A Look At Liberia Paternity Leave Law

I wrote recently about Maternity Leave allowed under Liberia’s Decent Work Act (DWA) and received quite a few emails with questions regarding Paternity Leave and if the Act allows the same level of “generosity” accorded mothers, to fathers. This article provides a bit of clarity on paternity leave as to what is allowable under the law and what is not.

First off, what is paternity leave? Paternity leave is the time off from work given to new fathers at the birth of their child.

So, back to our new law on paternity leave for Liberia.

The good news is yes, fathers are given 5 days leave upon the birth of a child. (Same rules of written notice is required). If you didn’t read my last blog on the maternity leave, you can find it here.

The bad news is that the 5 days are unpaid.

Yep. Bummer huh?

The law states “the employed father of a child is entitled to five (5) days’ leave without pay at the time of the child’s birth, provided that his leave”. (i) May not be taken before the mother’s confinement and (ii) Shall be taken within the first month after the birth of the child, unless there are exceptional circumstances. DWA Section 20.3

In short, you CAN take Paternity leave, but it will be unpaid and it cannot be taken before she give birth and has to be within one month after she gives birth.

I got asked by someone if the time away from work could be considered paid leave if the time away is being applied to the care for others leave under section 19.4 of the Act.

My answer to that person was “no”.

No because the edicts under that section clearly state “every employee is entitled to 5 days’ paid leave each year of service with their employer to provide care or support to a member of the employee’s family who requires care of support because of: (i) personal illness, or personal injury, affecting the member of the employee’s immediate family; or (ii) an unexpected emergency affecting the member of the employee’s immediate family”.

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bonding is essential for new dads

 

So even though the section starts off with saying that every employee would be entitled to five days’ paid leave during each year of service, the law goes on to note personal illness or personal injury affecting the member of the immediate family or an unexpected emergency….”

Birth of a child cannot be considered “personal injury” to neither the mother nor the father. Additionally, it cannot also be considered “unexpected emergency”.

Neither can you take sick leave, because you will need to provide a medical report covering or excusing you from work because YOU are ill.

Like I said, bummer for dads. Fair or unfairly so, is up for debate.

How do we fare compared to other countries on paid paternity leave?

Times magazine states, “At least 79 countries’ national laws include paternity leave entitlements, nearly all of which are paid. The duration of the paid leaves vary greatly as well, but all are far shorter than maternity leaves, ranging from 1 day of full pay in Tunisia to 90 days of 80% pay in Iceland[1]

Let’s compare how paternity leave is administered in our immediate neighborhood of Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ghana. Cote d’Ivoire offers 2 weeks with full pay. No other country previously named offers paternity leave. [2]

So it appears we are all in the same boat, so to speak.

Now, back to the unpaid paternity leave for Liberia.

Our culture has not been one where fathers actually take time off from work to be with the mother of their child to help her after delivery, either to support physically around the home, or morally, to just be there.

Matter of fact, most fathers in Liberia tend to go back slapping and sharing cigars and sweets with friends when their wives are in labor, preferring to stay away from the screams of pain and the “ickyness” they rather not deal with. They do not normally help with the caring of the new born, nor share in the chores and responsibilities that come with having a new baby.

Is it reasonable to think that the crafters of this law took this ‘cultural context’ into consideration?rally-and-rj-crawling

On the other hand, this law will further deter fathers from spending time with their newborns, something that is key in developing that father-child bond after birth, as well as bonding the family.

Taking 5 days unpaid leave would likely not be the option they might utilize. But for fathers who do wish to spend valuable time with the mother of their child upon delivery, they could still utilize accrued annual leave which is paid leave.

It has taken the government over 30 years to provide an updated Labor Law commensurate with our current realities. I wouldn’t hold my breath that this new law will be repealed or updated any time soon.

So in the meantime, do you feel this law is unfair and unbalanced? How does it affect equity and equality in the workplace? Is it good for the “Liberian family”? Does it promote cultural values? What are your thoughts? Let’s have a conversation.

About the author

Brenda Brewer Moore is a Human Resource Practitioner with over 15 years’ working experience in the field of Human Resource & Office Management with an Executive Masters in Business Administration and internationally certified as a Senior Professional Human Resource Professional (SPHR) from both the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Human Resource Certificate Institute (HRCI). She lives and work in Liberia.

Do you have feedback on the article, great! Please leave a reply here or send me an email, I would love to hear from you. moore.brenda@gmail.com

references:

[1] http://time.com/3916511/parental-leave-map/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parental_leave

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A Look At Liberia’s New Maternity Law

I had a conversation recently with someone who is expecting her first child and she was curious as to what the law allowed as it related to pregnancy leave.

This had me thinking, that many people, both employees and employers may not be aware of the changes in the law regarding maternity leave and this article is to provide an overview.

 In March 2016, the long-awaited updated Labor law, named Decent Work Act (DWA) came into full effect. There has been a lot of misunderstanding regarding some of the new edicts within the DWA with many employers complaining that the new law is overly generous to employees, leaving employers with very little wiggling room. The DWA was created to better protect employees, with laws that now makes it much more difficult to terminate an employee on frivolous claims and completely removes the allowance of the old law where employers could terminate an employee “without cause”. But, that is another discussion for another day.

The DWA allows 14 weeks of maternity leave to an employee who has proven with a medical certificate that she is pregnant. This certificate should also indicate her estimated due date (20.2a) along with when she is expected to commence her maternity leave and when she expects to return.

Now, things may change depending on unforeseen complications and recovery related to the delivery so, there will need to be a bit of flexibility with the employer in terms of the exact dates on the certificate. Key in my opinion would be for the total time away from work for maternity not to exceed the allowable number of weeks (14 weeks) for the maternity leave.

