The Human Resource Management: Challenges and Prospects for Organizational Productivity

human resource management

Human beings are the most important resource in an organization. A firm’s success depends on the capabilities of its members. Most problems, challenges, opportunities, and frustrations in an organization are people-related.

Human Resource Management is one of the toughest duties of a manager since humans differ in terms of attitudes, values, aspirations, motivations, assumptions, psychology, and life goals.

Looking at today’s competitive world, managerial level staff will require more conceptual and strategic skills. Thus, managers should for example ensure suitable, relevant, and up-to-date training for specific skills of lower-level employees.

 Managers have to be proactive, able to anticipate technological developments, and prepare their staff for whatever technological changes that might take place. This will be a successful task only when the HRM itself is fully aware of those changes and has the means to deal with them.

HR managers have several roles to fulfill. They are the guardians of the key assets of the organizations. They are also counselors and protectors of employees and directly responsible for productivity. The government, including the Ministry of Labor, expects HR managers not only to comply with labor laws but also to promote harmony at the workplace; this will directly contribute to a healthier and more attractive work environment. As a result, both job hunters and seekers will feel compelled to target such organizations in their search for new job opportunities.

The success or failure of HR depends on:

  • the top management’s recognition of the importance of HRM, and
  • its commitment to assist HR to carry out its functions.

Human Resources jobholders need capability, integrity, and professionalism to succeed in the ever-changing environment.

The Necessity of Human Resource Management

Management must work with people. The proper use of people in an enterprise undoubtedly has a direct and significant bearing on the productive efficiency of the enterprise. As a result of the importance that managers assign to people who must work with them, terms such as “human resources” “human capital” are used to demonstrate the difference people make in the performance of a manager and consequently the enterprise. No other branch of management has grown so fast in so short a time as Human Resource Management.

There is no organization where the functions of Human Resources Management are not performed at least in their rudimentary form. There is no field in the entire area of management where so many people are so hard at work. From it has emerged new disciplines – Industrial Psychology, Industrial Sociology, Anthropology, and Industrial relations, etc. There are dozens of magazines devoted to the documentation of research findings and the dissemination of information on people at work. “No self-respecting business organization would consider a convention complete without at least one lecture/talk on the management of people at work” Koontz (1987:224).

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Functions of HRM

The essence of all the concerns and mountain of research work in this field is to determine the factors that account for improved employee “productivity” and “satisfaction”. The Human Resource Manager as provided in law and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) is “one who

  • organizes, directs, and coordinates industrial relations activities of the organization.
  • assembles and organizes data concerning problems, such as turnover, absenteeism, and employment of physically handicapped and women.
  • conducts surveys on living costs, wage rates.
  • studies current labor laws and regulations, arbitration decisions, collective bargaining contracts, and other labor relation trends.
  • formulates, interprets, and recommends manpower policies concerning recruitment, selection, collective bargaining, maintenance of personnel records, and educational, health, safety, and incentive programs.
  • develops company policies concerning layoffs, performance reporting, and employee rating.
  • participates in collective bargaining negotiation or advises other company representatives.
  • consults with legal staff to ensure adherence to laws, regulations, and contracts.

Emphasizing the importance of Human Resources to an organization, Thomas J. Watson, (1965) founder of IBM remarked, “you can get capital and erect buildings, but it takes people to build a business.”

Employees as human capital

The renewed emphasis on employees as human capital is to re-emphasize that success in organizations depends on the organization’s ability to manage human capital. Human capital is the overall term used to describe the value of knowledge, skills, and capabilities that may not show on a company’s balance sheet but have a tremendous impact on an organization’s performance.

As Harbison (1973) put it, “the goals of development are the maximum possible utilization of human beings in productive activity and the fullest possible development of the skills, knowledge, and capabilities of the labor force”. Experience from the advanced countries of the world of Japan, the USA, Britain, Sweden, Denmark, and Saudi Arabia attest to the fact that economic growth, higher levels of living, and more equitable distribution of income are the consequences of the investment in human capital. A nation in a hurry, like Nigeria, cannot achieve swift industrialization unless there is proper utilization of skilled and trained manpower. It is the shortest and surest path to technological development and industrial growth. Human resources management and industrial or organizational development are inseparable as one cannot exist without the other (Nwachukwu, 1981).

The major factors in industrial growth and development such as sales volume, product mix, new product development, and improvement in quality and services as well as additions to the improvement of plant and equipment, depending on human resource management (Oladunni 1988). As Lewis Platt (1997), observed, “successful companies of the 21st century will be those who do the best jobs of capturing, storing, and leveraging what their employees know”.

Human capital is the property of the employee who moves about with his human capital, as it is an integral part of his skills, knowledge, and experiences. Management that gives this its rightful place in the organization, formulates appropriate strategies aimed at ensuring that employees have superior knowledge, skills, and experiences. They also ensure that employees have the opportunity to utilize the knowledge, skills and experiences acquired.

