Work Identity Within South Africa Cultural Studies Essay

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Workforce diversity is defined as "The concept that organisations are becoming more heterogeneous in terms of gender, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and inclusion of other diverse groups." Robbins et al.(2009, p.12)

The future is unknown that is for certain. But as the author also states, the identity of the South African is also in question. With the diverse population of 49,320,150 (World Bank, World Development Indicators, 2009), is it possible to find a common ground on which to build a "South African" Identity? Is there a sense of union greater than that of division?

The level at which we tie our identities to our work and accomplishments has an impact on our levels of achievement. (Silverman, R. E. 2009). Therefore how we answer the question of "who am I" is essential to understanding workplace behaviour and performance.

This essay will look to understand the formation of work Identity from the aspects of the individual and their environment; Organizational Culture; Religion; Personality development and measurement; Identity and the South African constitution.

From birth we are given the daunting task of learning, defined as "A relatively permanent change in behaviour that occurs as a result of experience" (Robbins et al.2009, p.54-55). Learning will not stop till one passes on. As we learn we grow, and growth comes in many different forms. The infamous debate of nature versus nature comes to play at these instances. The ability and the freedom given to a child to grow differ as per family; culture also plays a large role into the upbringing of a child. Nonetheless we see a wide diversity of people living together in a seemingly respectful manner.

As South Africans, we come from a strong history of political and cultural difference, and thus we witness differences between people of different races and ethnicity, purely due to the fact that there is a strong cultural diversity within the country itself. Everything starts at learning, which influences our lives not just as children but predominantly as adults as what you learn does not just fade away as time goes on, but rather we live by what we've learnt and at the same time continue learning. , "Learning takes place in the midst of everything else going on" (Curran, J & Takata, S. R. year needed),

Formal Education:

"It is through education, after all, that the younger generations are turned into full-grown members of society. And it is through education, amongst other influences, that they get a sense of their national history, their traditional/religious/ethnic backgrounds and a sense of a shared identity through that shared history." (Ohanjanyan, M. year needed)

As we know learning comes in many different forms and it is absorbed in different ways, if we look at formal education and development, we witness that the people who have gone to school and those who have not are clearly distinguishable. Generally for the working environment, we are exposed to people who have gone to school and have had formal education and training, the difference within 'educated' individuals is often the type of schooling they have had. In some cases we see individuals who have had strong educational backgrounds and upbringings that tend to be more successful as they are given more opportunities with regards to learning and coping strategies for life as a whole. Even so, we see individuals who come from very poor backgrounds succeeding too and in some occasions excelling even more than those with more privileged backgrounds.

The educational diversity of employees also shows how people can still succeed without the privileged background. Often work training and extensive years of experience have made up for what a lack of educational background has failed to provide. In some cases the few who come from very poor upbringings strive for bigger things in life, are more motivated to excel and are driven by their understanding of what it means to be less fortunate.


"If within an organization, employees have a positive environment and a healthy competition exists, it brings out the best in them. Healthy competition ensures that colleagues are in the constant look out for improvement by newer and better ways of solving problems, developing skills and increasing their knowledge base." (Zigu, A. October 2010),

Stereotypically, it is assumed that those with the higher education levels in society will always be the front leader of the hierarchical systems of life. Often, seemingly less educated/qualified individuals step up to the plate and perform at a rate which was not expected, this challenges everyone else to work harder as well. This can be considered healthy competition. Though this competition starts off as healthy it can easily lead to destructive conflict.

Conflict is defined as "a process that begins when one party perceives that another party has negatively affected, or is about to negatively affect, something that the first party cares about". (Robbins et al.2009, p.376).

Thus there are many factors contributing towards animosity amongst employees. Another element to consider is that conflict comes in different intensity stages, namely: minor disagreements and misunderstandings; overt questioning and challenging of others and assertive verbal attacks. Many of these conflict levels are experienced in the home environment, affecting the employees' state and ultimately their work behaviour.