The law also clearly states “An employed woman is entitled to receive from her employer the remuneration she would otherwise receive for her ordinary hours of work during any period of maternity leave.”, meaning, the employee should receive full salary and benefits while she is away from work on maternity leave. Some employers have the tendency to withhold certain benefits from employees who take maternity (and annual leave) claiming that the benefits are tied to coming to work. That is wrong and illegal.53252480

 Extension Of Maternity Leave 

If for some reason there is a complication which may require the new mother a need to extend the maternity leave, the DWA allows another one month of time away from work, however, this extra time will be unpaid time away from work. Perhaps in situations like these, if the employee has accrued annual leave, she could utilize those days to cover the extra days from work.

The DWA also allows for breastfeeding breaks of one hour each work day for the employee upon resumption of official duties. This nursing break will be available to the staff for up to six months after the birth of the child and is in addition to the one-hour lunch break legally mandated for each employee working an eight-hour work shift. The employee and her supervisor can arrange when this nursing break can be taken.

From past experience, an employee I knew worked it out with her supervisor to leave work at 3 daily instead of 5 by combining both her lunch break and nursing break. This meant more time at home to nurse and bond with her child.

All of this is regardless of how long the employee has been in the employ of the organization with no restrictions on how many children you already have, as is mandated in some countries.

Lets Compare:

Liberia’s 14 weeks of paid maternity leave is quite generous, compared to countries like the United States of America which offers 12 weeks of leave, but UNPAID. Yep, you can take up to 12 week away from work under the US Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) during a one year period, but it will have to be unpaid. The United Kingdom offers up to 26 weeks of paid leave to its citizens[1]. Neighboring African counties like Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, all offer 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, with Ghana offering 12 weeks and only 50% of pay during this period.[2]  Other African countries are not so generous and offer only 30 days of paid leave (67% of pay) like Tunisia, Mozambique 60 days. 50738844

Things that are still unclear under the DWA: can an employee still take full maternity leave if the child was a still born or there is a miscarriage.

For an underdeveloped country, my opinion is that this updated law is a good step in the right direction and generous.

What You As an Employee Need To Do:

  • Notify your employers as soon as it is reasonably possible about your pregnancy to provide them time to plan for coverage while you are away from work. Provide the medical certificate or notice as required by law.
  • If there are complications after your delivery that may require extra time away from work, notify your supervisor about this officially in writing, requesting for the extra time from work. Keeping in mind the extension of the maternity leave may mean unpaid time away from work if you do not have other leave days available for you to utilize.
  • Notify your employer about the dates you may need to go in for monthly prenatal checkup to provide coverage where needed. Communication is key and important.
  • Before taking your leave, you may want to come to an agreement with your employer regarding what amount of contact or support you would be willing to give while away from work. This will clearly identify what you are willing to do and not to do. It will also provide clear understanding on expectations.

 What You As An Employer Cannot do:

  • You cannot terminate the employment of an employee because she is pregnant and will need 3.5 months away from work.
  • You cannot demote her upon her return to work or deny her promotion opportunities due to her pregnancy.
  • You cannot compel her to come in while away on her maternity leave, unless she willingly agrees to come in to help cover some work that may be crucial.

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    source: timesofIndia

Planning Ahead:

  • Plan a coverage – once you have been officially notified by the employee regarding her pregnancy, the smart thing to do would be to start planning coverage while she is away from work.
  • Identify someone in the same unit or department who would be best suited to cover for the employee while she is away on maternity leave. This can be another employee, a temporary contractor, an intern or a vacation student, depending on the type of skills and complication of the job.
  • Have the pregnant employee prepare detailed turning over note for whoever will be covering for her during her absence.
  • Prepare a standard operating procedure (SOP) that someone covering will be able to follow step by step to guide him or her perform the job duties. Provide training to the staff that will be covering, if needed.

This is not the maximum that a company can offer, rather the minimum and as such, companies can decide to go above the minimum requirements noted by the law. It is important to note that companies will do well to foster a good working culture and environment for employees to ensure retention and a cordial working relationship with its employees and management. No company wants to have a situation where its employees are unhappy and don’t feel that work life balance is unfairly tilted in favor of the employer and that their legal rights are being violated and disregarded. So it is important that management makes every effort to ensure it adheres to the law and treat its employees with respect.

Remember, your employees are your most valuable assets.

About the Author: Brenda Brewer Moore is a Human Resource Practitioner with over 15 years’ working experience in the field of Human Resource & Office Management with an Executive Masters in Business Administration and internationally certified as a Senior Professional Human Resource Professional (SPHR) from both the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Human Resource Certificate Institute (HRCI). She lives and work in Liberia. Do you have feedback on the article, great! Please leave a reply here or send an email, I would love to hear from you. moore.brenda@gmail.com

[2] http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_008009/lang–en/index.htm

Good Customer Service

A few months ago, I entered a Liberian-owned shop and met a young lady sitting behind the counter asked about a product being sold. She was so engrossed in the African movie on the television so I again asked if they had the product I wanted and the cost. She brusquely replied “no” and quickly turned her gaze back to the movie. I stood there for several seconds, not sure whether to throw a tantrum or just leave. I decided to leave. I went across the street to a Guinean-owned shop where I asked the Owner if he had the product. He smiled and said “Sister, my supply is finished, but just sit down for a minute let me run across the street and get it quickly for you”. I left his shop feeling good and promised myself to always patronize him when I could. I later explained the story to a few friends and asked them “Next time I need to buy this item, which store do you think I will rather go to?”

