Rudeness and the Jamaican Workplace

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Here in Jamaica, we put a lot of stock in manners — the worst insult that can be made about a manager is that they don’t respect people.

In a recent issue of Harvard Business Review, the following excerpt makes the point that the Jamaican worker is right — rudeness has been found to be correlated with productivity.

Rudeness and Its Noxious Effects

Grumpy managers who have a tendency to lash out are sometimes tolerated in businesses if their direct reports are thick-skinned types who don’t complain about anything. But beware of more distant effects: It’s likely that other employees are harmed by these incidents, even if they only hear about them secondhand.

The mere thought of being on the receiving end of verbal abuse hurts people’s ability to perform complex tasks requiring creativity, flexibility, and memory recall, according to Christine Porath of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and Amir Erez of the Warrington College of Business Administration at the University of Florida.

In studies involving separate groups of university students, the authors tested the effects of three forms of exposure to rudeness: In one study, the harsh words were directed at participants by a researcher (“What is it with you undergrads here?…[you] leave a lot to be desired as participants”). In another, the cutting remarks came from someone ostensibly outside the study—a professor whom the participants had to interrupt (“You preferred to disturb me…when you can clearly see that I am busy. I am not a secretary!”). In the third, the participants were asked to imagine that those incidents had happened to them.

In all three cases, participants’ ability to perform tasks such as solving anagrams and suggesting uses for a brick was impaired. As for why this happened, the researchers say their studies indicate that after exposure to rudeness, people think hard about the incident—whether just ruminating or trying to formulate a response—and those thought processes take cognitive resources away from other tasks. As the authors put it in their recent Academy of Management Journal article, verbal abuse affects more than just those who experience it directly; it apparently “can harm innocent bystanders.”

Reprint: F0803D

The Productivity of Jamaican Workers

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A colleague of mine recently shared with me that foreign executives and project managers in the bauxite industry use a factor of 2 to 2.5 when estimating how much labour it takes to get a job done.

In other words, in Jamaica it takes more than twice the same number of man-hours to do the same work as elsewhere, and I imagine that this is referring to mostly manual labour rather than knowledge work.

If true, this is a pretty startling statistic, but it starts to explain why prices here in Jamaica seem to be high for no reason at times. I do know that security costs make up a higher percentage of total costs than in other countries, which makes sense given our high crime rates. That much is plain to see.

What’s not so obvious to see is that we are often using more than twice the workforce needed.

Apparently, the Chinese workers that were here for the World Cup put our own labourers to shame, and in the garment industry in particular, they have shown that they, as it was said “can do de work of two s’maddy” (2 people that is).

I guess the colloquial wisdom in this case matches the actual measurements of bauxite-industry managers…

Recession and Productivity

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Talk of a recession in the U.S. is now fully underway.

In the Caribbean, we have just begun to talk about the fact that when a recession hits the U.S., the after-effects are felt here. As if the increase in oil prices were not enough, we can also expect to see a drop in tourist visits and a decrease in average tourist spending. This affects our bottom-line in Jamaica and other countries in the region that are dependent on the tourist industry as the biggest earner of foreign exchange.

If a recession is to come to the region, then we can expect to see redundancies as companies cut their payrolls to keep their costs in line with a reduction in business.

It’s a good time for employees to start to think about a strategy to make themselves invaluable to their employers. An employee would do well to find ways to do more with less, as the chances are good that their managers are going to be turning to them to ask them to do just that.

If a redundancy is announced, it’s likely that the least productive employees are the ones that are at the greatest risk. In turn, the most productive ones will be assuming the workload of those that are laid off.

While most managers won’t give their employees anything new to deal with the extra load, the smart ones will start now to give them tools, training and alternatives that help them get the job done.

For example, elance, the outsourcing service, offers an excellent value for money, and now would be a good time to get used to using the service. Also, Framework’s NewHabits-NewGoals productivity programme would be an alternative for professionals looking to boost their ability to deal with more each day.

It also might be a good time to buy that extra memory for the laptop, or to set up work-at-home arrangements wherever possible — all in favour of boosting productivity.

The current estimates say that a recession won’t be felt here in the region until 9-12 months from now, so there is still ample time to prepare.

Unreturned Calls

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One thing I have noticed about doing business in Jamaica is that professionals seem much less likely to return phone calls than in the U.S.

I have decided that this largely comes from a lack of competence, rather than an intention to do malice or harm. How can I tell?

Well, it seems that it shows itself when the person is finally met face-to-face, at which point profuse apologies are made. There are just many more people who are incapable of handling the volume of stuff they have coming at them, and the skills they are using are just not adequate.

In general, the productivity of the average professional is lower than that of their counterpart in the U.S. It isn’t even the case that people work harder in the U.S. — although they do work longer hours in general. I attribute the difference to a lack of role models to demonstrate good habits more than anything else.

I really do believe it just comes down to a skill difference, and that can easily be overcome with the right training, coaching and mentoring.

"New Habits – New Goals" February Workshop Open

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The first official “New Habits-New Goals” workshop is now open for registration.

It builds on the pilot class that was held in January with 13 participants and, once again, promises to give those who attend the tools to construct a time management system for themselves, built on the fundamentals of personal productivity that represent the newest thinking in the field.

It will be held on February 26-27, 2008 at the New Horizons Computer Learning Centre in Liguanea.

The class will be small, with less than 15 participants — we still want to keep things small to give more individual attention.

For more information see http://fwconsulting.com/newhabits

80% + a story = 100%

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A foreigner to the Caribbean remarked that it is acceptable to deliver less than complete results here in the Caribbean as long as a good story accompanies the failure.

In other words, we make the mistake to accept, say, 80% of what’s needed plus a good story as equivalent to 100% of what’s needed.

This may very well just be a human tendency that is pronounced in the region, or it might have its roots in plantation slavery — who knows? I am not even sure that it is important to understand the origins, as it might be enough to know that the tendency exists, and this must be factored into the way that everyone from the CEO to first-line supervisors manages regional professionals.

It speaks to the unwillingness we have to confront each other over low performance, and the skill that’s required to confront each other directly. Without it, there is discord, hurt feelings and even violence.