A Question to consider may be: Are certain individuals more prone to engage in conflict behaviour, if so what may the cause of this be? A strong factor related to conflict is aggression. Aggression can develop in children as young as a year old. When aggression is suppressed in children, individuals tend to bottle up negative emotions, while as adults this can reflect as conflict

Individuals who are uncomfortable at home tend to seek other ways of finding comfort and this may be through their work. Every so often these individuals seek comfort in staying at work till late. Going home may be such an issue that work is the only way to suppress the anxiety. These Individuals are often seen as the over achievers or the hard workers, meanwhile they work to suppress the stresses of home.

As seen, people are interrelated and are brought up in different ways. The strong diversity within the country helps in producing a better South Africa, as there are many people to bring different ideas, ideologies and theories to the table.

Culture in the workplace

Culture defined:

Culture is defined as the behaviour and beliefs of a social class as well as curtain age and ethnical groups. (Robbins et al.2009, p.424) Culture in an organisation is defined by seven key characteristics. The first characteristic is innovation and risk-taking which is defined as the level at which the employee is encouraged to take risks and be innovative. The second characteristic is attention to detail which is the level that is expected of them to analyse documents. The third is outcome orientation and this is defined as the level in which the organisation concentrates on more of the results side of outcomes rather than the technique or methods use to achieve the outcomes. The fourth characteristic is people orientation, this is where the level that the organisations decision have an impact on the people. The fifth one is team orientation, this is to see how work is organised in the organisation, so it can be more team orientated rather than individually orientated. The sixth one is aggressiveness; this is the level of aggression and competitiveness in the organisation. The last key characteristic is stability, level of status-quo and growth in the organisation. (Robbins et al.2009, p.424) These Characteristics show the employees how they are supposed to behave in the organisation and it is up to the organisation to decide the different levels of each characteristic.

The affect of cultures:

Positively, culture creates a unique identity for the organisation, each affecting how the organisation is viewed. It also gives the employees an identity which creates a form of commitment amongst employees and fosters self-interest. Culture increases social systems in the organisation as the employees have something in common with each other, so it is easier to communicate and socialise.

Culture also provides a base which guides employees to the attitudes and behaviour that they acquire in the organisation and this is what an organisation is built upon. So in the end culture affects all employees, how work is performed and what is important which in turn ensures that all employees work towards a common goal.

Negatively, culture can be a barrier against accepting changes in the environment. It can also be a barrier for diversity, as the organisation want employees to accept organisational cultural values and if this is not done the employee is considered unsuitable to work for the organisation. The organisation wants to accept all differences that employees brings to the work environment, as diversity is considered a contributing factor towards creative problem solving, yet strong cultural values may force the employee to conform. Conforming may affect the employee's job satisfaction and create an environment that is not suited for creativity. Culture can also affect merges that the organisation may be venturing into; depending on the merger this can lead cultural clashes. (Robbins et al.2009, p.427- 429)

It is very hard for the new employees to fit into the organisation culture. It is the job of the industrial psychologist to find employees that will fit well in the organisation. This is done in many ways such as screening tests and personality test. (Robbins et al.2009, p.427- 429).

There are many ways culture can be learned by employees and the most important ones are: Stories which are told so the employee can find out how the organisation came about and how they practice; ritual, which are the sequences of activities used over and over, representing the key values of the organisation; material symbols, which is a way in which employees can see who is important in the organisation; language, which is a way in which employees identify members of the same cultures or sub-cultures. . (Robbins et al.2009, p.427- 429)

To create a positive organisational culture you need to build on employees strengths rather than employees weaknesses, this in turn will create a much happier, more confident and more aware employee and will also foster creativity. Another way is to reward employees rather than punish them, is through the use of intrinsic rewards such as praise and extrinsic rewards such as pay. Both types of rewarding systems promote motivation in different ways. Managers may use these systems to create a positive working environment.

Growth is also important as a lot of employees feel that if they are with the organisation for a long period of time, they do not feel like they are learning or have grown further with the particular organisation, and that it may be time to move on to a new organisation. This in turn would be very concerning for the organisation as they are risking a high turnover and increased training costs, if growth and knowledge is not emphasised and shared. (Robbins et al.2009, p.436-437) The organisation needs to create an environment that fosters creativity and have employees get more involved in the decision making process so they may grow and feel like they are becoming an asset in an organisation with a learning culture.