The value of skill comes from an application, not storage. Lyndon Johnson, President of the United State of America, in his Manpower Report to Congress underscored the point by observing that manpower report is found in its “concern for people, the most precious resource of the Nation – teenagers with futures to build, men and women with families to feed, house and educate; elderly citizens with productive years still ahead”.

The human resources question

Research work by Sayles and Strauss (1977), Sikula (1985), Serman (1998), Nwachukwu (1990), have highlighted the importance of Human Resources Management to the organization. They pointed out that on average, management spends over 85% of their time on Human Resources matters. This is mainly because this branch of management deals with people. It touches everyone’s life either as an employer or as an employee, whether a subordinate or a boss. “It is like a lightning rod, attracting tensions and pressures from the community, the controls of government, and the anxieties and ever-growing demands of the workforce for equity and expression”. It is a discipline that is directly influenced by the social, political, legal, and economic environment in which the workman lives and is part.

In human resource management, one considers the legal relationship that subsists between the employer and the employee. There is an exchange of promises against remuneration; the employee undertakes an obligation to make himself available to render services. The employer undertakes an obligation to enable the employee to earn the remuneration. The administration of this contract is the responsibility of management. An employee can maintain an action for wrongful dismissal, suspension, unjustifiable variation, layoff, summary dismissal, or repudiation (Nwachukwu, 1999:22).

The Constitution of Nigeria provides in S. 17 that “All citizens without discrimination on any ground whatever have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihoods as well as adequate opportunities to secure suitable employment”. It is this employment that creates challenges for management. The creation of employment is the responsibility of management. We see it as our responsibility to provide work for the vulnerable and the impoverished, the up-rooted and the ravaged women. Also, children, youth, disabled, aged, the urban and rural poor, every group in the society who is in some way disadvantaged. These are the people that are given paramount consideration in the socio-economic development programs.

Human resource management and the total person

The human Resource Manager is interested in labor from cradle to grave, as he is interested in the quality, quantity, and participation rate of the labor force. Management is very concerned about those that will be potential members of the labor force. Thus the interest in the infants to ensure that they grow up and mature properly.

It is idle to empower employees without adequately using the knowledge acquired optimally by encouraging participation and full involvement. One of the challenges of management is how to assist employees to gain new competencies and capabilities, how to evolve a skill-based pay, new ways of facilitating knowledge exchange and mutual learning within the organization (Sherman et al, 1998:4).

The Challenges of Human Resource Management

As has been pointed out, Human resource is the organization’s most important asset. Dealing with the problems arising out of and in the course of employment is a very complex and exasperating undertaking that requires people with identical credentials to match. In industrial organizations, we do not hire hands but a “total person” who comes to work with his own goals, aspirations, needs, stakes, and experiences. We deal with the totality of the worker and working, task and job, perception and personality, workgroups, rewards, and power relations. How to make the worker’s productivity and the work meaningful is a challenge of managing. We recognize that a group of individuals has no group brain, but individual brains.

The human resource management faces a lot of challenges, partly because it deals with people, and people are difficult to manage. There are nine challenges facing the human resource management as depicted in the diagram below. We shall discuss each in a greater detail below.

human resource management and organizational productivity - HRM challenges
HRM Challenges that affects Organizational productivity

Challenge of self-interest

An important cultural factor that influences performance and constitutes a management challenge, deals with valued individual freedom. Employees who value individual freedom pose management problems as they often prefer the Laissez-Faire style of leadership (Nwachukwu, 1987).

Certain professions appeal more to people who have high co-efficient for freedom: architecture, journalism, drama, art, advertising, engineering, and teaching. For example, academic freedom is defended with great zeal and vigor within the University Community. The scientists’ love for freedom is unquestionably strong to investigate problems even though they may appear to have been solved. It is in their culture to consistently reject or ignore the directives and conclusions of others. Their hostility to proposals that contradict their own could have a stifling effect on the work of those under them.

Thus they may appear despite their love for freedom not to be tolerant of others, in the realm of idea. As Miner (1975:180) succinctly puts it, “the concern for freedom together with the personality characteristics which this releases and fosters, may conflict with job demands other than those in creative production”. Of course, every organization demands employee loyalty, willingness to acquiesce in the decisions of others, tolerance, and understanding. These are essential if not inevitable in industrial organization.

Organizations reward their employees for long service, obedience to authority, friendliness, and conformity rather than for creativity or love of individual freedom. How to reconcile these opposing values is a challenge for the management of modern enterprises that appear to reward mediocrity or people who have given up their creative talents for conformity. In some cases, the creative young professional has been accused of insubordination, self-opinionated, arrogant, assuming, a deviate, argumentative or critical of his fellow employees.

Closely allied to self-interest is the challenge of moral values. Personal value is a relatively permanent perceptual framework that shapes and influences the general nature of individual behavior. Sometimes an employee has very strong or uncompromising views on issues. Personal values determine for an individual what is right or wrong, good or bad. An employee who hates “killing” may hate to serve in the armed forces, some may even detest working in factories that manufacture arms and ammunition as he believes that this will promote killing.

