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Are South Africans hard workers?  

Sep 19, 2018

It sometimes seems as if certain countries are more than happy to appoint South Africans, but do South Africans really have a better work ethic than other countries? The recent data of the  Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) goes a long way to supporting this viewpoint.

Research indicates that South Africans are working a lot more hours than the legal requirement, with an average of 43,3 hours per week. According to Statistics South Africa (SSA), there are only about 16 million people working in South Africa, but 85% of them are working more than 40 hours per week and 30% of these people are working more than 45 hours per week.

Top five in the world

South Africans are listed as the fifth most hardworking country in the world. Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia and Turkey are the only countries spending more time on their work. Israel is on the heels of South Africa with 40,4 hours per week. According to the Stellenbosch University’s (SU’s) Bureau for Economic Research, the most hardworking sectors in South Africa are the mine industry, the wholesale and retail sector, the financial sector and the insurance sector.

Australia, the Netherlands, the USA and New Zealand

New Zealand and the USA also work nearly 40 hours per week with respectively 37,6 and 38,6 hours, while Australians work approximately 35 hours. The Netherlands is one of the countries that work the least amount of hours per week with an average of 29,2 hours.

South Africans also do not necessarily spend all their time at their main employer and that might indicate that South Africans are willing to do extra work for an additional income. Many South Africans of course put in the hours but don’t necessarily measure good on the productivity sliding scale. In terms of cooperation between employers and employees, South Africa is ranked 134th from 144 countries according to the WEF Global Competitiveness Index. This goes hand in hand with South Africa’s high figure of unskilled employees and increasing crime figures.

Ethics in the workplace

Business ethics is something totally different though. It doesn’t even have something to do with the impact associated with if someone is caught with his hand in the cookie jar, but the perception thereof in the company. South Africans working abroad will possibly testify to this. Certain countries have a very high business ethics and creates an environment where peer pressure makes unethical behaviour nearly impossible. South Africa does unfortunately not have a good reputation as far as ethics is concerned.

The pace of corruption in government is increasing, even though more individuals are caught. In the private sector justice is also claiming its dues. But countries such as Australia also feel the pressure if economic growth is decreasing. According to Business Insider, 27% of Australians believe that it is common practice in their industry to bribe people for contracts and 31% of them is convinced that companies are trying to present their financial statements in a better light than what it really is. A shocking 17% of people believe that it is acceptable to twist reports in order to achieve financial goals. Business ethics is a battle being fought worldwide.

Most ethic countries in the world

The countries where employees transgress the law the least, where positive organisational values are being maintained and ethical principles like equity and honesty are successfully followed are:

  1. Japan
  2. Spain
  3. Germany

And according to the Global Business Ethics Survey, the countries at the bottom of this list are Russia, Brazil and India. One of the factors that was taken into consideration is employees telling lies. Only 11% of Japanese employees will tell a lie while 37% of Brazilian employees regard it as acceptable.

Work conduct in other countries

South Africans working abroad are facing many challenges. Apart from becoming accustomed to a new workplace’s business ethics, one must also consider the conduct and conventions that are part of the new work culture. The first step is finding similarities between your own work conventions and that of someone else. If you find that your new employees are just as task orientated as you or are just as willing to work after five, acknowledge it. Furthermore you need to learn to be open to new positive practices, for example to become used to taking lunches or acquiring more direct and open communication.

Adjust in this way

Working abroad is a huge opportunity to broaden your horizons. Use every opportunity to not only brag with your South African industriousness, but also to improve your own conduct and practices in the workplace. Ethics can also mean something else in one country compared to another. It is thus your own responsibility to find your path and decide for yourself where you draw the line. It is easy to get carried away with a negative culture. For this reason you need to carefully see which way the cat jumps before accepting a job opportunity. The best way to preserve your own ethics is to ensure that your value system is in line with your employer.

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