According to the CMS website, customer service is defined as “the commitment to providing value added services to external and internal customers, including attitude, knowledge, technical support and quality of service in a timely manner”. Sadly for us in Liberia, good customer service is actually a rare find, a scarcity and I even dare say a privilege. This is an issue of national concern as it affects every sector of our society. We all continuously complain about it but aren’t taking any significant step towards correcting this epidemic. You drive around town and you see many marketing gimmicks like “we value our customers”, “our customers are our number one priority”, and I wonder if management really mean what they say. I wonder “Is it that employers aren’t providing employees with proper training in customer service or that the employers themselves do not know better and as such cant teach what they do not know or they just do not care? And if it is the case that employers and/or business owners not caring then how can they genuinely hope for their business to grow and obtain more profit. If customers steadily stop doing business with them, won’t they see a huge reduction in sales and eventually have to close shop?

There is a common joke around town of the owner of an entertainment spot who would go from table to table asking customers “only one beer you buying whole night, please leave”. Customers listened and left. Today, that business is no more.

Good customer service is not limited to small business owners. Banks, hospitals and our public organizations also need to be more “customer” friendly. It is quite frustrating at times when you have to conduct basic matters and come across employees at these public institutions who just aren’t interested in answering your questions, or who give you that dead look that effectively says “why are you giving me a hard time?” Walk into the banks and you almost want to pull your hair from frustration. Exceedingly long lines and when you peek up ahead, you see the teller is either more engaged in the juicy tidbit with another teller or so engaged in following some television talk show that is being played for customers to view while waiting their turn at the window. Simple mistakes are rudely and loudly handled, so when you are sent off the line to correct that mistake, you leave with the feeling of being back in high school having been openly chastised by your teacher.

Good [LINK=http://sbinfocanada.about.com/cs/marketing/g/custserv.htm]customer service[/LINK] is the lifeblood of organization. It helps to increase customer loyalty to your business or organization, increase profit, and sustain your growth. Your customers are often your number one source of reference and promotion. Sadly in Liberia, many employees in the service industry behave as though they are doing you a huge favor by serving you when you enter a restaurant. At times, they are so slow in responding to orders and even behave as if they are being forced to serve you. These employees forget to know if that if all the customers boycotted the business that day or month, it may mean no salary. Ironically, these same employees go to other entertainment places and severely critique others for “poor customer service”. Ha!

I think it is about time management (employers) who hope to see their organizations grow take this bull by the horn and put in corrective measure to improve customer service nationwide. They can start by conducting trainings for their staff on how to handle customers calmly, effectively and patiently. Teaching them that a simple smile when the person enters the place of business goes a long way; giving your undivided attention to a customer; doing your utmost best to ensure that every customer leaves the business satisfied with the service provided. At times, it may require you asking people to wait patiently while you deal with the person before them, etc.

Simple things. Managers can tie good service to rewards as an incentive for better customer services. It can be small cash, or just recognition to others by having “best customer service employee of the month” recognition, providing incentive to encourage speedy processing and provide opportunities for feedback from customers and genuinely try to address some of the complaints. Sometimes it doesn’t even require much, just speaking to people respectfully, calmly answering questions or just pointing them in the right direction to who could help if you cannot.

Additionally, many people do not know that within the organization, we are also each other’s customers. Customer service within the organization is how we respond to other departments or sections in our daily workflow. If they need information to get their work done or we provide a service in order for them to complete their work, we need to be able to promptly respond as by not doing so, our action could cause a ripple effect that could harm the organization’s workflow and productivity. I actually didn’t know this side of customer service till few years back, when I joined an organization and realized that there were yearly ratings on the internal customer service and how each department related to its internal “customers”. This meant the HR team was rated on how speedily they filled positions (without reducing quality) so as to not cause a backlog of work for those who may have to cover for the vacant positions, etc. Drivers were rated on how well they responded and drove; secretaries to how well they dealt with people coming into the office requesting information, etc. This meant we all had to be more conscious on how we did our work because in a lot of instances, awards and bonuses were tied to how good or bad a rating your department got that year in customer service.

I was in Ghana recently and was among the last customers in the supermarket and I saw one of the cashiers frantically gesturing to me to come to her, so I assumed she was closing and wanted me to hurry up so I went there slightly peeved that I was being rushed, but then she smiled and said, “Thanks for coming to my stand, I want to win the prize this month for highest number of customers served and if you had gone to the other guy, he would have been leading me by two persons.” I was pleasantly surprised, decided to tip her and said to myself, “that is something we could try back home”.

The benefits of instilling good customer service in your employees are so many. Not only will you realize you may not even need to spend money on advertising and marketing (because your customers will gladly do that for you by spreading word) but the increased sales will mean more revenue for the business and probably even more bonuses and salary for employees. It is my fervent hope that in time, indeed customers in Liberia will be the “number one priority” for all businesses.

Originally published on FrontPageAfrica on November 6, 2012

http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/op-ed-editorial/feature-articles/4620-labor-issues-good-customer-service-not-limited-to-small-business-owners.html

Internship – Preparing Potential Job Seekers For a Better Tomorrow

Too often I hear job seekers complain that employers don’t consider them for employment because they don’t have the requisite experience or any experience needed for the job. They say “how can we get the experience when no one is willing to hire us?” For them, it’s a “catch 22” situation where they are unable to acquire a job because they do not have work experience and have no job  experience because they have not worked before.

In developed countries, most times by the time a student has graduated from either high school or college, that person has had a bit of working experience and some sort of resume with to present to employers. It may not even be in their area of study, but at least there is a history of employment and working experience.

A few years back, eight high school students were sent to my organization as “vacation students” to get a feel of the working environment and what it means to work in an office. A few days into their vacation work experience, I decided to give a filing assignment to one of the students. The young man was about sixteen, always smartly and neatly dressed and quite composed. I handed him the papers and the box files with the instruction to “file them in chronological order”.

