Of workshops, productivity and allowances

guest column:Francis Mupazviriho

THREE weeks ago, human resources consultant and columnist Memory Nguwi posted a tweet on whether professionals should be paid to attend workshops.

Nguwi’s tweet, which was framed in his typical rhetorical style branded as part of the human resources perspectives, received mixed responses.

There is no doubt that the issue of allowances is a topical discussion, especially considering the related preoccupations of productivity, the workforce’s professionalisation, work ethic and, of course, moralistic precepts, if any, regarding the contribution, or lack thereof, of workshops to organisational goals.

Upon reading the post, your truly hurriedly jumped to the discussion, providing serialised responses on the subject matter of workshops and allowances, which was framed from personal convictions, however, shaped equally by professional experiences over the years.

In my response, I argued that yes participants should be paid for attending workshops. Issues relating to rates for allowances to workshops is legally articulated in statutory instruments, circulars or any other such company or sectorial regulations, which can be reviewed time and again.

In this article, however, I will focus on workshops broadly by interrogating related issues on productivity, leadership, organisational goals and social relationships, among other aspects.

While the issue of regulations is without doubt, it is, however, the circumstances, or the rationale for having workshops which should be constructed ethically against organisational goals.

Generally speaking, workshops are perceived as a conduit to earn some “extra-money by participants”. There is no doubt that this propensity tends out to be higher depending on the contextual macro-economic environment.

This is precisely the reason why some workshops become frequent, routine affairs largely convened more for monetary gain than anything else.

There is no doubt that in most entities, workshops are purely expenditure with very little commensurate benefits which the organisation gets from congregation.

There is no doubt that this endemic culture of congregating all manner of fixtures has negative effects, especially on productivity.

For Zimbabwe, this is a timely discussion especially considering that we are now literally left with five weeks, before entities close for the routine long Christmas and New Year’s break.

While holidays are gazetted and at times subject to the internal organisation of an entity, there is, however, no doubt that this is a worrying culture, which we have enmeshed in our work ethic.

Of course, the festive season is a time to take a break and celebrate the receding year in preparation for a new season. But this should tally with the amount of work which was done over the year.

Allowances which are paid for attending workshops are quite important for expenses incurred to attend such engagements.

Quite often this money, like salaries, goes towards recurrent expenditure for a household which has to cater for its needs.

Abraham Maslow, who is known for the theory on the hierarchy of needs placed psychological needs as the basic requirement for human survival. Things like food, water and so on.
There is no doubt that such needs are incremental as per one’s needs.

The general tendency, however, is to have most workshop out of town, which ordinarily brings an embedded disruption to one’s routine work, which is precisely why participants have to be paid for such in the first place.

Then of course there are additional allowances for transport and so on.

In the case of any injuries or loss of life, there is often an indemnification for any liability.

While some conveners for workshops provide accommodation, participants generally prefer to be paid in full and decide things like where they will stay, largely for purposes of saving money.

Some organisations with strict policies abhor such arrangements for one reason or another.

But it is quite a common practice to pay allowances, which participants use to meet arising costs, especially for accommodation.

There is no doubt that earning this extra money is a serious motivation for partaking in workshops, seminars, retreats, strategic plans, at least to borrow common terminologies used for such fixtures, which ordinarily increase as the year heads to an end.

There is no doubt that the intentions of paying one for attendance are noble, notwithstanding the commonly arising challenges from workshops.

Generally, workshops provide an expectation to receive, for legitimate or conflated reasons.
There is no doubt that this is a survival issue which is based on calculative tendencies to meet one’s daily needs and other recurrent expenditure.

It is incisive to note that such tendencies are shaped by macro-economic conditions which have a bearing on things such as the disposable income.

Even for local seminars, which may not provide per diems, there is often the prospect of free lunch, which often motivates attendance for those partaking in the communion.

It is quite incisive to note that some participants have a tendency of only marching to hotels during lunch time and retreating back to their offices afterwards. Quite often, such participants would have been mingling around doing other things, or were not even participating during the course of the discussions.

There is no doubt that even with stable conditions, human nature dictates an insatiable quest to earn more financial and material benefits, just in line with Maslow’s hierarchical needs.

In most instances there isn’t any commensurate output realised from the congregation of fixtures, which is quite worrisome, especially considering fundamental requirements for service delivery.

It is quite suicidal to spend a lot of time and money on ventures that have very little to do with organisational productivity and enhancing customer satisfaction.

Most of the times, workshops are conducted at the very furthest point.

From a human resources point of view, this, of course, is to allow for undivided attention from participants who stand to be disturbed by incessant phone calls from the office and other such distractions.

There is no doubt that having workshops outside town brings more per diems and “business” to operators within the tourism and hospitality industry, who need such for their survival.

In real terms, however, out of town fixtures come with a lot of additional expenditure on things like airfares, fuel costs, accommodation and a lot of other logistical arrangements.

While workshops are a time to strategize and pool ideas which have to be felt organisationally in terms of profit, delivery of services and client satisfaction, participants generally see such fixtures as a time to “cool off”, notwithstanding the amount of work which has to be done, if any.

This writer has in the past organised workshops countless time.

Commonly this writer has often been asked the geographical location of the workshop.

Ordinarily such questions make sense for planning purposes. However, there is no doubt that such questions are conveniently asked to determine the worthiness or not of the fixture.

At times, there is the question on whether there is some money involved, or even hard currency altogether.

This is often asked by media colleagues co-opted to provide coverage.

Frankly speaking, there is a monetary motivation, which leads professionals to generally see any foreign working visits as jaunts and not worthy missions for meaningful business.

But this is not to say the problem of such built perceptions exists in the media alone.

Some years back, this writer worked as a junior officer in one particular district.

Unfortunately, this district did not seem attractive to a host of non-governmental organisations.

Then came the time when one agency came to the district and engaged with my principal on the intended areas of collaboration.

A workshop was convened within the district, at a lodge which was some 50km away.

The agency made provisions for a “full board”, only providing transport allowance, which attendants, later protested against as a “pittance”.

Having organised this fixture in the absence of my senior, who had another commitment, this writer was often pestered on the amount which participants were to get at the end of the workshop.

As a greenhorn, innocently unknowing to such “bread and butter issues”, this writer was frankly asked about the money which was to come.

When things had really gotten bad, this writer finally mustered some boldness and engaged the convenors on the remonstrations which had emerged in the camp.

Despite the richness of the discourse, participants were, however, infuriated that this agency did not pay them the allowance which they expected. Even some vowed never to attend any congregation funded by this particular agency.

The workshop ended on a low note.

The next meeting was strategically held at a reasonably serene hotel closer to the capital in one of the closer provinces. The atmosphere was, of course, jovial and participants even smiled all the way as they were getting paid in hard currency.

This time around the agency had specified the “bread and butter issues” as opposed to speculation.

Unfortunately, some participants, who had attended the initial fixture could not make the cut this time around.

This writer was given specific nominations of our more senior colleagues from the province and other seniors who had very little to do with the actual fixture.

While colleagues smiled at the prospects of eventually being paid in hard currency (which was the form of exchange then), there was some consternation by some participants who were wondering just how much the convenors who had travelled across the country, had gotten in convening the workshops.

It was much like the legendary story of a visually-impaired man who was spoiled with a plate full of meat but instead of thanking his colleagues, he asked if they did not receive a whole goat each.

While workshops can be well meaning, they often create conditions for aggrandisement on the part of both the funders, participants and at times even service providers, especially in the hospitality industry.

At times they create an unwarranted entitlement from attendees, who never want to delegate their juniors.

This writer’s principal had a tendency of simply attending the site visits alone with her selected counterparts and others who represented one certain organisation which was working in advancing social programming.

Even then, my principal then had a tendency of taking all the key fixtures which were well lined up, even in-between vacation, study or annual leave days.

There is no doubt that employees who often participate in workshops constantly pry for any opportunity to make some money.

Then there is the problem of cliques.

While workshops are useful for building synergies, they often end up becoming closed social gatherings for people with strong personal and professional interactions.

Quite often, the workshop ends up becoming a convenient opportunity to simply catch up, at times even at the expense of the funded mission and generally organisational or sectorial goals.

This grab it all tendency has a bearing on organisational succession, especially when young people are part of an entity.
In terms of human resources, workshops are an integral element for the company. However, the goals have to be attained accordingly.

The tendency of scheming, strategising at times with disproportionate amount of work being done has a bearing on productivity.

At the end, the quest for survival ends up becoming the chief motivation for participants.

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