While religious beliefs may inspire unity within one group it may also inspire despise for others, as Individuals often feel that they must protect their beliefs and their identity, outsiders may be treaded with indifference. (Wilson, E. 2005).

The core of religion is a spiritual understanding of who the individual is and their lives purpose.

"The texts of almost all religions and belief systems place value upon the role of community. Each person is seen as having an important role" (Wilson, E. 2005). Thus believers are encouraged to behave compassionately towards others. Genuine believers may be considered to be more open to the diversity of others. They may even be better team players.

"According to the 2001 census the overwhelming majority of South Africans, or 79.8%, are Christian. The independent African Zion Christian churches predominate, being the faith of 15.3% of the total population, and 19.2% of all Christians. Roughly 15% of the populations have no religion, and 1.4% are undetermined about their faith. Islam is the religion of 1.5% of South Africans, Hinduism that of 1.2%, African traditional belief 0.3%, Judaism 0.2% and other beliefs 0.6%.. Currently there are 65 different religious codes " (STATSSA. 2001).

South Africa today is made up of a multitude of people from various nations and religions. A diversity of beliefs within the South African workplace will play an important role in, not only the identity of an individual, but also the way the individual identifies with their work.

Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.' (The Bill of Rights, Constitution of South Africa). Even though our constitution has policies in place to prohibit employees from being discriminated against based on there religion it still happens in the workplace today. Organisational policies and procedures can help create a culture that is open to accepting different beliefs and practices.

Organisations need to take into account that for many individuals, their religious beliefs are a key part of their identity. Managers can hope to see greater organizational commitment and sense of identity from employees when these religious beliefs and practices are allowed in a respectful non disruptive manner. In a country as diverse as South Africa it may be difficult, but none the less important.

Identity can be defined as "A collective aspect of a set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known. A set of behavioural or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group. The distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persisting entity; individuality. The state of having unique identifiable characteristic held by no other person or thing." (Encarta world dictionary, Bloomsbury, Microsoft Encarta) nics I need the bibliography for this dictionary

When employees feel safe and are allowed to be themselves and show their individuality they are more creative and more willing to work hard. Employees feel free to express their individuality and uniqueness within the workplace and feel comfortable to giving suggestions and comments without the fear of their ideas being rejected or humiliated in front of their co-workers. In a very stressful working environment where tensions are high it can also be beneficial to have employees who are able to lighten the mood and create a light hearted conversation which is often needed. Only certain individuals and certain personalities are able to do this. This can really help management with new, innovative ideas of how to address problems within the organisation.

"When the Population Registration Act Number 30 was passed on 7 July, 1950, it stipulated that every inhabitant of South Africa is designated an identity by the 'Office for Race Classification'; a classification which was to have far reaching consequences. One's capabilities were seen as determined by the description of one's physical characteristics, such as the texture and colour of one's hair, the size of one's lips, or the way in which light shone from one's skin. The question of Identity was at the very foundation of the apartheid project and increasingly precise biological and sociological definition of the population of the country were used not only to describe, the population(University of Pretoria) Aletta experiments in freedom 10 june Quote from a journal titled experiments in freedom, published by University Pretorial.

Members of society from every generation and race group now have to live together as well as work together, it must never be forgotten that the history that has brought South Africa to this point still has a major impact on individual identity and how individuals will identify with their work today.

At work, Individual Identities can affect everything, including recruiting, building teams, dealing with change, motivating, managing, and maintaining and increasing productivity. Think of how identity differences, relative to how people communicate, might affect misunderstandings, high employee turnover, difficulty in attracting employees and gaining employee commitment.

People communicate and relate to one another based on how they view themselves and their beliefs on how they will be understood. Identity affects individual attitudes, behaviours, expectations, habits and motivational buttons. Learning how to communicate with those who identify with groups other than one's own can help eliminate many major confrontations and misunderstandings in the workplace and the world of business.