Managing underemployment in organisations

Underemployment seems to be the hallmark of modern workforce. In it are inherent problems such as limited job satisfaction, lower than expected remuneration and negative emotional well- being.

Underemployment is a situation where workers are employed below their education and skills levels. Research has also shown that there are two types of this phenomenon- the visible and invisible. The visible arm is where an employee is working less hours than is typical in their field. The employee is willing to work more hours but cannot get full time employment. Such people often work part time jobs just to make ends meet. They are rendering their services for less pay. Invisible underemployment includes working on full time jobs that do not fully utilise an employee’s skills set. A skilled worker gets to do a low skilled job because they could not secure a job commensurate with their skills. Both phenomena are increasingly becoming common in our local context. I have always challenged organisations to specify the minimum requirements for jobs as a function of the job and not the labour market.

Causes of underemployment can be attributed to adverse economic conditions such as recession caused by a decline in economic activities. Changes in technology can also result in excess labour supply and low demand due to layoffs. Under such circumstances a low paying, low skilled and part-time job is often preferred to no job.

While underemployment may seem like a business bargain, it carries real risk for the business in the long run. The effects trickle down to the occupational scale and productivity often drops. The reason is because highly qualified workers are more likely to be dissatisfied with the job they are forced to take by circumstances. They are likely to be bored, resentful and distracted than those whose skills are commensurate with the job requirements. Chronic underutilisation of education skills and human capital engenders workplace frustration and low morale. Underemployment also has an effect on an employee identity and value proposition.

Paradoxically, today young graduates expect good jobs as their just reward for years of increasingly expensive higher education. Additionally, they also prefer interesting work that offers a chance of personal career growth and high incomes later. I have heard one say,” Most of us have jobs that are too small for our spirits.’

As a way forward thoughtful employers must create conditions that try to ensure employees are engaged to their work and in turn to the company. Policies that further develop and promote internal promotions rather that hiring external candidates can capture greater value from the employees.

Current Human Resources Management trends talk of employee employability as a strategy to encourage workers to use their higher order skills. Employers are talking of outplacement strategies where they try to assist employees to unlock knowledge and skills to be utilised beyond their life with the organisation. Management creativity will manage underemployment economically.

In order to try manage underemployment , employees should forget about clinging desperately to one job/ company or even a career path. There is a real need for workforce that is competitive which can find work when needed wherever it can be. Management need not be satisfied with employees who only look up to them for career development. Employees need to be given responsibilities to manage their own careers while employers provide the tools and an open environment. Creating a career resilient workforce who are not only dedicated to the idea of continuous learning but should stand ready to reinvent themselves to keep pace with changes becomes an imperative when managing underemployment.

Organisations in the Silicon Valley moved in that direction long back and then it sounded far- fetched. Companies like 3M, Raychem Corporation and Apple also implemented such programs though differently despite a common objective of giving employees power to assess, hone and redirect and expanding their skills so as to stay competitive on the job market. This approach requires a sea change in attitude and values. The new mandate for leaders is to get rid of traditional   definitions of loyalty and allow employees to jump the ship and go.

Another approach is changing the usual view of a career path. In the old days it meant sticking with one company and rising in an area of speciality. These days both company and employees are healthier if employees have multiple skills which will allow them to move easily across functional boundaries to avoid underemployment. Employees should be comfortable switching back and forth between regular duties and special projects when the right fit with one career path and or organisation can no longer be found.

In the long run businesses have a lot more to gain when they do not turn a blind eye on underemployment. Organisations should not expect employees to feel grateful for being employed in difficult times but should be cognisant of the effects disengaged staff. Employees on the other hand need to constantly benchmark their skills. These and more approaches will awaken and galvanise organisations so that square pegs and round pegs find their way into the right holes.

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 242 772778 or visit our website at

Best practices in human resources management

Human Resources (HR) best practices are premised on universal HR principles that provide companies with optimal business performance, regardless of which organization or industry they are applied to. The ability to attract and retain talent is rapidly becoming one of the key issues for HR Managers and their organisations across the world. The HR Department and HR Management by leaders play a significant role in how profitable and successful a company can become. It's more than just making sure employees get to work in time and follow the proper dress code. HR Management improves the company by recruiting and retaining top employees, developing successful leaders, ensuring newly hired employees succeed and keeping up company morale.

One of HR Management best practice is employment security. Having an employer who enables the employee to provide for themselves and their family is, in essence, the number one reason why people come to work. This concept of security is paramount and underpins almost everything Human Resources do. When this employment security is threatened, for example when there is a restructuring or a layoff, there are immediate negative ripples throughout the organization. When employees are laid off, it is usually the organization that pays the price. They are the ones who have invested in the selection, training, and development of these employees and this comes with a cost. If the organization does not focus on retaining its people, they are more likely to leave and work for competitors.