The young man stared at me with a puzzled look. So I figured the word “chronological” was too big for him and then said “file them in order of date, with the most recent date being at the top and oldest date at the bottom”. He still looked puzzled and then sheepishly asked “Mrs. Moore, wetin dey call file?” (What do you mean by “file?”) For a moment I wanted to laugh at the fact that someone wouldn’t know something as simple as “filing”, but then realize this was the very essence for the vacation job experience: To give them an idea of what to expect in the working environment in years to come. I cannot begin to describe the enthusiasm those kids showed towards their “jobs” and were usually the first in the office each day, willing and ready to learn and always asking questions. When their two months were up, I almost felt bereft when we told them goodbye but also felt a sense of fulfillment that they had something to reflect and reference if ever asked if they have worked before or been in a formal office setting.

This got me thinking that if most high schools and universities in Liberia could start to actively seek vacation school or internship opportunities with various organizations, it would better prepare the job seekers for the labour market. Internship is a good way for students or new graduates to obtain some working experience and have a foothold in the job market. This arrangement can be favorable to both the intern and the employer as it provides an opportunity for the graduates to apply what they have learned in school to a real-world environment, gain confidence, experience and even sometimes good networking opportunity because you may not obtain an employment with the organization you have interned with, but may just make an impression and could be recommended by someone to another organization.

For managers, it increases the chances of hiring good, dedicated employees which may even decrease turnover as you have had a chance to observe the person’s work style, ethics and performance over a period of time before making a hiring decision. It also provides an opportunity to groom someone to the organization’s culture and also provide an opportunity for “cheap labor”. The internship need not be overly costly and could initially cover only a reasonable stipend and transportation. I am positive that many job seekers in Liberia would be happy for this opportunity to learn and the chance for potential employment with the organization. I must say though that this should not be an opportunity to overwork and underpay someone just because “job business hard’ as we say in Liberia.

I know a few years back the Ministry of Youth and Sports started an internship and vacation student program, but do not know how effective or active it is or has been and I hope they have continued in their efforts to ensure our youth and upcoming graduates are afforded an opportunity to obtain more hands-on job experience. I also hope the program has received the support needed to ensure success. Perhaps even in time to come the government might consider adopting the national youth service program currently practiced in other African counties where graduates are assigned in various parts of the country and in various fields of study usually for about a year.

It is my hope that as the Liberian economy continues to expand and more companies are opened, managers will start to consider taking in interns and or vacation students with the aim of helping our youth gain the experience they need for the job market.

 

Originally published on October 9, 2013 on FrontPageAfrica

http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/op-ed-editorial/feature-articles/4402-labor-issues-internship-preparing-potential-job-seekers-for-tomorrow.html

Acing Job Interviews

As a Human Resources professional, I have been a part of many interviews over the years. There are times when I’d interview someone so impressive I’d feel such warmth and confidence in the recognition that our country has such good talent and couldn’t wait to have that person as part of our working team. And then there are other times when I have to fight to keep a straight face at some of the answers people give. Many times, when I go through a “bad” interview, I tell myself that universities across the country need to start having an interactive course or session for graduating seniors that teaches interviewing skills.

I am happy for this opportunity to share a few tips on how to ace an interview. Keep in mind that every interview is different and every organization has a different culture and interviewing style. Some
organizations may interview in groups while others have a series of interviews you go through with different staff persons. Additionally, some organizations may hold their interview process in stages – the pre-screening interviews, first interviews and final interviews. Some organizations are very formal with their interview process and others may be slightly informal and laid back. However, when in doubt, the following tips should be a good starting point to prepare for and hopefully deliver a good interview.

” Job business hard” as we say in Liberia, so once you are in front of potential employers, it is important not to ruin your chances with a few ill-chosen remarks or unbecoming attitude. This is your moment to shine.

Your resume (or CV) has caught the eyes of the recruiter and thus the interview is your opportunity to”sell” yourself. Let the interviewer or interview panel know what skills and experiences you bring to the table. An interview is your opportunity to make a good pitch on why you, out of the many applicants that have applied, should be selected for the job.

There are so many I could talk about, but due to space constraints, I will only mention a few:

1. First Impression: It is often said that there’s never a second chance to make a first impression. This rings true for interviews. many time, the first impression of a candidate an influence the interview – positively or negatively. Dress appropriately and professionally. A general rule of thumb is a business suit. Be ready to greet the interview/s with a firm handshake, winning attitude and a smile.

2. Prepare for the Interview: Before the interview, try to read online and find potential questions that may be asked and practice answering them. This may even mean standing in front of a mirror and having a friend to ask you the questions.

2. “Tell us about yourself”. Most interviews would almost always start with the statement “Tell us about yourself and why you decided to apply for this job”. For Lord’s sake, please don’t start by telling the interviewers you are ” Brenda Moore, born into union of Barak Obama and Michelle Obama in
Pleebo Maryland County and the union was blessed with nine children..”. Honestly nine out of ten interviewers aren’t interested in knowing what village you grew up in and your family pedigree. So please stick to summarizing your resume, highlighting your experiences as it relates to the job you have applied for. Develop your 1-2 minutes “elevator speech” about who you are as an applicant. Specifically mention your name, residence, your education level (bachelors /masters in….). Keep it short, simple and focused on you as a job candidate and not your biography.

3. Know the organization. Research the organization you have applied to and know what business they are engaged in. It shows total lack of disinterest in the organization when you are asked by interviewers “what do you know about our organization” and you have not the faintest clue. Get online and Google the organization and at least have the most basic information on what they do.

4. Avoid reading from your resume- unless it’s to confirm dates you aren’t quite sure of. I found it so unnerving recently when an applicant had to refer to his resume each time a question was asked. It was almost as if he wasn’t sure what he had written and wanted to make sure he got his stories right. This included even when asked what are his strengths and weaknesses.

