As an HR student, I had been waiting for this opportunity to practise what I had learnt in class. I had worked before but not in the human resources office. I wanted to see how the labour law was being used in the workplace; how realistic it was and the extent to which it can be enforced. The concepts of job analysis and compensation were also things I wanted to see in action. In addition, there was the hope of meeting new people, especially other interns, having fun, and maybe, getting paid. The opportunity to gain much needed work experience was very appealing. In the current economy, the possibility of gaining employment right after graduation is miniscule as organisations want years of relevant working experience. This was my chance to start that journey in the corporate world.
I was called in to the organisation I applied to for my acceptance letter; unbeknownst to me, it was to be my first day at work. I arrived almost at noon in an African print skirt and a blouse and was told by my supervisor to start work immediately; I felt uncomfortable.
During the first few days I felt like a messenger; “Go print this;” “Call Mr … for me;” “Count the days for that person’s leave on the calendar…” After a few days, however, I was asked to complete more substantial tasks. I began to understand the workings of the company and learned one attribute that is vital to the success of an HR Manager: the ability to understand and empathise with the struggles of your employees.
The month was coming to an end and several workers from production (because it is a manufacturing company) came in to see my supervisor for, sometimes, as little as 50 pesewas to buy food. I was shocked! At a point, a production worker came to me and said she did not have enough money for food and wanted GHC 1.00. I stood speechless for a minute, walked quietly to my bag and took out the money for her. Throughout the day I thought about it, mulling over it again and again. This brings me to my current problem.
Was it that the salary of the woman was not enough or that she was not a good manager of her resources?
When pay day came, the door to our office was never dormant for a minute. Production workers kept coming in to complain about injustices in salary payments. Through that I discovered yet another quality of an HR manager; have an open and accessible communication channel. Apparently, the salary rating and grading system had been changed from attendance to output per person. This had not been explained to the understanding of the workers whose highest educational qualification was the WASSCE (those were few). The workings of the new system were foreign to them so they were disgruntled.
Initially, I thought to tell the workers that there were ideal ways of making their demands heard, either by forming a union and choosing a spokesperson or going on strike. However, I felt that was not in my place to do, besides, I did not want to break the trust of those who had put me in this position to learn. Will speaking to the employees breach the ethics of the company?
I was really in a dilemma. A lot of questions were going through my mind. I had calculated and realised that with the cost of living rising every day, the salaries of the employees were so meagre that it would not be able to take care of them and their dependants.
In the end, I spoke to my supervisor about it and we both decided on what could be done to calm the situation: hold a staff durbar to talk to the workers and also speak to management to do something about the salaries.
My internship was soon over as I had to go back to school. My whole idea about human resources had taken a different turn. I had seen, heard and learned a lot, however at this point, I knew that being in HR is not just a matter of managing the people you work with but also being a part of their lives in general.
These are my confessions.
Eugenia Anukun Dabson