HR Practitioners need to have their organisations invest in training and development opportunities to improve the current workforce, focus on skill-specific training, and realize the value that young workers place on learning. As industries are advancing at an ever-increasing pace, HR Management can support and encourage employees to grow as well, keeping them more engaged in their work and the organization. Another key practice here is to allow trained employees to utilize their newly acquired skills in order for organisations to benefit from the investment.

Each employee should have well-defined reporting relationships, clear responsibilities and an understanding of their scope of work. Best practice now emphases the need for employees to also understand the strategic goals of the organisation and the role of their department and job in achieving it.

Annual performance reviews are a staple of HR practices, but these usually once-a-year evaluations are not necessarily the best way to provide feedback to employees. Instead, provide them with frequent feedback, so they are always in the know as to what their goals are and how they are improving in their position. Managers should sit down with their employees at least once a quarter, if not once a month, to discuss performance. This not only allows managers to be more connected to their employees, it also lets employees feel more engaged in their work. Self-rating should be a part of the evaluation process as it empowers employees. Evaluation becomes fairer if it is based on achievements of the employee, tracked over the year. Cross-functional feedback, if obtained by the immediate boss from another manager (for whom this employee’s work is also important), will add to the fairness of the system.

Another best practice in HR Management is employee recognition. Rewards are not only for the top performers but also a few others who need to be motivated to exhibit their potential.

HR practitioners can also focus on breaking down the traditional hierarchical structure of layers of managers, team leaders, and employees and replacing it with self-managed teams. This means that no individual has total responsibility for a team’s performance. Instead, everybody works together to achieve a common goal, with team members taking turns to lead particular projects based on their expertise and experience. Self-managed teams encourage everyone to take responsibility for business success by giving them some personal accountability for performance. It is also usually the case that employees working in such team frameworks benefit from higher levels of motivation and morale as they feel more in control of their daily work.

HR practitioners are able to effectively execute the above-mentioned practices and more, only if they understand the strategic direction of the organisation. The call even goes further, where best practice expects them to contribute to that strategy formulation.

When all has been said and done, consistency is the HR Management best practice backbone. Any HR professional should know the company's policies and procedures and enforce them fairly (and be seen to be fair) across the board for all employees. If the managers play favorites, or are appearing to play favorites, then employees are less likely to actually abide by the organization's procedures. This also breeds mistrust between management and employees.

In conclusion the world of HR Management is changing, with an increased sense of purpose and focus on activities that add value to the business as a whole. No longer thought of as merely an administrative or reactive field, HR Management can lead the way in terms of positive business change. Hence, it is vital to understand the latest trends and best practices in this field.

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 242 772778 or visit our website at

How to keep employees engaged during an economic downturn

The current economic situation characterised by high inflation levels have negatively impacted on business productivity and employee morale. Employee’s behaviours and conduct is usually characterised by fear and uncertainty which makes it difficult for managers to keep them focussed and motivated. But for managers keeping employees engaged despite the economic turmoil is key because engagement is directly linked to performance and ultimately the survival of an organisation. With imminent reduction in productivity, reduced working hours and uncertainty, employees are worried about the turn of events in the economy and they need to be helped in some way to cope with their work.

Economic recessions are a global phenomenon, and many organisations also struggle from various social, economic, political and technological challenges. There is little managers can do about the economy at large, but there are certain management techniques that they can implement to try and protect their companies, employees and themselves. One of the best ways for managers to minimise staff disengagement is to open up communication and engage employees emotionally at the workplace. It has never been more critical to keep communication open in organisations. Leaders need to be mindful that engagement in bad times is the difference between surviving and closure.

Having to show care is a brilliant strategy when managing in turbulent times. Caring for employees will show employees that management is cognisant of the challenges faced in terms of their welfare, execution of duties and meeting customer needs. The challenging facet to this approach is that employees would then want to know how management will address the challenges. During my experience I have found that some of the solutions actually lie with the employees themselves. Issues of flexi time may be proposed and on the far end voluntary retrenchment may actually have takers.

