Our work ethic

In rural Sindh, being 30 minutes late is not considered an issue. Nor is skipping work


Naween A Mangi October 09, 2015
The writer is a journalist and founder of Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust

A teenager working as a part-time teacher quit his job last week because he wasn’t getting enough time to use his fancy new mobile phone or ride his elder brother’s motorbike. He’s a good teacher, liked by his five-year-old students and popular among his co-workers. In the joblessness of today’s world, he has secure and productive work at a young age.

A 35-year-old construction supervisor with a decent salary working in a rural area, and a family of 15 to feed, told his manager he wasn’t interested in the job anymore because he didn’t get a best performance award, which was given instead to his colleague whom he personally dislikes. And an illiterate gatekeeper with a young family and no other income generation prospects said he would resign at the end of the month because his supervisor told him off for not sweeping up the courtyard properly; something he considered a personal insult.



I see a lot of statements from politicians about Pakistan’s great human resource base of hard-working and dedicated workers. But these three examples got me thinking about what our work ethic really is; especially outside the big cities where one finds less competition and notably among people with lower levels of education and exposure.

Three trends, I have noticed, are commonly found in the workplace in rural Sindh.

First, tardiness. Being 30 minutes late is not considered an issue. Skipping work days a few times a month without any significant reason and without intimating your manager, is also not considered a big deal by workers. Second, carelessness. Forgetting assigned tasks is routine and expected. Spending several hours chatting over lunch or tea is also commonplace. And not showing up at a scheduled meeting for no good reason is considered acceptable. Third, unwillingness. Making a fuss or arguing over orders given by a superior is the norm. Most workers will also hurriedly point out if something is not their direct responsibility. And rather than performing a simple task, workers will quickly prefer to assign blame to a colleague.

When I was growing up, I remember the one most prominent and consistent message I received at home was — work hard, stay humble and honour your commitments. This sounds incredibly simple and obvious. And because of childhood training, these values are so deeply ingrained in me, it was only when I saw the workers’ lazy and irresponsible approach towards their work that I realised how immensely important they are.

A good, strong work ethic is developed early in life; it’s then a given that we will be responsible, honest and dedicated members of the workforce. However, when our people are being bred in an environment of dishonesty, where short-cuts and personal gain are prioritised above all else, how can we possibly expect them to develop a solid work ethic?

Let’s consider the environment in rural Sindh. Children attend government schools where teachers, supposed early role models in life, don’t show up on time; if they do come at all, they run their students home to fetch them food and drinks paying little heed to the task of teaching. How then, are children to learn about punctuality, regularity or responsibility?

When kids finish primary school, their parents hand them a small bribe to pay the headmaster — to secure a leaving certificate needed to enroll in secondary school. There these youngsters will likely see at least a couple of school clerks or gardeners who don’t ever attend to their duties and instead illegally pay a fraction of their salary to someone else to perform those tasks. As exams approach and teachers show students how to copy answers out of textbooks, that becomes an accepted standard. Out in their villages, they’re likely to see men whiling away their time at gambling or drug dens — also considered the norm. They see policemen on duty who turn a blind eye in exchange for a few rupees. How then, are they to learn about honesty, integrity, hard work or effort?

If someone in the village has secured the much-coveted government job through large-scale bribery and political association, he’s more likely than not to become snobbish, unapproachable and hold derogatory views about the common village public. If someone else has gone abroad, to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia or Iran as labour, he’s likely to come back with an expensive mobile phone and an attitude to match. How then, are our youngtsers to learn about humility, kindness and consideration?

It has become increasingly difficult in rural Sindh to find people — no matter how skilled or unskilled — who have a good work ethic and can be given responsible tasks to perform. The government and communities bear the responsibility to start giving certain life lessons early. We need to teach our children and our youngsters the value of good, old-fashioned hard work, the importance of integrity, the power of cooperation and the necessity of positive thinking versus the act of complaining.

This needs to be tackled at various levels. First, in classrooms teachers must include activities that instill and promote these values at a young age. Second, non-profit and community-based organisations should focus on holding short training sessions for youngsters that include skill-building in areas such as organising work, productivity and teamwork. And in the workplace, employers must do the same with all cadres of workers.

Local bodies’ elections, to be held this month, are the central talking point in villages across Sindh. Candidates are promising paved roads, drainage lines and better functioning schools. If the winners focus even a small portion of their time, effort and attention on simple skill-building initiatives in union councils across the province, the results will be far-reaching and long-lasting.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 10th, 2015.

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COMMENTS (5)

khuurram | 6 years ago | Reply Unfortunately that has been the dilemma of rural sind partly due to the work ethics you have mentioned and partly due to the strong feudal hold that the opportunities have been filled by other ethnicities. A large source of jobs in Karachi could have been filled by these people has been filled by people from other provinces
Alam | 6 years ago | Reply This why everything is made in China and we are destined to remain a third world country.
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