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It is this time of the year again. The festive season is upon us and many take the opportunity to take a few  well-deserved days off, more especially the expatriates amongst us.

One thing I like about living in Ethiopia is of course the fact that we follow a different calendar here.As a result we are seven years younger and enjoy thirteen months of sunshine. And we also have the opportunity to celebrate holidays twice, like Christmas, Easter and New Year. Wonderful! Especially those who work in international organizations or companies will be privileged as both calendars are respected. Add this to the numerous other national holidays that are celebrated in Ethiopia and you hardly find the time to take up some days off from your annual leave. From the employees’ perspective, that is. From the employers’ point of view, things may look somewhat less rosy though. Quite a number of productive days are lost or subjected to claims for overtime. Come to think of it, I realized that employees find it rather easy to claim overtime. They find it a lot harder though to apply for a day off or for annual leave. Annual leave is preferably capitalised instead. “What to do?” or “Where to go?” are responses that I get when I ask somebody when he or she will take leave. There is a monetary factor involved here as well as many will not have been able to set aside enough money to take the family out for a holiday. This is a pity as it is important to rest and spend quality time with family and friends.
On the other hand, I observe that workers find it very easy to stay away from the workplace at any given time, without requesting for it or explaining the reasons for their absence. If given at all, the reasons are expected to be accepted without further questions. Some of the reasons for absence are more justifiable and verifiable than others, but even then, little effort is being made to inform the office sufficiently and in time.
I have noticed that employees find it very easy to leave their work on their desk and leave the office for any personal reason. They may be away for a few hours without anybody knowing where they are and for what purpose they left the office. Ever wondered about all the people who go to church during week days to pay their respects to the church’s Saint? The whole street is blocked by parked cars and believers are dressed in white to pay their respects. They can’t all be jobless can they?
While the existence of non commercial organizations will not be directly threatened by such behaviour, this is different for companies that need to make a profit out of their productive hours. All the more reason to take the issue far more serious than is normally done. Examples of productive hours lost are plenty and here follow some:
Leaving the office to attend to personal issues.
Attending a medical clinic or reporting sick for matters not serious enough.
Attending funerals of people who are not close to you.
Attending engagements, which are normally done on week days.
Attending the church’s Saint days during working hours.
Browsing the internet for personal reasons and responding to personal emails.
Personal telephone calls (please refer to last week’s article about the use of mobile telephones).
Staying away from the office or workplace the day after a public holiday.
Earlier this year I was surprised to notice that many people didn’t report for work on the Monday after Easter. The excuse used is related to digestion problems after eating and drinking things that were abstained from during the fasting period, read “hang over”. And so the work can wait? When will this time be compensated for? Probably not at all.
I cannot help but conclude that when it comes to ethics related to observing working hours and putting in the time and energy required to do the job, we face a culture in Ethiopia, which negatively affects business. And where this is so, such culture and bad habits need to be dealt with. Here follow some suggestions:
Have a policy, regulating leave, holidays and overtime. The policy will include the requirements to apply for permission for any leave or time off in writing, written justifications for any absence and the consequences for not following the regulations.
Don’t only have the policy; apply it consistently. Where you allow exceptions, the policy will become obsolete.
Set a number of compulsory leave days, for all workers to take, like for example the Easter Monday.
Have a system recording workers coming to and leaving the office.
Install cameras in the workplace.
I know some of these measures will be difficult to introduce as many workers have gotten used to relaxed working hours and they will feel restricted, while using the Ethiopian culture as an excuse. Don’t worry about the excuses, but remain consistent in applying the new rules, will be my advice; after all, it is your business. In time, the resistance will make way for acceptance.  
I recently discussed the lay out of a factory with a foreign business owner and he questioned the position of the restrooms in the floor plan. I asked him why that was important. His answer: “Every meter that a worker walks in my factory from his work station to the toilet is a dollar.”
So, in the age of globalization, when we have to compete with companies who carefully consider productive time as described here, what chance do we stand if we continue to be as relaxed as we are?
Merry Christmas!