5. Don’t talk ‘tribe’. I see this so many times. An applicant enters the room and is introduced to the panelists and as soon as he/she hears a name that is associated with a particular tribe, he/she will quickly say “Doe, Doe? Is it Sinoe Kru Doe or Krahn Doe?” This is potentially dangerous as yes, while there is a possibility that this may help you click with a panelist who may share the same tribe as you do, this may also give the wrong impression. An interviewer could be put off by it who may want to avoid tribal “clique” in the organization and see it you “sucking up” or may not like people referring to tribal relations in the workplace.

6. Don’t drop names. Again whilst this may help you in some instances, it is very risky. You may mention the name of someone who may have had a falling out with one of the panelists awhile back and while this may have absolutely no bearing on your performance during the interview, it may just rub that person the wrong way. So even if you are related to Bill Gates, please, keep that information to yourself, especially in the country we find ourselves.

This is why you get to list your references instead.

7. Know Your Weaknesses. I had to fight to keep a straight face during an interview for a managerial position when I asked an applicant what were his weaknesses. The gentleman looked me dead in the eye and said “I hate waking up early in the morning to come to work. It’s a challenge for me as I am used to running my own business and showing up to the office when I like. If this job will require being to work at 8:00, I could try, but it will be a challenge.” While his answer may have been very honest, he was too honest.

We don’t want to hear your worst shortcomings, only to see how you are able to turn a bad trait into a positive. The weakness question is an opportunity for you to highlight an area you are limited in for professional growth – would be time management, a working style or a technical skill.

8. Don’t chew gum. I recently had an applicant who came into the interview room chewing and smacking her way into the seat offered her and continued chewing the gum throughout most of the interview. At one point, another panelist had to ask her to please remove the gum from her mouth as it was
making her answers come out garbled. Need I say more?

9. Don’t talk about political affiliation. I don’t care if you know someone on the panel to be a well-known partisan of a particular political party; please don’t start discussing what a loyalist you are to that political
party. In this day and age of constant switching of players in the political game, you never know the person’s current political allegiance. Besides, how does this tie in with your ability to do the job you have applied for?

10. Smile. A smile shows your confidence and even helps you to relax even if you are nervous.

11. Don’t ask about salary unless you are asked about your salary expectations. In Liberia, we say “don’t be Abu-kitty”, meaning, don’t rush.

You will still get asked about your salary expectations during an interview. Also, many job postings may include a salary range. This should be an excellent guide to what the minimum and maximum salary levels are.

12. Be audible. Why would you come this far with this opportunity to blow the interviewers minds and you decide to speak so low that others have to strain to hear you?

As I mentioned earlier, it would be a good thing if the universities could develop a program or career advising opportunities each semester for human resource professionals to provide tips to graduating seniors. The program objectives could include preparing seniors for interviews, resume and cover
letter writing, learning how to conduct themselves, and developing their knowledge of typical questions and expectations. Many people often wonder why they didn’t get a job they have interviewed for when they are so sure they aced the interview. I would not be so surprised that one or two of the
tips mentioned above are sometimes the cause of them not nailing that job.

Sometimes you may know the subject matter you are being asked about, but articulating that can be a problem. Try to show enthusiasm and passion  regarding the job for which you are being interviewed and remember to be on time. Hopefully these few tips will help you prepare for your next interview or have brought you some awareness if you have unknowingly done any of the above mentioned above to avoid.

Good luck!

 

http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/op-ed-editorial/commentary/4334-labor-issues-how-to-ace-job-interviews-first-impression-preparations-key.html

Am I My Brother’s Keeper? How Unethical is Nepotism

Our Liberian (and African) culture dictates that we look after our family members. Be it the elderly, youth, impoverished or affluent. We are expected to have the best interests of our relatives at heart and to “look after your own”. While this is a good thing, it can also be to our detriment as employees or the detriment of the organization.

Many in the western societies frown on the hiring of relatives and have even attached a big word to it called “nepotism”. In its simplest meaning, nepotism is the practice of favoring a family member when it comes to employment. This would mean hiring that relative over another applicant even if the relative is not qualified and experienced to perform the required duties and responsibilities

Over the years, I have seen several situations wherein someone originating from a particular ethic group seeks to hire people generally from the same ethnicity. For example, it would be somewhat common for someone hailing from the Southeastern region to show preference for people from the Grebo, Sarpo and Kru tribes, etc. when hiring.

Now the big question is “Is this a bad thing?”I say “not necessarily so”. We all generally prefer to hire people we have things in common with and or feel comfortable with. It’s easier to trust someone originating from your family or tribe as you believe you both have same values, morals and traditions. You find yourself quickly trusting that person and feel more comfortable to say certain things in their presence than you would in front of others. We might also feel more comfortable hiring relatives because we feel they will “have our backs” and “look out for us” in the organization. It is also somewhat expected of you by your family -both spoken and unspoken- that once you are with a particular organization or level in society, you are expected to help your families and hire a few relatives or tribal kinsmen. .

This is not just a Liberian or African thing. Let’s take the US State Department for example. When Diplomats are assigned to a particular country, it is mostly expected that the receiving embassy will find a job for the accompanying spouse (who isn’t a diplomat) and certain jobs within the embassy are strictly reserved for these spouses. This guarantees not only keeping certain information the embassy doesn’t want public contained, but also extra income for that diplomat’s family and the spouses from becoming entirely bored from doing nothing for the duration of the assignment ( often two years). In this situation, we condone this as “acceptable” and “their thing”. Not all bad, right?

This practice however, could be very harmful for the organization especially when hiring those that are unqualified.For our country Liberia that is plagued with corruption, practicing nepotism could be tricky because it is easy to see how public funds could be siphoned into the hands of a few. It is also easy to see why the chief executive officer of a public agency who hires his brother as the comptroller finds it difficult to take drastic action when he has been caught embezzling money or misusing resources.  It is also easy to see how a very lenient leader in the workplace could allow a relative to blatantly break organization’s rules with impunity. It is always easier to chastise others than your flesh and blood. In addition, It is easy to overlook the incompetence of your relative and provide promotion after promotion to him/her over others who are high performers. This could have serious effects on the morale of the workforce.

