This past Saturday, a friend of mine was getting married and while I didn’t attend, I kept calling to follow the progress of the event. The wedding ceremony was scheduled to start at 12 noon and by 2:00 pm I called to find out if the reception was about to start. I was told ‘the ceremony hasn’t even started yet, we still waiting for the groomsmen to arrive”.
Respect for time continues to be an uphill challenge for many of our workforce and society as a whole. We all have heard the saying, “Liberian Man Time- LMT” and sometimes laugh about it when it’s not to our disadvantage. Often you will set a meeting for 2:00pm and people casually stroll in at 2:30 pm. The meeting doesn’t get to start till 3:00 pm. This doesn’t just happen in work settings, it happens across all sectors – from social events to medical appointments.
We all complain about it daily when we are on the receiving end of the “Liberian Main Time”, but are quick to excuse our own behavior when we are at fault by saying “ Liberian man don’t know time”. Go to the banks and the sign on the doors says “Banking Hours 8:30-3:00”. You get there at 8:25 and have to wait outside (in the rain) till sometimes close to 8:50 before the doors are opened and even then, the employees inside tell you “You have to wait, we are still setting up”.
This can be very frustrating as you may have allocated only a short time to do a quick transaction before going to your office (that starts at 9:00) and this causes a ripple effect. From an HR standpoint, tardiness and respecting time applies not only to arriving late to work, but also leaving early, taking extended lunch breaks (in Liberia we call it Lebanese lunch), properly utilizing time at work by accomplishing tasks set out to performed in a specified timely manner, etc. I think the only time employees are ever time conscious is on pay day when we have to go to the salary disbursement center or bank.
Interestingly, this is not unique to Liberia, but appears to be an African malaise as poor time management skills appears to be deep-rooted into our cultures. In most African societies, you are perceived as being “too anxious” when you show up on time for a program and having guests wait on you is a way of showing how important you are. Ironically, one of the earliest method of timekeeping, the water clock, was invented in Africa-Egypt.
While bad time observance may be a part of our culture and an acceptable norm, I also believe that these habits can be changed or at least readjusted. Many Africans (Liberians) travel to the western world and become avid respecters of time. We learn to be very punctual because we know the price to be paid for tardiness. If we start to talk about the importance of observing time, it is very much possible it will become a part of our culture.
Respecting time is imperative for several reasons, not only does it show that you have a sense of responsibility and take your obligations towards others seriously, but also that you are a person of integrity.
Employers sometimes unknowingly condone the lack of punctuality of employees by not taking action against repeat offenders or following through threats of disciplinary action. When employees realize that management isn’t very keen on respecting time, they will come to work late and leave when they want. It may affect the organization’s ability to meet customers’ needs or even achieve the ideal level of productivity. We have also heard of the cliché “time is money” so perhaps when employers start quantifying in monetary terms how much employees tardiness cost them daily or monthly, they will realize how this affects their bottom line. They could calculate the hourly rate of the employee and multiply that by the number of hours that employee has been late each week or month.
So basically management is paying more and getting less. Additionally, a manager could note the ripple monetary effect of coming in to work late and staying late -the extra cost of running the generator, the overtime to be paid the generator maintenance person or even your driver who may have to work late also because you are. Employers may also consider the need to train their employees on effective time management and the effect it has on their business in terms of profit loss or decrease in customers.
When I was younger, I used to hear stories of how the late President Doe would show up at various government ministries unannounced at 8:00am and await the arrival of the head of that entity. I am told that some were even fired as a result of being late to work. While drastic, this action of his made a lot of public service managers go to work early. If our public leaders and managers would also begin to show respect for time it will go a long way in helping to change the mindset and hopefully the culture in the long run.
We have a saying that “charity begins at home” so it will also be a good idea to start introducing the concept of good time management from the fundamental stages with our children, both at home and in their schools. Individually we can try to set alarm reminders to help us keep track of time or appointment, set to-do lists, start our day early and
I agree wholeheartedly that it will be big challenge in getting us Liberians to change our minds and attitudes towards adhering to time, but with collective and individual efforts, we can take this on step-by-step and switch our internal clock settings from Liberian Man Time to Greenwich Main Time ( standard time).
Originally published on FrontPage Africa on September 25, 2012