Saturday, May 31, 2008

Prince Albert’s Women in Action

- Linda Jaquet -

The Prince Albert business women’s forum decided unanimously at its April meeting held at De Bergkant Lodge to adopt the name, Women in Action.

The name is particularly apt as, in the year that the informally-organised group has been in existence, it has successfully lobbied for high-speed Internet access for Prince Albert and produced an A-Z directory of services that are available in the town.

Just before the Town and Olive Festival, it initiated the “Proudly Prince Albert” campaign – look out for “Proudly Prince Albert” stickers on local products. Bumper and decal stickers are on sale at the Prince Albert Tourism office.

The guest speaker at Women in Action’s 17 April meeting was Eric Ahrens, who has had a long and interesting career in Human Resources in the corporate world. His presentation, “Humanising the Employment Relationship”, resulted in a lively discussion. A summary of Eric’s talk is published below.

The next meeting of Women in Action is on 12 June 2008 at 17h30 at a venue to be announced


I come from a middle class home with three domestic helpers who were considered to be adult members of our household and not 'servants'. My sister and I made our own beds and if we behaved as if the staff were there for our convenience or didn't say please, and thank you, we were reminded in no uncertain terms, at times with a 'warm klap'. Against this background, I will say a few words on humanising the employment relationship.

I don't like 'Meneer' and ask employees to call me by my first name if they are comfortable doing so. Otherwise I encourage them to say 'Meneer Ahrens'. Female employers may be uncomfortable with male staff addressing them by their first names, but a lot will depend on the type of relationship you have with your staff. The longer the tenure of employment, the greater the level of mutual trust and respect.

Why such formality when there has been an employment relationship for a good few years? Besides, it is not all about work and money. Try to understand more about their difficulties, important family celebrations and share your world with them.

For instance, if lending money is out of the question, make this clear from the outset. Many employment relationships turn sour because of this issue. Showing empathy and discussing alternatives to loans will really help.

Employment relationships are about duties and responsibilities. Your staff should know exactly what you expect of them, and at times need help in scheduling their tasks. Help prioritise and schedule responsibilities, particularly if something is critical to you. Encourage them to make their own contribution, no matter how small this may be.

Create diversity and variation in responsibilities by allowing their input on the way tasks are carried out. Expand levels of responsibility where possible, and enhance your staff’s life skills in any way that you can. Honest, tactful feedback on how they are doing is vital. Ensure that they have the appropriate clothes and equipment, and transport where you can. Pay your staff what you think they are worth to you, according to their performance, age and experience not just the 'going rate'. The law insists that you pay your staff double when they work on a public holiday and if they take the holiday they should still be paid their normal wages. If you tell a staff member not to report for work on a particular day, it is unfair not to pay them.

Above all, make your staff WANT you more than they NEED you.

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