How easy would it be for you to have your brother jailed for stealing the organization’s money? You may quickly yell “easy!” but it is always easier said than done. How many leaders (public and private) have persecuted their relatives for corruption?

So, since it’s culturally acceptable to be our brother’s keepers, what can we do to while not totally stop nepotism, but minimize the associated risks and down sides of nepotism? Any sort of perceived favoritism of a relative can cause dissatisfaction among employees and tends to lower morale and productivity. Other employees who are actually high performers feel less motivated to work harder in the face of blatant nepotism.

I believe that key to this is limiting situations of conflicts of interest and influence. If a supervisor or someone of authority in an organization decides to hire a relative, it would be key and advisable to make sure not to have direct supervision over this relative. It would also mean limiting situations of influence or decision making when it comes to matters of promotions, pay, benefits, or other related matters where that could disfavor other competent employees.

It will also be good to make use of conflict of interest documents or develop policies that will clearly discuss how to handle situations where relatives work at the same organization and require full disclosure when recruiting. The policies will help serve as a guide hopefully that will help minimize unfair behavior in the workplace.

So rather than focus on trying to totally stopping nepotism in our society- and at the same time whist not embracing it – we should be more focused (I believe) on minimizing nepotism.

In closing, I found this quote from Herman Melville and thought to share:  “All experience teaches that, whenever there is a great national establishment, employing large numbers of officials, the public mu…st be reconciled to support many incompetent men; for such is the favoritism and nepotism always prevailing in the purlieus of these establishments, that some incompetent persons are always admitted, to the exclusion of many of the worthy”

The Importance Of Emergency Contact For All Employees

Picture how you would react  at work one day if an employee were to black out (or faint, as we say in Liberia) and you hadn’t the faintest clue what could be wrong with this employee or who to contact about his or her condition. Imagine running to the Human Resource office to obtain a point of contact information from that person’s file only to be told there is none available.

Or maybe that person is heading home after work (yeah, fighting, elbowing for car on broad street) and collapses. Concerned by standers try to help and would like to contact a relative and decide to search that person’s pocket for any relevant information, but find none. Well, this is often the case for many in Liberia.

Emergency contact information is very important for every organization, yet it is something that is easily overlooked and forgotten by many- both employees and managers. Emergency contact information is basically just names and contact numbers of people you would like to be contacted on your behalf in situations of emergencies when you cannot speak for yourself and any other key relevant information you would like management to know about in situations of an emergency.

It is important to ensure each employee’s personnel file has a form that provides contact information for at least three persons that can be reached in cases of emergencies, direction to your home (since we do not have mailing addresses in Liberia for now), blood type, name of doctor (if you have a specific one) and any allergies or illnesses you wish management to be aware of (like diabetes or high blood pressure, etc.). From experience, it is also advisable that this information be validated every six months to a year since a lot of people tend tochange their numbers quite frequently. Of course, the HR team would be fully aware that the information provided is to be held in the strictest of confidence.

The importance of ensuring each employee’s emergency contact information is up-to-date was reinforced to me about five years back when an employee fainted right just as he was about to get into his car after work one day. We rushed him to a nearby clinic and because he had one of these fancy phones that had a screen lock on it, we weren’t able to access his contacts to call a relative.”

“So, I ran back into the office and opened his personnel file to see if there was information on any family member we could contact. To my outmost dismay, there was none. Well, there was, but it was apparent that the information was useless because he had telephone numbers that we now call “old numbers” in Liberia. Numbers that go like 226-370. Luckily, another employee informed us that he and the guy lived in the same community, and that he would rush home to inform the man’s family of his condition. The ill employee recovered in due time, but for me, that was a rude awakening, a wake-up call.

The HR team could also go a step further by providing each employee with a small card (the size of a regular identification card) that provides basic information that staff could keep in their pockets, wallets or handbags daily. If you are an employee and reading this and not quite sure if you have given an emergency contact to your HR team, please make time this week to ask them and provide one if you haven’t and update, if necessary, if you have.

For managers, please make this a part of your standard orientation program for each new employee and ensure your HR team regularly remind employees to notify them if there are changes to the names they provided, as it would be very unhelpful to have names of people as emergency contacts who are either deceased or who have changed their number, etc.

As a Chinese proverb says, “Better a thousand times careful, than once dead”, so please do what you need to do to be safe, rather than sorry.

Addressing Pregnancy & Maternity Related Issues in the Workplace

Childbearing is an essential part of the cycle of life for women and their families and is vital to every society. With women becoming key players in the corporate and public sectors, good policies and proper enforcement surrounding childbearing and maternity leave are essential, more especially so for a developing nation such as ours.

Over the years, women roles have changed and much like Western countries, African women are now active across both public and corporate sectors (Theresa Lee Sherman, Amelia Ward, Mary Brownell, Ruth Perry, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, etc.). Yet, despite these significant achievements for women, there’s still some discrimination against working women who are pregnant in Liberia and it is amazing that in this modern day and age how intolerant some people tend to be towards employees who become pregnant on the job. Some women are reportedly even threatened and bullied which brings about job insecurity when the mere thought of becoming pregnant arises. A few months back, someone told me a situation where she was afraid for her job because her boss recently found out she was pregnant and wasn’t keen on keeping her since he would have to pay 3 “free” months for her while “ she did nothing but stay home and sleep”.

While this may seem trivial to some, this is a sad reality for many working women today in Liberia. A short time ago, I had a conversation with a friend who mentioned that he recently discovered that his housekeeper is pregnant and that he intends to pay her off at the end of the month because he doesn’t feel she will be able to comfortably and efficiently do her duties. I immediately said “that’s discrimination, you can’t do that”. He laughed and said “aye, why did I have to mention this in front this HR woman”.