There may also be a conflict because of belief about “honesty”. If a job demands the giving of gratification or an outright bribe to win contracts, an employee who is expected to win the contract by performing the act considered by him as dishonesty may elect to fail. The situation may also apply in cases of unfair competitive practices – dishonest advertising, cheating customers, overselling, price collusion by competitors, dishonesty in making and keeping contracts, unfairness, and prejudice in hiring, kickbacks, etc.

How to handle employees with strong values is a problem to Management as the probability of failure for employees in this group is very high. Values are sacrosanct. If they are dominant in a culture, they become difficult for management to deal with. It is hard to charge an individual or group when there are many others ready to applaud them. Any meaningful change that affects dominant belief or values, is better made in the context of the job itself rather than in the individual. This could be achieved through transfer to other jobs or locations, or job redesign. Such is the case in a job involving moral or, ethical values. In extreme cases, the individual may be dismissed or induced to resign in his interest or the public interest.

It is however not unusual for an employee to modify his system to be in greater accord with vocational aspiration actualities. Management should whenever there is a value conflict, offer a logical explanation to the employee. Differences in personal value systems account for much of the conflict in organizations.

Unethical practices abound in organizations. The ethical standard of any industry is determined by the ethical standards of individual executives of each member company in that industry England (1967).

Closely allied to the issue of values, is the conflict arising from incompatible objectives. It is not unusual for the goals of an employee to be at variance with the goals of the organization. A comparison of the goals of the organization and the personal goals of an employer underscores the point being made.

Intelligence, Knowledge and skill challenges

The problem of intelligence deals with the ability to think, to know, and to solve problems. Intelligence, mental ability, knowledge, aptitude, talent, literacy, I.Q., mental deficiency, learning ability, and reasoning, are the concept of this intelligence and job knowledge. They contribute to unsatisfactory performance as they influence job performance.

Intelligence deals with the degree or extent to which an individual is ready to learn new things rapidly and solve problems (reason) correctly. In brief, it deals with the capacity to grasp, rate, and use concepts. Different jobs have special spheres of intellectual competence, which tends to be specific to particular jobs or job families. They represent the intellectual skills and knowledge required to perform certain kinds of work. There is job knowledge that relates to a specific company and the environment in which it operates.

Such things as an awareness of company policies, being informed regarding sources of services in a given area, knowledge of a local labor market, understanding of the biases and preferences of other people within the company, being perceptive regarding such matters as organizational climate or character, knowledge of customers, etc; these are not taught in school but they are intellectual and they affect performance.

The identification of intellectual factors that cause ineffective performance is not always easy. Slow learning of job duties, and silly mistakes, are not the only manifestations of intellectual differences. An individual may attempt to avoid jobs that he does not understand or he knows he cannot handle intellectually. As a result, he may appear to be “goofing off” or insubordinate rather than lacking in mental ability or knowledge. Where such happens, a manager being of considerable higher intelligence, cannot believe that “anyone could be so stupid” and may assume that the problem may be of emotional or motivational nature or that the employee is a trouble-maker.

An employee who is intellectually deficient relative to job demands may manifest itself in different other ways. A person who lacks the appropriate verbal ability, special ability, or job knowledge may become emotionally upset. Vice-chancellor sir, the experience of being continually expected to perform tasks, which are beyond one’s intellectual capacity, is a very unpleasant one. The solutions to these problems depend on nature, for what will work in one situation may not work in another one.

Where verbal ability appropriate to the job is lacking demotion appears to be the best answer for communication is a very important and indispensable tool of managers. If a person failed in a job, shifting him to some other type of job at the same level frequently proves unsatisfactory (Miner, 1975). To demote a person in the job position and either reduce the salary level or place a lower limit on the salary to which he may aspire, is not an easy management task (Nwachukwu, 1992). Dismissal/termination is usually much easier since the individual is quickly gone and any qualms or remorse that the manager may experience is thus more easily forgotten. In the case of demotion, the employee is constantly present to serve as a reminder of the unpleasantness involved or as a lesson to would-be idlers. For this reason many companies, rarely, if ever, demote an employee even when the circumstances require it.

The most often used and abused, is the transfer of employees. Recycling bad material is like polluting the environment with foul gas. The transfer is recommended only where jobs are requiring the same constellation of abilities, not on a random basis. The task of discovering whether an employee is failing to perform because of necessary spatial, mechanical, or numerical ability, is a major management challenge.

Social challenges

Industrial enterprises operate in a society that has its values and norms. Cultural values are the widely accepted directives that establish modes of social relations achievement or performance patterns, goals, approved types of gratification, and social ideals for the society (Miner, 1975:172; Gilmer, 1977:43). These values may include – human dignity, honesty, heroism, democracy, respectability, fair play, success, individual freedom, etc.

This direct behavior of society are instrumental to human motivation. There are within each culture, various sub-cultures associated with classes, ethnic groups, geographical grouping, etc. Each holds its own set of values which may or may not coincide with those of the large units. Belief in independence and individual initiative in Nigeria, vary from one ethnic group to another and are even manifested in religious beliefs – Muslim and Christians, or even among Protestants and Catholics.

Individuals who are members of these different cultural groupings bring to the workplace these differences. Closely allied to this; is the changing values brought about by education and the globalization of businesses. There are pronounced differences between the way the younger generation perceives their environment and the way the older generation perceives their environment. This brings about the “generation gap” and accounts for the extent that the two groups hold somewhat different values at the workplace. It means that younger employees may be guided in their behavior at work by forces that their older supervisors neither understand fully nor appreciate. By the same token, older supervisors may evaluate their younger subordinates based on the value which is not those of the subordinates. We have seen instances where the employee’s manner of dress, hair-do, or manner of speech have entered into the annual employee performance.

The younger employees tend to resent routine work, hard work, paternalistic management style, by whatever guise, while autocratic leadership is a mortal sin. Confrontation, openness, being oneself, saying what you feel, groups, and group decisions are good. Lying which was formerly frowned upon is no longer punishable unless when it occurs under oath and impedes justice; it becomes perjury or at the worst felony.

All these certainly mean changing work ethics. This means also that the younger employee assigned in a job situation characterized by these factors will be described by his superior as lazy, insubordinate, unmotivated, etc.

All these changing values present managers with major challenges to their ingenuity and stamina. The situation is going to be the same in the future with the result that future management job will not be for the less initiated or the amateurs and fainthearted. This is so because traditional appeals to authority, loyalty, fear, etc. will have less appeal because the value and motives that made them work in the past are no longer sustainable. Managers that insist on them will have difficulty attracting qualified personnel. In certain communities, respect for the law is at such a low ebb that stealing government property or stealing from “strangers” is not frowned upon. Consequently, stealing company property is all right. Thus, something may be good for a subculture, but inimical to organizational effectiveness and efficiency.

Cultural diversity creates a problem for human resources managers especially when the workers and superiors come from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Their conception of right and wrong may be so far apart that it may be difficult for one to imagine why the other acts as he does. How to get one to divorce himself from the societal norms and fully accept industrial norms and ethics is a challenge. Open-mindedness and the ability to accept change so long as it does not adversely affect organizational objectives; appear to be the acceptable solution.

Physical challenges

There are also physical problems that inhibit performance. The challenge here is being able to identify the symptoms of the physical illnesses as the human resources manager is not a physician. Emotional disorders that can interfere with production are sometimes difficult to diagnose. The number of times the person is absent from work is symptomatic evidence of physical or emotional problems. The major headache for the manager is the frequent short-term absence as it becomes difficult to have other employees who are ready to cover the work; and the constant uncertainty as to whether the individual will be present on a given day or not; and the payment made for work not done.

Research works in Nigeria, show that in general, female workers tend to be absent more than males. People in higher-level positions, especially management, lose less time than those at lower levels. Older workers do not have as many short-term absences as younger employees, but they do have more long-term absences (Nwachukwu, 1987). Physical challenges include handicaps of various classes.

In this group is classified as all people whose physical conditions make it difficult for them to find a job. These include people with crippling disabilities due to accidents or for diseases like arthritis, deafness, blindness, epilepsy, etc. The problem with this group is that if they were previously employed before the disability, what to do with them when they return to work. Their reabsorption may involve placing them in lower-level jobs, which may entail demotion, or refusing to hire them outright and pay compensation as provided in the workmen’s compensation Act 1987.

There is no basis to assume however that because a person is handicapped he will necessarily be incapable of effective performance. Studies have shown that absenteeism among handicapped workers generally is less than among the physically normal. Accidents are not particularly frequent among the handicapped although the total time lost when an accident occurs may be greater (Barker, 1983). The physically handicapped does not become ineffective for physical reasons. Low productivity when it occurs, is because they have been placed in a kind of work which their handicaps make it impossible for them to perform adequately. The management challenge is how to obtain adequate advice for their placement in jobs in which they would not constitute a danger to themselves or other employees.

Deaf workers cannot hear warnings, the blind cannot see a potential source of danger, heart attacks, and epileptic seizures may cause a person to lose control of his or her actions. Studies have shown that people who have physical defects or who develop them later can, however; achieve satisfactory performance levels if appropriate duties are assigned.

As an employee gets older generally after the age of 60 years certain changes associated with aging are noticed i.e. impairment of the brain. The symptoms associated with aging manifest themselves in gradual progression. There is generally a reduction in speed of movement, dexterity, and coordination, physical strength, visual sensitivity, and effectiveness of actions, things may be done impulsively, emotional states change rapidly from irritability to depression, to anxiety, neatness, honesty, and kindness give way to more self-centered attitudes. At times, the person may appear forgetful and rather vague about things that should be familiar (Miner, 1975:88).

