We only realise the importance of being able to work when we no longer have a job. Work is important. Never forget that.

Work provides us with far more than just financial security. It gives us purpose and meaning. If done well it gives us a sense of achievement and a sense pride. When we reflect on our achievements, we gain confidence. If this cycle is repeated often enough, it leads to successful careers and confident individuals.

We acquire skills, knowledge and experience. Combined these become our most saleable asset in the labour market. Economic mobility, social mobility and success are linked to how strong our skills are. Never stop learning, never stop improving, work hard and you will be your best protection against unemployment.

Martin Luther King encouraged us to see the importance of work as far more than a job description or a title, it is and must be a sense of pride:

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

 There is nothing more depressing than seeing the ghosts seated behind a desk in state departments shuffling paper, void of energy, passion and hope. As leaders it is our responsibility to see every function as important and every person fulfilling it as worthy. This is the way we build great organisations; we start with ourselves, then those around us, there is no other way.

As leaders, when we need to restructure, we must continue to see the person as worthy. Before we can truly lead others, we must seek to understand the complex relationship they have with work. In helping them to deal with their sense of loss, their sense of exclusion, the sense that they are no longer wanted, and to hold their hand as they tentatively embrace an uncertain future – then we truly become great leaders. I have never met a great leader who did not care and who was not kind.

“Your staff don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”

It is not so much the process to be followed, (Section 189 is relatively simple), but the empathy and emotional intelligence with which one manages the process. You can manage an awful situation with sensitivity and by keeping the affected individual at the centre of the process or you can treat them as a payroll number you simply delete on your keyboard.

Marikana is perhaps the most extreme example of where a company’s HR Department can lose touch with the sentiments of their staff.  Know your staff and sense the mood of the organisation.

In my experience, and there are many examples, businesses begin the slow decline to acrimonious staff relations and ultimately business rescue when they fail to care for their staff. Staff who are present become disenchanted and demotivated. They withhold vital effort and skills. This you will never measure or monitor.

The way you treat staff is the way they respond. Treat them badly and those that can leave, usually your most talented as they are able to find alternative employment. Those that remain, do so for the wrong reasons; they simply can’t find alternative employment, they simply go through the motions. In no time you have a sub-optimal performing organisation.

I have seen an organisation shed talent, institutional knowledge and when forced into selling the new owners had no continuity and no intellectual property to work with. It began with the CEO buying a brand-new Mercedes and parking it in front of the staff canteen while a large retrenchment process was underway.

One of the most disconcerting memories I have of restructuring was of a father of four who lost his job. After being retrenched, he came to see me every morning for seven months in the hope there was a vacancy. He would wake-up every morning, make breakfast for his wife and children, see them off to work and school respectively.

To see him slowly lose his self-respect, lose his financial independence, lose his self-esteem in a patriarchal society now that mom as the sole provider was to watch a slow steady erosion of a human. To get out of bed in the morning and have nowhere to go day after day after day. To have no money to spend on anything let alone transport meant he walked nine kilometres to see me to spend. To have no work to exercise your skills. To see the sunken eyes and the drooped shoulders meant I had to do something, not to help him, but to save him.

I approached the factory manager who created a post as a cleaner in the stores. When I informed him, he sobbed, hanging on my shoulders until he gathered himself. His recovery was as swift as it was remarkable. After a few months was striking with the unions for better coffee in the canteen.

His neighbour who had also worked for us was retrenched at the same time. He sat on the side of the road every morning in all-weather for months on end waiting for a day job as a casual labourer. After a few months, he simply gave up, losing all hope. He slipped slowly and unwillingly into a life of drugs and delinquency. Petty crime and regular jail time became his tragic routine. After less than a year he died of TB. Work matters. Never take your job or your career for granted. Never.

Many of my clients are battling with what I call the Rs;

  • repurposing
  • restructuring
  • reengineering
  • redeploying
  • retrenching
  • redundancy

If this is the case, you need to have a very clear process of how to go about this.

The process we follow is to review your business to ensure it remains fit for purpose. The purpose must have a commercial rationale. Then follow the four Ds; Discover – find out whether your reason for being still exists, Dream – create a vision of future success, Design – put in place the steps to achieve your dream, Destiny – review and reinforce so it becomes part of the organisation’s DNA.

Only once you have a clear plan should you consider redundancies and retrenchments. We offer an outsourced HR service. For further information regarding this contact us at info@saige.co.za or call us on +27 (0)87 550 3374.