Providing feedback on a regular basis is a must do. Consider new ways to change the attitudes and behaviours of employees when doing so. For example, if the feedback to be given is negative, desist from telling employees with authority as employees are stressed already. For example, having to deal with a worker’s safety requirement of wearing hats, it’s not about using authority to enforce the same but a different approach like asking them whether they are comfortable with their hats or if they fit properly may be a better approach. Gently remind them in a pleasant way the purpose of these hats as protective tools. This will yield compliance without resentment or emotional upset. I would like to refer to the studies by B.F Skinner the psychologist. These proved that an animal when rewarded for good behaviour will learn much more rapidly and retain what it learns far more effectively than an animal punished for bad behaviour. Equally with human beings when we criticise, we do not make lasting changes but instead incur resentment. In as much as human beings’ thirst for approval, managers should note they dread condemnation. Never tell your employees that they should feel lucky to have a job during an economic downturn. Operating on a sense of gratitude is even a bigger threat to wining the heart of employees.

Also give robust constructive feedback that is focused on issues and give guidance to employees. Remember what Abraham Lincoln once said, do not criticise someone, they are just what we would be under similar circumstances. Leaders need to realise that criticisms are like homing pigeons. They always return home. The employees we correct and condemn will probably justify and condemn us in return.

Keep encouraging the development of employees. Developing employees may be the last thing for most managers right now. You need however to position your employees for good times when they return. This also gives a sense of continuity and hope which in turn will help ease the stress and anxiety that employees feel.

Also give people the opportunities to do what they can best and always let them know what you expect of them. Employees are constantly being bombarded by bad economic news and they can easily become distracted and lose trail. By communicating regularly even those roles you think are implied and understood, you keep them on track and focussed.

Such challenging times and the constant changes organisations now face call for continuous review of Human Resources strategy and policies. The focus should be on ensuring organisational competitiveness and sustainability during the economic crises and any changes in general.

It is very natural for employees to be fearful when economic times are uncertain. That fear paralyses them. The antidote to fear in today’s economic circumstances is stability and security which are elusive. Employees tend to feel managers are stonewalling and sugar-coating challenges being faced in the workplace making them more fearful. As managers we have to strive to be candid and honest in all our dealings with employees. In conclusion, it is important to remember that organisations’ competitiveness depends on staff engagement.

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 242 772778 or visit our website at

Tips for effective employee recognition

A lot has been written on employee recognition programmes. How organisations should implement them depends on your company needs. Efforts should also be made to try and understand what motivates your team. When employee recognition systems are used correctly, they reinforce and enrich organisation culture. It then follows that effective recognition systems make employees engaged.

People cherish the idea of being needed. Think of the times you have stopped to ask directions. A person may even repeat the directions a couple of times to make sure you get it. We all like to be experts even if it’s for a moment. Being recognised gives one a sense of superiority and accomplishment which translates into a sense of self-worth. For leadership, it is not a sign of weakness to let others know you value them. It is actually a sign of security and strength. If anything, when people feel needed, they are far more productive and creative.

Practically effective recognition systems involve promoting high performance, improvements, availing opportunities and giving guidance. Employees operating in this environment are known for:

  • Making things happen
  • Seeing and seizing opportunities
  • Influencing the opinions and actions of others
  • Adding value to leadership
  • Drawing winners to them
  • Equipping others to excel
  • Providing ideas to help an organisation
  • Living up to their commitment and showing loyalty to the organisation and the leadership

Consequently, when a manager has searched and found these employees, there is need to use either of the many effective recognition systems to appreciate their achievements. These include:

  1. Making use of momentos

This is a tangible remembrance of something good one did. Trophies, awards and even handwritten letters can be given to employees. Employees appreciate these not because they have any material value but because they remind them of the good they did. It is a way of relieving that memory. If such recognition is to be effective, do it in front of other people as well as one on one. This is a more effective way of appreciating someone’s effort because a private compliment turned public can instantly and dramatically increase in value. Written letters have a personal touch. They also represent an investment from the writer and tend to be quite powerful.

  1. Encouragement

This in a way recognises the potential in employees. This is very practical because employees are in need of a good word, an uplifting compliment to fire their hopes and dreams. Managers, be brilliant conversationalist who are always encouraging employees to achieve their goals.

Say the right words at the right time. There is need to be careful when dealing with people to say the rights words at the right time because wrong words said at the wrong time discourage people. Equally wrong words said at the right time frustrate someone and right words said at the wrong time confuse someone. But saying something right at the right time encourages that person. Whenever you do this be mindful that people can tell the difference between hollow words and something said from the heart.

Listening is an integral part of encouraging employees. Just being an effective listener bears a lot of impact. Peter Drucker once said, 'The most important thing in communication is to hear what is not being said.” Leaders leave a mark in an individual’s soul when they are emphatic. It is indeed an effective employee appreciation system to always focus on the individual not just the ideas being expressed. As you converse with the employee make it a point that you listen to understand and not to reply. When communicating the key between being the parties involved is to establish some common ground so that you can connect with each other. It is through listening that you will get to know about challenges that may hinder good performance. It also good practice to ask employees for the possible solutions. Strong teams are built in the process making the work environment more enjoyable.

