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Jeans are not acceptable in the office environment. Male colleagues are to be addressed as Mr or Mrs or Miss as the case maybe until such time that a close relationship has been formed. It is safer to ask if you can call a colleague by their first name.
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Lateness can be a problem particularly for colleagues who use public transport. However, punctuality is still expected of everyone. You have to push for the achievement of deadlines, as people tend to feel that deadlines can be pushed back. There is a growing problem of absenteeism in the workplace basically due to the AIDS pandemic, as people have to attend funerals that have become all too frequent. With the extended family concept intrinsic in Malawian culture, employees find themselves having to attend funerals of close relations as well as distant relations.
That is a cultural expectation. Furthermore, funerals are fairly elaborate affairs and employees could therefore be away for an afternoon. They may even be absent two days or more, if, for instance the burial of a close relation is to take place in a village hundreds of kilometres away.
This is a problem that the Malawian business sector is facing but there is no easy solution as culture still has a lot of influence on the Malawian way of life, even in urban centres. Generally, however, Malawians are a hard working productive lot. Malawians dress very well, though increasingly, more casual. If you are attending training workshops, the first day is dressy suits and ties the second day is no-tie, but jacket, the third day is casual.
At work, people generally come in on time; they will often come and go a lot because they have so many other obligations. A workshop can be anything from a very formal three or four day long skills training course, a policy development workshop, an internal strategic planning event or just a basic talk with community leaders at the village level.
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Typically people will require a per-diem or some type of sitting allowance at any organized event, related to work, or to community development activities. This is both a crucial income supplementing activity and a way for managers to curry favour and maintain power in the workplace. Canadians may find the workshop culture very frustrating as it can have a significant impact on productivity and absenteeism.
Also, people are doing other important things that are not related to work, such as looking after relatives, running second businesses, farming, going to the bank, getting repairs done, attending funerals, trying to find other work etc. How will I know how my staff view me? Being personable is however also of great importance. Lack thereof could actually nullify any advantages attributed to a sound education.
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That does not change if the manager is a non-local. In fact, it is even more important for a non-local to make known to the locals his educational credentials to avoid the perception that the non local was favoured over a more qualified local.
When staff begin to open up to you, it means they feel you are worth their trust and that you deserve to be where you are. Malawian resumes, even for top-management jobs always start with the village they are from, the primary school they went to, their religion and the number of children they have. Relationships are very, very, very important.
Seniority is highly prized and has great status. Innovation and initiative is not always rewarded because it has downstream affects on other people that can lead to new expectations and responsibilities.
Accountability is not a very prized concept. My sense is that expat staff members are often considered a necessary evil. They do lots of work and sort out the internal arguments without getting too involved in local politics. It is not uncommon for colleagues to comment that whereas Malawians may not be as trustworthy in the workplace, "it is good to have an azungu manager, we can trust you". This kind of attitude can also be very frustrating. At the same time, you will also find that your colleagues will tell you one thing, agree with you, and then go and do something completely different.
It goes something like this: You will never really know how you are viewed by your colleagues. Until you leave, that is, and find out what kind of party they throw you If you go back and forth and maintain your relationships, the dynamic changes and matures. This is the most satisfying thing for me. As I return every year, my relationships evolve into friendships and I grow even closer to a strange country that I still know very little about. In the workplace, how are decisions taken and by whom? Is it acceptable to go to my immediate supervisor for answers or feedback?
Many decisions in the work place are made by supervisors and managers. However, other decisions are made in committee meetings. Policy decisions are taken by the Board of Directors of the organization. In the majority of organizations the management style is still top-down.
Supervisors sometimes do throw the ball back to subordinates to solicit suggestions about handling specific issues. That, I must say is not the norm. It is acceptable to approach your immediate supervisor to seek answers or feedback.
Bypassing a supervisor is strongly discouraged, as the fall-out tends to be extremely damaging. Inevitably, you will be faced with the decision, especially if you are very goal-oriented or frustrated by process. Decisions are often generated through consensus, around the table, but then the manager does what he or she sees fit. New ideas are often slow to come forward. Analysis, and the resources needed to conduct analysis often appear to be in short supply. But, I really think that this is a cultural thing, and the culture of analysis is just different from what we expect or relate too.
Change is slow in Malawi. Gender, Class, Religion and Ethnicity. What impact would the above attitudes have on the workplace? Women are generally considered inferior to men basically in all aspects of life. Religion is a dominant aspect of Malawian life. Anyone who professes lack of affiliation to a religion is viewed with a little consternation.
Even those who do not regularly attend meetings of their religion nevertheless profess to be members of some faith or other. The predominant religion is Christianity. Malawi has no class system. People generally find themselves in certain informal classes by virtue of their achievements through wealth or education. People are very conscious of their ethnic origins and this sometimes becomes apparent when candidates are being considered for a job vacancy.
However, various ethnic groups live side by side very amicably. The status of women is still very poor. Domestic violence is very common, but not often talked about. Men often do very little and expect women to work the double day. Men have more free time and leisure time. Women have limited access to productive assets. They are also particularly vulnerable to contracting AIDS given social customs of marrying them to older men. Syncretism exists in both rural and urban areas. Not a big issue; the word is seldom used outside of academia and the old-school of Marxist political economy This is not an exaggeration.
It is, however, an issue for the white expats who are third-generation estate people. This is still a big issue. Where you are from and what tribe you are, are important issues. Alliances in the workplace are formed on the basis of ethnicity and this is quite openly discussed and joked about. For example, you may hear, "Ngoni people are the warriors"; everyone else is seen as passive. How important is it to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business?
It is important because that tends to build trust. One should show an interest in the person outside the work environment. An interest in such personal details will draw the person closer. Caveat, it should not be like an inquisition. It is more effective if you reciprocate with your own personal details. I am sure that every azungu is the butt of lots of inside jokes among their Malawian colleagues. Relationship building takes time. Work on it every day by taking the time to stop and say hello in the morning, discussing events in the papers etc.
Joining people at the local spots for lunch and eating nsima a kind of porridge made from mais that is very popular are good icebreakers. Most Malawians do not expect you to go out with them and socialize after work; partly because of the expense and the lack of transport. It is logistically difficult and no one expects to be ferried around by the azungu with the car. Would a colleague or employee expect special privileges or considerations given our personal relationship or friendship.
Colleagues with whom you have a good personal relationship may try to obtain special privileges. One of the most commonly sought privileges is the employment of a relative. Because of the extended family phenomenon, Malawians will often try to help their relatives in this regard. Hiring friends is standard, whether it be for full-time jobs or contracts.
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You might not know a staff person and a recruit are related until much later or find out by accident. I have a work-related problem with a colleague. Do I confront him or her directly? When you have a problem with a colleague, you confront the colleague in private and try to straighten it out. However, often times you have to be a little more alert to sense that a colleague has an issue with you as Malawians generally are averse to confrontations. A third party can arbitrate if things get really bad, but try and settle things-one-on-one and in a quiet way.
Getting colleagues to speak openly if they are having a problem with you is difficult. What motivates my local colleagues to perform well on the job? Malawians are still motivated by money to perform well on the job because wage rates are still very low. Other benefits such as medicals and housing also rank highly as motivators. Depends; a combination of job satisfaction, commitment, money, loyalty, good working conditions, fear of failure—or none of the above.
Definitely, money and security are big concerns. Good working conditions, benefits, access to vehicles and extra income in workshops are all important. To help me learn more about the local culture s , please recommend: