If you reward non-performance then you get non-performance

by Rob Snelgar: Head of the Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology at NMMU and has worked within the fields of Industrial Psychology and Human Resource Management for 35 years.
It is easy to state that the unemployment problems stem from the apartheid era influences. However, there are wider factors that have played a role.

The worldview of the larger proportion of the SA population has strongly influenced both the push on the part of companies to create jobs as well as the desire of people to be employed. In the past there have been dramatic violations of the principle of fair exchange: the idea that one should be rewarded for what one produces, and only for what one produces.

Political exploitation of certain sectors of the populace pushed employment down to the level of slave labour, and this was partial exchange at best. It was guaranteed to drive down productivity and morale, and encourage people to do as little as possible. There is also the clichéd condition of “entitlement” which has dramatically affected the principle of fair exchange. People can be led into thinking that they can receive without contributing, and this defies the balance of fair exchange, both within the work situation as well as in society as a whole. Thus, people in South Africa have been led to believe they are entitled to a job, a home, a salary, and this has affected the worldview and consequently the work ethic of society.

If you reward non-performance then you get non-performance, and if you penalise performance then you get non-performance. Thus, if you give unemployed more hand-outs than absolutely necessary, then work ethic is damaged, and if you punish top performers with graduated income tax, productivity will drop.

The balance of fair exchange has been educated out of us, and that balance would need to be restored if one is to seriously consider tackling unemployment, both because it is not beneficial for companies to create jobs and the desire to be employed or improve productivity has been damaged by the issues of “rights” and “entitlement”. The onerous labour laws are not conducive to job creation either.

In the first world countries, companies are motivating staff by using higher level motivators such as autonomy, mastery, purpose; however, in South Africa the approach is generally far more focussed on how to coerce people to come to work and then to actually be productive – a very negative focus. In order to solve the problem of unemployment, this very serious issue of worldview would have to be confronted rather than simply assuming that job creation is the answer.

As mentioned, this is a complex problem, but simply creating jobs is not the solution.

Useful resources:
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