These symptoms may not appear very obvious unless one is familiar with the employee. As the worker progressively becomes older in the seventies, it becomes increasingly clear that something is wrong as the employee sometimes forgets what he is doing or saying, where he is, or what happened in the past. He may become restless, very talkative, and delirious. Voices, which do not exist, speak to him and he sees fleeting images which have no correspondence to reality (Cerrito, 1995:21); Chandron, 1994:9).

In Nigeria where because of poverty and the lack of social severity or proper retirement pensions people tend to underestimate their ages to continue to be employed, these symptoms may be more evident especially in the civil/public service. Management is encouraged where these signs manifest themselves to retire the employees in the interest of all concerned. It has to be noted that these symptoms identified are more likely to happen in occupation of a blue-collar nature than it is in clerical and management groups. Janitorial (cleaners) activities may present no difficulties even the work is occasionally heavy. Where possible, job re-design and retraining may be seen as viable alternatives.

Family-related challenges

The discussions so far appear to have concentrated on individual characteristics of employees which may affect productivity or contribute to failure; intellectual, emotional, and physical factors. This section deals with social factors that could determine ineffective performance. Studies show that one of the factors that affect the performance of an employee later in his career is a family-related problem. The frequently mentioned factors include the mental illness of parents, mental illness of a member of the family, separation, and divorce, parental conflict, lack of affection in the family, etc.

According to Friend and Haggard (1988), people who have made poor occupational adjustments, for whatever reason, are more likely to have a pattern of early family problems. An employee may withdraw his services because of family-related problems. The problem may not result in resignation but temporary emotional disturbance and subsequent reduction of production as a result of the loss of a beloved one, death in the family, desertion, separation, divorce, or break-up of an engagement or an affair. The effects of these may differ from one employee involved to another. How to control it to reduce its impact on productivity becomes a problem for management.

Another family-related problem comes with working wives. In Nigeria, they bring along with their unique family problems. Their absenteeism rate is relatively high. It is even higher if the wife is within the childbearing age. A typical working wife is absent from work when she is sick, when the husband is sick, when any of the children are sick, in some cases when any of her parents are sick or when the fathers-in-law or mothers-in-law are sick. These times that she is absent from work, she is not productive. The absence creates a problem for management.

Closely allied to this is the fact that she is granted a liberal opportunity by the Nigerian Labour law to leave her work when her confinement will take place within six weeks, and six weeks following her confinement. She is also allowed half an hour twice a day during her working hours to take care of her baby. They now abuse the privilege and take half a day, (Nwachukwu, 1989:25). Unfortunately, management has not been able to find a solution to alter the family situations. The problem is worse in the public service than in the private sector.

Company policies and hierarchy management challenges

Ineffective performance may occur because the company does not take the actions necessary to eliminate the causes of failure. These may include:

  • The failure of the company to provide needed training for an employee to perform his tasks. An employee that needs job-related technical skills may fail because the training program is too costly and cannot be provided at company expense.
  • The company may consider the time implications in providing the training. The lead time required to train an existing employee may force the company to elect to recruit a person already trained and allow the old employee to fail on his own. Thus consideration of time may preclude investment in corrective action. Thus consideration of time may preclude investment in corrective action.
  • The inability of a company to implement decisions already made because of cost, time, availability of replacements (personnel, machine parts) and risk involved may lead to a decision, which in fact, causes certain individuals to fail. Accidents are known to have occurred because preventive actions were not carried out in time, machines or plants fail (the Refineries, NEPA, Airlines, Railways) are known to have operated below expectations because maintenance was not carried out. Management fails to render optimal services as a result.
  • Placement decisions may lead to ineffective performance. Where an employee is placed on a task in which he lacks the necessary abilities, skills, or emotional demands, the employee may perform at reduced efficiency and fails. A person may be assigned to a job at too high a level for his verbal ability or may lack the special abilities (numerical or mechanical), or intellectual abilities required for a specific task. The inability to perform a task due to bad placement may give rise to emotions such as anxiety, depression, guilt, and anger. A good placement is a pre-condition for success in many jobs and how to match the man and the job (avoid square peg in a round hole) is a major management challenge. “Neurotic symptoms are particularly likely to have detrimental effects when the placement is at a relatively high level” (Miner, 1975:154). Placement errors involving the employee’s intellectual, emotional, motivational, or physical functioning may also contain certain social or group aspects.
  • Placement errors: the most frequently encountered placement errors are those of over and under-placement. Over placement occurs when an individual is put in a position demanding more from him intellectually than he is capable of producing when pushed into such positions because of nepotism, favoritism, quota requirements, or even by threats or offers of large income, is likely to fail. Above all, over-placed works are likely to create difficulties for those placed under them. Many problems develop when a person is put in charge of others who are more competent than he is. This is very manifest in many government parastatals where people have been put into job positions above their ability to perform effectively in the quest to maintain geographical spread. (Positions of incompetence).
  • Underemployment which often prevails in times of excessive unemployment, gives rise to boredom, job dissatisfaction, daydreaming, gossiping, malingering, and “the not on seat” syndrome, in many public organizations. The issue of underemployment is one of the greatest challenges of human resources management in Nigeria Nwachukwu (1995). Underemployment is strategic for performance failure. Promotion, job redesign, job enlargement, or enrichment, if feasible can provide a solution. The transfer may also be a possible solution. The random shuffling of personnel which is characteristic of some organizations is likely to have negative consequences and is not the acceptable solution.
  • Challenge Posed by Span Off control Problems: Span of control deals with the number of subordinates that one manager can supervise effectively. The importance of this discussion at this stage is because there is a strong relationship between the span of control, effective supervision, communication, motivation, productivity, and job satisfaction. What is an ideal span? If a company is organized so that one manager is in charge of many subordinates, the sheer number of people may preclude adequate identification of their needs, proper analysis of their deficiencies, and the formulation of appropriate solutions to deal with individuals as individuals on one-to-one basis. Where there is a narrow span of control, the manager recognizes each employee, supervises closely, offers an on-the-spot solution to problems, and gives the employee the required attention to attain an acceptable performance level. The problem associated with the span of control is often created by management, who, in the bid to save costs, create large spans of control so the organization will require fewer managers. Steiner (1972), House (1969) have shown that the ideal span is 5 to 10 persons. It is not unusual to have a span as large as 25 at the top. A small number has the added advantage of identifying inefficient works and offering adequate remedial measures promptly, and also there is increased cohesiveness and the building of lasting friendships.
  • Challenges posed by Forced retirement – Another challenge to management caused by company policy deals with retirement. The retirement age for industrial organizations is from 55 – 60 years, this is irrespective of performance. The problem of compulsorily retiring people at any given age is the assumption that people are ineffective on a given basis having no relationship to organizational goals. There are people who for a variety of reasons do not wish to retire and honestly believe that they still have a contribution to make to the organizational efforts. It is evident from studies Porter (1985) that physical illness generally is more frequent in older employees and may result in excessive absence from work, reduction in muscular and sensory skills, and that speed declines with age.