Managers should make use of words like “I wish you believed in yourself as much as I believe in you.” This may be the first time such words are said to an employee, imagine the amount of inspiration! By doing so you will be helping them to pursue their dreams. As a manager you can never go wrong by encouraging the dreams of others.

There are other various ways to reward employees and these include monetary pay outs, functions, promotions etc. When a leader embraces such practically simple approaches not only will they be heading for their greatness but also will be winning the people’s hearts. Living such simple charismas will make employees engaged, bringing respect, achievement and success along with it.

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 242 772778 or visit our website at

Making change happen

Usually when change is mentioned or introduced in organisations, it often triggers a fear response. This is why most people are so resistant to move away from the familiar to the unknown.

In overcoming the resistance to change organisational leaders need to overcome the inherent ownership challenges of ‘what I have and what I know’. Organisation change falters when employees fail to buy- in into the idea they do not identify with. It is the role of the leadership to communicate an appealing vision of change in combination with a vision of continuity. The process therefore requires that all people are assured that which defines the organisational identity will be preserved despite the changes. In instances where the change is that identity all people should be involved in coming up with the desired identity. Allow employees to incubate the idea inside them, invest in it and let them test it. Leaders themselves need to really brace for a wave of resistance and be ready to face the challenges. It is a requirement that change drivers master the battle of turfs. Resistance is managed by probing the issues behind it.

Before the start of the change process an organisation must evidence widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo. Watch out for rigidity, over-control, old systems/practises etc. as they may prevent change from happening. Most organisations are slow moving objectives and the tendency of maintaining rigidity and excessive levels of controls are inherent. This is especially so when the situations are deemed right because they adhere to internal controls. The likelihood of embracing a new culture of experimentation is far-fetched as there is fear to fail or doing things wrong. For change to happen nothing should be regarded as permanent any more. Almost everything must be challenged and be opened for improvement. This is so because over years employees build internal walls around their territories. Demolishing these walls only happens if organisations open up and embrace new ways of doing things.

With all change journeys, often times everyone feels motivated at the start and all look forward to the desired results. However hard times come in the middle and all efforts look like a failure. Organisations encounter moments when it seems like they cannot move forward. Some will start feeling uncomfortable and the goals seem far away and even the change drivers may start having doubts. But the reality with change as with any new initiative, there is a good chance of running into trouble before the desired results are achieved. Such problems tempt employees to give up this initiative and start something new again or worse still recoil to old accustomed ways of doing things. Obstacles and delays happen in any change process and stopping too soon is by definition a failure. Mastering change requires persistence and perseverance. Do not blame but rather encourage. Remember to always assess and adjust. Those who recognise the struggles of the middle usually succeed. They have the stamina and are flexible and they expect obstacles on the road to success. These obstacles may be faced by remembering the following tips:

Tip 1: Identify and appoint change champions who employees believe in, trust and listen to. Change champions should have a common set of definitions- approaches and simple checklist that everyone is familiar with. Poor communication often fails change efforts.

Tip 2: Integrate your plans   for change with your   overall plans, make change part   and parcel of the business plan, never should it be an add on managed separately and independently. Look closely at your project design - does it address the underlying  processes of getting the work done e.g. performance management, resource allocation? Isn’t there an over reliance on IT to provide the magic bullet and not explicitly tackling the necessary behavioural change needed?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

#Tip 3: Managers accountable for making change happen should systematically and rigorously appraise behaviours accordingly.

#Tip 4: Keep your team in the loop and open channels for collegial information sharing

Usually the content of change management is reasonably correct, but its implementation has been woefully underdeveloped hence many corporates change efforts have been greeted with rolling eyes from employees. Be always mindful that there is no panacea to change implementation but that with any change process every two steps forward often are followed with one step behind. Setbacks are a natural part of the process. Change needs to be embraced as an opportunity and not   as a threat. So, with a mind-set of persistence, organisations can move towards the desired change they envisage.

Change initiative is like the start of a marathon. Change will be occurring rapidly in some units whereas in others it would not even have gotten under way. Meaningful change isn’t easy but you don’t   have to be omniscient to pull it off.

In conclusion change gurus note that it is very difficult for leaders to spell out in advance precisely what the future should look like to many especially now where other swift changes may overtake undergoing change initiatives. What is important however is to remain guided by organisation’s strategic direction, values and mandate.

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 242 772778 or visit our website at