For those who aren’t aware, “Maternity leave” is considered the time a woman is given off from work after she gives birth. However, due to differing medical conditions or because of discomfort or the desire for time to prepare, some women may take theirs a bit earlier. After a woman gives birth, time is needed to recuperate, rest and to bond with the child and provide the much needed breastfeeding infants require. Maternity leave is also important because it provides the time most women need to be able to transition back into the working environment. A lot of us Africans tend to overlook how postpartum depression affects women, but it is something crucial that has been proven time and again. Also, with the high rate of infant mortality in a developing country such as ours, (72 out of every 1,000 according to the mundi index) the need for maternal care in the early months of the child’s life cannot be overly emphasize.

Progress is being made to address maternity leave  and work environment for pregnant women and the current Liberian labor law states  “ a female expecting the birth is a child shall be granted a maternity leave by her employer for a period of three months, which shall commence before and expire after her confinement… employee is entitled to full wages…”

I have seen the draft revised law which is called the “Decent Work Bill” and I was a bit impressed with the new addition for pregnant employees which provides for 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, provided proof of her condition is made available to employer, along with two 30 minutes nursing breaks each day or one sixty minute break (besides lunch breaks) till the child is twelve months old. The new law also makes provision for possible extension of the maternity leave if a medical doctor certifies that there is a complication that prohibits the employee from returning to work after the 14 weeks period. However, the extension will be unpaid. The new law also provides for paternity leave for new fathers, however, paternity will be unpaid.

Its one thing to have a law and it’s quite another story entirely to enforce or educate people against discrimination. In most instances, these are things that are considered the acceptable norm.  Many will be shocked to know that there are some women who are not aware they are entitled to maternity leave and what it means.

There is no arguing or disputing that the workflow may be affected due to a key employee taking 3-4 months of maternity leave, however, with proper planning and coordination, the void could be easily filled by making use of interns, or training someone else who performs similar tasks as the pregnant employee to cover during that period. This could also be an opportunity to cross train other employees in your organization. It is also easy to understand and on some level relate to some employers’ concerns regarding the possible disruption to the flow of work when an employee becomes pregnant because for many women, pregnancy comes with fatigue, low energy levels, monthly days off for pre-natal check-ups, forgetfulness, etc. it is also key for employers to ensure they provide a safe environment for pregnant (all employees in fact) employees and avoid exposure to second hand smoke, harsh chemicals, and any hazardous condition.  I must say though that pregnancy should not be an excuse for abject laziness, poor customer service or incompetency.

For those who are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant soon or know someone who is and who may not know what the legal statures are regarding maternity leave the Law allows you a period of 3 months of paid absence and you cannot be dismissed because you are pregnant. The law states “if it is proven that a female employee has been dismissed for such a reason, she shall be entitled to compensation for wrongful dismissal, which shall not be less than three months’ salary. “

I am hoping that the Ministry of Labor has a good sensitization program lined up to educate the labor work force, managers, human resource practitioners on some of the new and existing laws that will help curtail, reduce and avoid labor malpractice in the country and try harder to enforce where necessary. It will also be a good thing to be more pro-active on sending out labor inspectors to various institutions for periodic inspections.

http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/op-ed-editorial/feature-articles/4582-addressing-pregnancy-a-maternity-related-issues-in-the-workplace.html

Respecting Confidentiality In Workplace – ‘He That Keepth His Mouth’

For most organizations, confidentiality is a core aspect of its success and plays a key role in how much its customers value the protection of private information given in the course of the business transaction or relationship.

The National Genome Research Institute defines confidentiality as “the process of protecting an individual’s privacy. It pertains to treatment of information that an individual has disclosed in a relationship of trust, with the expectation that this information will not be divulged to others without permission.”

Payroll records, performance records, dates of birth, salary, medical records, bank accounts information, audit reports, school exams and scores, employment records, are all examples of information that are confidential which every employer should take steps to ensure are protected and safeguarded. Sadly In our country Liberia today, confidentiality isn’t always respected or adhered to, even when crucially necessary.

For example, most (not all) clinics and health care centers that I have visited in Monrovia, have tasked the security guards with the responsibility of logging the lab reports of patients. These are people who aren’t even in the employ of the institution and do not have direct link to the care of the patient, and yet, that security guard with just a glance at the lab results can tell what ailments the patient has, age, tests to be performed, etc. Or take the banks that have security guards “assisting” customers with photocopying of their banking transactions (thereby knowing how much money being deposited or withdrawn).

Our population is so small (3.5 million) compared to other countries, that we have a saying “everybody knows everybody”. Given this adage, if the confidentiality of customers or patients isn’t safeguarded, one can easily assume that one’s personal information could very easily and quickly become public knowledge. Once again, this attitude cuts across all divides of our society. In developed countries, organizations are sued for breach of confidentiality and people are actually held accountable for divulging privileged information.

A few years back I was charged with the responsibility of spearheading an awards  recognition  program for employees and our HR team had been instilled with the importance and need for confidentiality when it came to telling others who would be a recipient of an award, the kind of award and the monetary value for each award. A close friend of mine had been nominated for an award and I was quite happy and looking forward to seeing the look on her face when she would be called up during the program for the award. For several weeks she and I interacted and I never give her a clue as to who was on the list, much less that she would be a recipient. With only two days to the awards program I was elated that so far, there hadn’t been a “leak” and so one can only imagine my dismay when I got a phone call from my friend who asked “Why didn’t you tell me I was receiving a $200 award?” I responded “Because it was meant to be confidential and a surprise”.  She retorted “Well, apparently only you and the HR team respect confidentiality because the other sections involved in the planning have the news all around regarding who gets what”. I was incensed.