Work group and team challenges

One of the factors that affect performance in industrial organizations is the relationship with people at work. This is so because the relationship in organizations tends to be clustered into groups of which there are many varieties. The nature of the relationship that occurs within and between groups has a major impact on the quality of life of people at work and significantly influences the productiveness of the organization. Because of the simultaneous diversity and ubiquity of groups in organizations, the management challenge is to determine why some groups are more effective than others, and why some groups provide their members with positive and growth experiences while others rigidly enforce norms to maintain the status quo.

In addition to work-related groups, there are other invisible but equally very powerful groups in Nigerian organizations based on tribal, ethnic, geographical, and language lines that their existence can affect work motivation, job satisfaction, and consequently productivity. A good understanding of what happens within groups and between groups will help management to make effective and efficient use of groups in industrial enterprises.

Work-related challenges

Many people are known to have entered into employment having already developed techniques for achieving success which is often at variance with job requirements. Many Nigerians are known to engage in “moonlighting” activities outside work which provide a real sense of accomplishment, but which leaves them too tired or with insufficient time to perform adequately in their job. Some devote their energies to attaining success through “political” activity within the organization, spending so much time making friends, finding faults with individual managers, and attempting to influence people with the result that their productivity is zero. They may bypass merit and promotional increases as a means of accumulating wealth, and employ company facilities, or their time on the job in an attempt to gain personal financial success through a more entrepreneurial type of activities in or outside the workplace.

People in the first group use the company as a contact address, doing only the least possible to maintain their job, while employees in the latter group, engage in local politics, are rabid critics of the organization, and find solace in the company of other failures with little ambition. They are seldom motivated by the usual organizational incentives; a very dangerous group of employees!! They may even attempt to satisfy their desires through fantasies and daydreams of success, to the point where their productivity is severely impaired. These individuals instead of resigning stay on, become increasingly ineffective as their job behavior departs further and furthers from the normal job requirements. One of the challenges posed by motives is that the standards “which people use to define personal success are entirely personal.” They, as a result, determine for themselves what level of accomplishment and what type of reward will suffice.

A. Blocked Ambition

In most Nigerian Industrial organizations, employees talk most about retrenchment, promotions, and demotions, company economic position, organization, products/services, etc. These are issues that they believe have a direct bearing on “self”, their ambition, and by extension continued enjoyment of organizational favors. Vice-chancellor sir, ambition is a major source of motivation at work and will contribute to effective work performance as long as events reinforce a person’s expectation of achievement. When the individual’s level of ability, or the nature of the work/job or the organization or the actions of superiors serve to remove the possibility of experiencing success, ambition is not likely to contribute to effective performance.

Blocked ambition has many outward manifestations; the employee may give up or may lose the zeal, or the briskness. He may stop exerting himself almost entirely while assuming a “what’s the need/use?” attitude. He may carry out many job duties very slowly and in a disinterested manner. Characteristically, the employee accuses others of blocking the development of his genius or becomes a rabid critic of the company. Normally, work suffers, mainly because of disruptive emotions aroused by the blocked strong drive. The frustrated employee becomes a real trouble-maker, petition writer, arrogates to himself the duty of being a troubleshooter, social conscience, power broker, kingmaker, and increasingly exert a strong negative influence on the performance of others. He finds solace in the company of other equally frustrated employees with blocked ambitions.

