human resource management consultant Samuel Gichuki made this revelation in February last year. He had himself experienced the practice in one of the places he had worked.
“I don’t think I will ever forget the pressure,” he declared, naming telecom companies and organisations with international links as some of the environments that the smartphone bug had penetrated.
He offered a suggestion that workplace managers might need to think about seriously this year.
He said: “The best way for employers who provide [smartphones], which in many cases are necessary for the proper performance of the recipients’ work, is to craft policies that will clearly specify the circumstances under which the facilities are provided, the limits within which they may be used, under what circumstances the employee cannot be at fault for not using them, and what compensation, if any, the employee may receive if they are asked to use the facilities outside of the policy guidelines.”
And it would be important that such guidelines are not breached or overlooked by the managers. Employees are increasingly aware of their rights and they are not hesitating to take matters to the Industrial Court if they feel aggrieved.
This is courtesy of the Industrial Court Act 2011, which accords the Industrial Court powers similar to that of the High Court, and makes it more accessible to employees.
Commercial law advocate Geoffrey Odongo said in February last year that with just about Sh1,000 as filing fee, an aggrieved individual – and not necessarily through a trade union as before in the case of a unionisable staff member – could be granted a hearing.
Kenya Airways tasted the powers of the reconstituted Industrial Court in December when the court asked it to unconditionally reinstate retrenched staff. The company had laid off some 447 employees, citing hard economic times.
The affected staff went to court through their union, alleging that their retrenchment had not been carried out in good faith.
Industrial Court judge James Rika agreed with them, and ruled that the act had indeed been “substantively without justification and procedurally wrong, amounting to unfair termination of employment”.
Therein lies a lesson for human resources managers to avoid being caught up in similar predicament this year.
And speaking of lessons, American author, professor, speaker and management consultant Dave Ulrich, known for his many books on HR, leadership and management, made a stop-over in Nairobi for a half-day lecture at Safari Park Hotel before proceeding to South Africa. That was in June.
Prof Ulrich’s talk was hinged on the future of human resource management. The most striking message was that time had come for HR managers to start going out there to interact regularly with the company’s key external clients if they wanted to design HR policies that truly responded to the needs of customers.
The professor recommended that half a day each month for such an interaction would make a difference and take HR practice to the next level.
A reminder to give the suggestion some consideration this year isn’t a bad idea, is it?
The government must also be reminded of the series of intense industrial action that embarrassed it last year, especially in the ministries of medical services and of education.
The authoritarian manner by which these arms of government responded to the strikes backfired a number of times.
Threats about sacking were not working any more, prompting messages suggesting that times had changed and the government needed to approach the management of its human capital more professionally.
Speaking at a conference hosted by the Institute of Human Resource Management and relevantly titled “Raising the Bar in HR Practice”, the managing director of Unilever East and Southern Africa Yaw Nsarkoh argued that the public service should be the first place where the best human resource management practices were exercised.
Businesses, he explained, relied on the services offered by the public sector as the regulatory and facilitative arm of the nation.
It follows therefore that the public sector should have the best talent serving in it for good delivery of service to the private and other sectors.
But for the public sector to attract the best talent, it has to first put in place attractive and motivating working conditions.
“A country that wants to compete in the world needs the best talent in the public sector,” suggested Mr Nsarkoh. “There is no other way,” he stressed and gave the example of Singapore, whose rapid development had been made possible by a public service represented by highly motivated and attractively compensated human capital.
If this argument is to be followed, it means that the success of the Kenya’s ambitious Vision 2030 to become a middle-income industrialising state is hinged on an efficient public sector.
The Public Service Commission, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission and any other relevant authority might want to bear this in mind as a new team assumes leadership of the government after the general elections in March.