Many organizations have staff sign a confidentiality statement but I continue to ask how effective is management in enforcing breach of confidentiality? How committed are the top management in ensuring people do not misuse information they have been entrusted with? Awhile back, there was talk of encouraging whistle blowing in situations of corruption and misuse of public funds and I wondered how effectively the whistle blower’s identity will be protected. Because in as much as we all may want people to be bold and “blow the whistle” on corruption, misuse of public funds or ethical issues, I believe we are merely saying it to say we have said it. Especially taking into consideration that in actuality, nothing is really “confidential” in our country. Remember, “everybody knows everybody”.

Interestingly, things that should be public knowledge are actually closely guarded and kept highly confidential.  Ironic, isn’t it?

Management along with HR must develop policies that ensure confidentiality, and these policies must be communicated to all employees. Employees also need to be informed regarding punitive actions that will be taken against them for breach of confidentiality and made aware of the consequences of their actions. It is also advisable to limit the number of people who have access to crucial information and share information only on a “need-to-know” basis. Another measure to consider would be to design appropriate methods of disposing of sensitive information. These measures aimed at ensuring confidentiality must be “owned” by employees at all levels, from the cleaner to the CEO. Otherwise it would be a waste of energy and resources to enforce adherence at lower and mid-level employees when you have senior management who have no qualms at all in discussing sensitive information inappropriately and who may not even see the wrong in doing that.

As individual professionals at our various places of employment, we need to start embracing confidentiality and enforcing it in whatever way we can. Discourage open banter on matters that your organization or professional ethics tells you are confidential, even if it means not hearing that hot “geeze” or gossip as we call it in Liberia.

The process of rebuilding Liberia starts with us individually and we need to take a reflective look within and remind ourselves of the words of one of the “wisest” men who ever lived, King Solomon, who said “ He that keepth his mouth, keepth his life”.

Originally Published on FrontPageAfrica on September 18, 2012

http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/op-ed-editorial/feature-articles/4209-labor-issues-respecting-confidentiality-in-the-workplace-he-that-keepth-his-mouth.html

Not My Father’s Farm”- Changing Our Attitude Towards Work As Liberians

I am sure most Liberians have heard the saying ‘not my pa farm’ when it comes to people’s attitude towards work. “Not my pa’s farm” would in essence mean ‘ I am not going to go above and beyond what I am being paid to do” or “ try to get away with doing the bare minimum of  tasks I am expected to perform since I have no stake in this organization”.

How often have you entered a place of business and the person at the front desk has this laid back, sluggish attitude or gives short, unhelpful answers and just stares at you with the “stop-wasting-my-time” look?

The sad thing is that this attitude cuts across both the public and private sectors in our country.

You are ill and go to a hospital for treatment and the health care “professionals” either yell at you or are so abrasive and dismissive in their attitude that you either just want to walk away or give a retort that would get you “blacklisted”. As a matter of fact, you are almost expected to be subservient in your attitude if you want good service in most places of business in Liberia. A sad truth. There are times in an organization you would find an employee who is actually dedicated, hardworking and efficient and the non-performing employees would taunt that staff by making comments like “you do well, da your pa farm?”

A few months back, I went to a bank to conduct the very simple transaction of picking up a check book I had requested two months previously. The customer service attendant at the desk had this very busy look on her face and wouldn’t give me her attention. After several minutes of standing in front of her, she glanced up with this irritated look on her face. I told her I had come to inquire if the checkbook was ready for pick up. She went back to her computer without saying a word. I decided to take a peep at her computer to see if perhaps she was searching the system to determine if the checkbook had been printed, but to my outmost surprise, I saw that the lady was playing a computer game. Not her father’s farm, I guess.

It has been nine years since “The War” ended and one would think that after this period of time, we as a people would start to adjust our mentalities and see the benefits of changing our attitudes to help raise our country from that of an underdeveloped to a developing nation. I continue to wonder if this attitude was prevalent before the 1989 civil war and if the war just exacerbated it.

Attitude towards work and service is one significant feature that distinguishes a developed country from an underdeveloped one. In developed countries, good work ethics and attitude is expected at all levels. Our current work attitude, as Liberians, creates a negative impression not only to residents but also for visitors who may be considering the country for possible investment. We need to re-examine our lackadaisical attitude towards work in order to help lift the nation’s economy to greater heights. We need to respect our work, and to take it with seriousness.

Liberian employers could play an important role in helping to change Liberian employees’ attitudes towards work by periodic trainings, reinforcing the importance of work ethics, dedication, responsiveness and most importantly, leading by example. This would mean as a manager, you can’t stroll into work at 11:00 and expect employees to be behind their desks at 8:00.

Employers could also consider openly recognizing and awarding employees who exhibit good attitudes, whose quality of work is admirable, and show passion for their jobs.  Employers should hold employees accountable for their work and create incentives that tie employees’ performance and professionalism to their growth in the organization. Employers need to emphasize to employees that their attitude towards their work affects the organization’s productivity, image and profitability. Additionally, continuous indoctrination through policies and protocols, staff meetings and yearly orientation are also useful tools for employers.

One thing to keep in mind is that with such long history of our general attitude “not my father’s farm”, this has become unfortunately ingrained in our Liberian culture and work ethics. Thus, change is hard for many. It would require commitment from the employer and organization and consistency. At times, this may also require some hard core decision making and reorganization.

It’s a big task but hopefully, with a renewed dedication by employers to changing attitudes in the work place, we can all leave behind the attitude and mantra of “not my father’s farm”.

originally published on FrontPageAfrica on September 11, 2012 

http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/op-ed-editorial/feature-articles/4152-labor-issues-not-my-fathers-farm-changing-our-attitude-towards-work-as-liberians.html