These are varieties of factors in a work situation that may provoke anxiety, guilt, shame, or some other distressing emotional state. When feelings of this kind are persistently activated, they are very likely to have a detrimental effect on performance. Research indicates that people who are dissatisfied because of work factors will frequently seek to avoid the sources of their displeasure through absenteeism, tardiness, insubordination, and less frequent job changes.

B. The Desire To dominate Others

The motive to dominate others has been identified to be an important factor that affects performance. This motive may be frustrated when one does not possess such power, or subordinates refuse to be dominated, or higher management refuses to give support. The individual who finds out that he does not have the power or subordinates refuse to be dominated or higher management refuses to give support, may exhibit one of the usual reactions of frustration: emotional out busts, loss of interest in work, and uninterested behavior. While others working with him may resent being dominated, being pushed around, he spends most of his time thinking of how to achieve his aim, consequently, performance suffers.

C. Motive for Popularity:

Some employees derive great pleasure at being made to feel that others love them at work. The employee wants above all else to be popular. He wants to be admired. Where this fails, the entire workplace becomes empty, sterile, and dull for the employee. The means for achieving popularity very – disruptive attention-getting, carrying out certain work duties that are not his or not essential, overworking oneself, talkativeness, restive, etc. Hedges (1983).

D. Motive for Social Interaction:

An employee may wish above all else to be with others, to talk to them, or to participate in social activities. Preference may be primarily for the opposite sex, small groups, or for a single person. If one is placed in a job where this social interaction is not possible, he feels deprived, his performance suffers while wandering around talking to people; extending tea or lunch hours. This is particularly true of female clerical workers, typists, and receptionists Mintzberg, R. (1985).

E. Desire for Attention from Superiors:

The failure to obtain attention or assistance from a superior can be a cause of performance failure. Where one who desires such attention fails, the person becomes angry and upset, or loses momentum, or returns to uninterrupted methods of getting what is wanted. He may act in a way that the boss may consider him a “pest” as he constantly demands assistance, instruction, praise, and attention. Once he gets into the boss’s office, it is almost impossible to get him out. He may continue to get into difficulty in his work or with fellow employees so that supervisory attention is constantly required. This attention-getting propensity may act to decrease the quality and quantity of his work as well as that of others.

Other types of positive motives that may contribute to ineffective performance include an interest in solving the new and stimulating problems, a wish to engage in fantasy and daydreaming, a need for constant changes in the environment, a drive to incessant activity, a desire to take risks, etc. Miner (1975).

Factors Shaping Productivity in a Workplace

Work is a task, which a worker must perform. It has logic and therefore requires analysis and sequence. It is the responsibility of management to design jobs to match individual capabilities. Thus Davies (1966) states that:

Job design means the specification of the contents, methods, and relationships of jobs to satisfy technological and organizational requirements as well as the social and personal requirements of the job holder.

Do we design the job to suit the man, or do we make the man fit the job? This has been a management challenge. If a job is designed to suit the job holder one would take into account his abilities, seniority, age, academic achievements and experiences, and other personal idiosyncrasies. When he retires, is promoted, or withdraws, a new problem occurs as the redesigning of one job may affect other jobs.

Even jobs designed to suit individuals are never perfect as they turn out to be either too big or small for the job holder. This creates for managing the problem of job enlargement, enrichment, or dilution. If the job is too big for the jobholder, lactic acid builds up in the muscles, visual acuity goes down, reaction time slows, an accident may occur or the employee may become erratic at best. Studies indicate that patterns of speed, rhythm, and attention span are as individual as our fingerprints.

Nothing breeds frustration, fatigue, and irritability, or anger, and resentment as the imposition of an alien speed, rhythm, and an alien attention span, Drucker (1977:237). To an employee, to our culture, and the world at large, work is an extension of personality, it is a way of defining oneself; it is a measure of self-worth and humanity. Thus, prolonged unemployment creates severe psychological disturbances not because of economic deprivation alone, but because it undermines self-respect and pride. Thus, personal introductions must contain the name and what work the person does. The Human resources Manager knows that one’s job does not just work, it is a profession, a calling, and it is intricately interwoven with one’s personality and what one is and is to be.

Work satisfies the need for belonging, companionship, group identification, and social bond, above all, work is living. The demand for labor in any industrial organization is a derived demand. Labour is needed because of the goods and services that will be produce to help the organization achieve its desired goals. The productivity of an employee is very important for the realization of an industrial objective.

