Currently, South Africa finds itself firmly embedded in a labour misery due to, amongst other reasons, the reactive management of our Industrial Relations. The suffering emerged despite the existence of a consensus-seeking NEDLAC and its pursuit for a non-adversarial Industrial Relations. The symptoms of a failed Industrial Relations System are available in surplus. Still, they are most evident in the terrifying Global Competitiveness Indicators (GCI) of the South African Labour Market. The Global Competitiveness Indicator continuously downgrades the hiring and firing practices (129th/141) and the cooperation in labour-employer relations (139th/141) of South Africa. The consequences of these devastating figures manifest in events such as the current, record-high, 30.1% unemployment rate, which furthermore provokes the increasing rate of poverty, inequality and labour inefficiency. These difficulties developed, despite the World Economic Forum having hailed the South African Labour Legislation Framework as one of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation in the world. Incongruously, these sentiments are not shared by the majority of local business owners and entrepreneurs.
Business owners and entrepreneurs often view our local labour laws as counterproductive to the interest and needs of small business development, as the labour laws merely protect the employee. Unfortunately, this pessimistic interpretation of the Labour Law created a division between employers and employees, which I learned to refer to as the “I-It and I-thou” faction”. This faction, ironically, created a business opportunity for employee and employer representatives who claim to have their member’s interest and needs at heart. Instead, employer and employee representation have thus far added no significant long-term value to the needs and benefit of their respective members. Neither representative has encouraged their members to understand and support our Labour Laws in its purpose to develop social corporatism through employee participation.
The exact nature of employee participation is defined as “a process of interaction whereby employees, directly or indirectly, can influence decision-making” and embodies four key objectives:
- The enhancement of human dignity
- Promote productivity at the workplace
- Extend democracy to the workplace
- Promote economic development on a regional or national level
Thus, it stands to argue that the actual purposes of our labour laws are to create dignified, productive, democratic and economic Industrial Relations. The misalignment of current Industrial Relations Management Strategies and the “triangulation of needs” in Organisations, however, still reinforce reactive and ineffective Industrial Relations in South Africa. Therefore, the solution, as proposed by “The Four Oxen” to the Industrial Relations nightmare in South Africa, is to actively understand the purpose of satisfying the “triangulation of needs” within an organisation.
In essences, the proposed solution addresses the indispensable need for creating a womb of psychological safety in the workplace. The creation of a psychologically safe workplace is essential in the facilitation of an innovative, creative and problem-solving organisational culture, which creates a distinct business advantage. Before creating psychological safety in the workplace, however, the understanding of the typology of needs in business takes preference. Each company has three different types of needs; organisational, employee and management needs, which want and must be responded to and understood. The reality is, however, that the needs considered and met most often, are those of the Organisation. The Organisation needs money to survive. Thus the drive for profit took preference and resulted in employers and employees becoming obstacles, rather than people, in the pursuit of success. As a result, many organisations, especially SMMEs, were rendered non-profitable and inoperable, thereby leaving an increasing number of South Africans unemployed and out of business. The vulnerability of organisations is, however, not a new phenomenon, brought about by events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, it is symptomatic of an already broken system, that repeatedly ignored the purpose of satisfying the triangulation of needs.
In the time of a global pandemic, the need to survive is amplified, which is evident in the increased incidents of social unrest and immoral behaviour. Successfully overcoming and surviving such events is, however, a problem that is beyond the fixing of the individual. It is, nevertheless, within the power of employers and employees to ensure the peace and prosperity within their direct business community by understanding and respecting the triangulation of needs. The reality for many Organisation, however, is that you will find yourself surrounded by colleagues, leaders, management and employers who do not consider or are aware of the triangulation. Creating awareness and consideration for the triangulation is done by formulating a common business purpose.
Imagine a company whose purpose is to feed malnutrition children by producing nutritious yet affordable food packages. Imagine, the same company, devastated by Covid-19 and corruption, has to consider lay-offs to ensure their community services can continue. Individuals who share a common purpose, are encouraged to ensure the business’s survival, willingly, to secure a positive impact on their community. The willingness to sacrifice is embedded in a need to belong to something with more prominent purpose, triumphs over any self-serving behaviour.
Finding those that share your life’s purpose ensures that your road is aligned with another’s path. After all, we are social beings and cannot survive on our own. Those who share your purpose can understand your needs and are, thus, willing to share in the sacrifices required to make a common purpose a reality. Therefore, ensuring internal alignment between your business strategy and Industrial Relations Management Strategies is crucial in the creation of business advantage.
Consequently, any Industrial Relations Management Strategy ought to begin by asking “why”. Starting with “why” uncovers the reasons people come together to satisfy their needs by work towards a purpose. It ensures commitment, loyalty and, most importantly, survival. A common purpose, however, requires constant upkeep, either through correct recruitment, development and performance management or leadership strategies. Like so many other aspects of life, the best results in life do not happen overnight. They also do not stay forever unless proactively encouraged to remain. In other words, no purpose, in an attempt to satisfy the typology of needs, is worth the effort and work if the “why” is not based in a genuine concern for those impacted by a given business venture.