The key factors that shape the workplace include:

1.Self interestJob design & placementEducation qualification, socio-political, economic & legal
2.Intelligence, knowledge and skillsLeadership, employee utilization and motivationTechnology and change
3.FamilyWork contextCompetitive challenges
4.Group and teamOrganization policies and hierarchyGlobalization

It has been argued that dealing with people emerges as the most important of managerial work Miner (1975). One of the best ways to understand the multiple forces that operate to influence people is to concentrate on the problem of “ineffective” or “poor performance” this represents a major problem that all managers face. “There is nothing more demanding and time-consuming than attempting to deal with a subordinate whose performance is unsatisfactory in some respect”. This is the very essence of the challenge of managing, as it can mean the difference between organizational survival and obliteration.

Research findings Nwachukwu (1985), Korman (1977) have shown that the productivity of an employee is determined by three major factors:

(1) the ability of the employee

(2) the will to work, and

(3) situational factors.

The ability of the employee

Some people are inherently stronger than others, are more intelligent, or are better endowed. Physically strong people have the stamina to ensure prolonged strain. In sports, these people will excel, in jobs requiring physical ability; they have added advantage over the weaker employee. Some people go to work physically, mentally, and emotionally fit to work hard but with time due to old age, ill-health, emotional disturbance, alcohol, and drug addiction, they can no longer keep up their productivity. Tornow (1971) has highlighted the fact that making use of one’s abilities, making or participating in organizational decisions, keeping up on a variety of subjects, bearing sole responsibility, learning a new system, and working on complex tasks, are ways of demonstrating the ability to work.

Thus people who can work are characteristically self-consistent. They believe that it is necessary to achieve on tasks- whatever the tasks might be, they have to be creative and can change and they are anxious to learn. They have high-self-perceived competence. The ability to work can be improved by training and development. Research Nwachukwu (1988:220) has emphasized the fact that the productivity of an employee is determined by management. “The manager’s attitude to work, his quest for excellence and his continued expectation of higher standards of excellence influence the performance of his subordinates”.

The will to work

While the ability to work is very important for the successful execution of any task, the will to work could be crucial. Some people can work but still refuse to work.

Research has shown that an individual’s self-image strongly influences his aspiration levels that is, what he believes his abilities are and what he believes his roles should be. Repeated failure to achieve expected satisfaction, normally lead to a downward adjustment in aspiration, whereas success encourages new dreams of glory.

McCelland, (1953), has pointed out that people who are very high in need of power have the will to work. They aspire for offices in organizations, love to influence others in organizations, and have a general activist view of life. The will to work is not measured by the quality to work alone; a person is characteristically considered ineffective if he fails to complete a satisfactory amount of work within a designated period. The degree of cooperation and employee shares with others in attaining the organizational goal is a measure of the will to work. “Not on the seat,” malingering, trading while on duty, gossiping, finding faults, talkativeness any act that has a direct negative impact on profit, is a sure manifestation of unwillingness to work. It is a management challenge to find out the causes of the unwillingness to work.

Situational factors

Different situations and challenges affect one’s ability and willingness to work. Some of these situations can be work-related, societal, family, environmental or self-interest as discussed above.

Strategies or prospects for Better Human Relations

Development of programs and agendas

The first cornerstone to achieve is the development of new initiatives, programs, and agendas. Human Resources must move beyond being the “police of policy” and “regulatory guard”. Instead, HR must be the pioneers in assisting the organizations to achieve results, especially by helping employees to enhance their capabilities to ensure organizational objectives are met.

Aligning HR with change

The future of HR depends on its ability to align HR with the changes that are happening in the workplace and the economy. New models of competitiveness are needed so that organizations can better serve their customers. Consequently, HR must be the champions to help gear employees to provide added value.

Transformational mindset

The new approach of HR is to emphasize new mindsets and new ways of thinking about business instead of sticking to policies and bureaucratic patterns. HR professionals should and must focus on cultural change, and the development of human capital, especially in international organizations. ‘Think globally. Act locally”.

HR should sponsor a model of change, which will help the employees adapt to and be comfortable with changes. Here, a lot of questions may arise, such as: How do we decide which practices to be transformed and which should be kept for purpose of continuity? How do we change and learn rapidly? How do we honor the past yet change the future? How do we capture the hearts and minds of employees?

Employee empowerment

The 1990s have been called the era of Employee Empowerment. This means the management delegates as much power and authority as possible to low-level employees to enable them to make their own decisions and participate in the managerial decision-making as well. This way, the employees will be more motivated and productive.

The empowerment process is effective under the following conditions:

  1. The employee must be given adequate training and knowledge regarding his job and responsibilities, which includes technical knowledge, decision-making skills, and group process skills.
  2. Both employees and management share a common vision and goals and are committed to achieving them.
  3. Both employees and management possess common values, in terms of job implementation, behavior standards, and ethics.
  4. Benefits and profits are to be shared (shares, bonuses…)
  5. Management should show and have trust in lower-level employees.


The nation’s capacity to face the challenges of globalization and industrialization of business towards the 21st century depends heavily on human resources.

Firms have the capital, technology, and human resources; but HR is the one who can help to face the challenges of business globalization. Capital can be generated. So can technology. But the human resources are needed to propel the organization and the nation through the coming challenges with encouragement and motivation.


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