Fri, 24 Dec 2021 Feature Article

Ghanaian Cultural Mindset Towards Time And Work, And Its Effects On Productivity

Ghanaian Cultural Mindset Towards Time And Work, And Its Effects On Productivity

It is reassuring that many economists are now responding to the call for emphasis on non-economic aspects of development. The success of self-sustaining growth, economic prosperity, and national well-being is not impeded only by lack of capital and industry, but by a myriad of socio-cultural factors. It is often assumed that the mental cultural programs used in the donor countries will also work for the recipient countries. Little attention is given to the relationship between culture, technological change, and economic development, despite the overwhelming anthropological evidence that cultural programming has a huge impact on development and economic growth. Economists assume that individuals, groups, and nations are rational decision-makers, that is, they always make decisions that provide them with the highest amount of utility or benefits.

But this important assumption in economics is partially true. Often people are semi-rational actors whose behaviors are shaped by the unconscious and the contexts of the place, time, and socio-cultural environment of decisions. Our life experiences, socio-cultural interactions, and exposure affect our preferences, cognition, and perceptions. The only way we can develop as a nation is to change our cultural mindsets and social attitudes that stifle development.

One of the cultural mindsets that have militated against the economic development and growth in Ghana is our work ethic. Webster defined work ethics as, "a belief in work as a moral good: a set of values-centered on the importance of doing work and reflected especially in a desire or determination to work hard." Strong work ethic is necessary to advance in any economic endeavor. Work ethics are based on a set of principles on discipline and hard work.

Work ethic teach people to be focused and persistent on tasks for as long as necessary to get the work done. People with good work ethic finish tasks in a timely and efficient manner, they are always punctual, and professional. Many developed countries embed work ethic in their school activities known as the hidden curriculum. The hidden curricula teach work-related values and behavior patterns. The objective of the hidden curriculum in education is to prepare students for the work world, by stressing authority, work, achievement, order, honesty, citizenship, trust, and most importantly, the wise use of time.

The German sociologist, Max Weber, in his work, "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism," maintains that the Protestant ethic was an important force in the economic success of Protestants in the early stages of European capitalism. One of the critical elements of work ethics is our understanding and use of time: punctuality and promptness.

The effects of punctuality on productivity are a well-established fact, yet many Ghanaians report to work late. When someone is late to work or leaves work before time, other people are affected or workflow is disrupted. Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the Roman stoic philosopher, and statesman, in his moral essay, "On the shortness of life," reminded us of the finitude of our most precious resources: our time. He offers this pithy wisdom, when he writes, "It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of our time."

Giving the May Day Address on May 1st, 2017, President Akufo Addo lamented "I have said it at another forum, but I think it bears repeating: we arrive at work late and then spend the first hour in prayer; we are clock watchers and leave in the middle of critical work, because it is the official closing time. Everything comes to a stop when it rains and we seem to expect the rest of the world also to stop," And the following day, the General Secretary of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union concurred with the president.

The president's comment or lamentation is a reality in Ghana. Our cultural orientation towards time explains the punctuality problem that the president and the Trade Union leader were alluding to. There are differences among cultures about time. Different cultures have different orientations towards time and work. There is what is called event time, and clock time. In clock time cultures, there is a high priority on following schedules and paying attention to our watches, versus event time, which is a more flexible approach to punctuality.

For people from event time cultures, an event begins when all the people needed to be there arrive. Contrary to the event time culture, people from clock time cultures organize themselves around clock time, and there are precise times that events and appointments should begin and end; respect and efficiency are accomplished by adhering to a schedule. So in clock time cultures, there are few legitimate excuses for being late.

People who thrive on efficiency see someone being late as being disrespectful, inconsiderate, and careless. On the contrary, in event time cultures, such as Ghana, time is set, not to be exact start and end times, but as approximate guidelines, and one has to bear it in mind when setting a time that there are events well beyond people's control. However, if your orientation is more towards competition and results, punctuality is far more important to you. Likewise, if you're high uncertainty avoidance, you are more likely to be concerned about schedules, because schedules control uncertainty or certainty.

But the president's lamentation didn't end at the time-punctuality issue, but with a serious indictment against Christians who spend hours praying at their workplaces. The Christian mindset that it is all right to leave work to go to prayer meetings is something that I have addressed in many fora. The Ghanaian Christians' practice of going to church on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday is not a biblical or a theological mandate: It is not normative Christian practice. Listen to what the Bible teaches didactically in Exodus 20: 8-10: "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God."

So, the true biblical teaching is that we shall labor for SIX DAYS. So, the state is even more lenient about its work-time than the Bible. Whereas the Bible asks us to work for six days, the state asks us to work for only five days. However, the Bible is not against praying or studying the Bible every day and every time, if you can afford it. I have said so many times, and I will say it again that the only people who gain from this practice are the pastors who encourage their members to indulge in this practice.

Marx Weber, in his work, "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism," in chapter 5, zeroed in on the writings of the Puritan Ministers, especially the writings of Richard Baxter. Baxter aimed the danger of relaxation, idleness, and distraction from the pursuit of a righteous life. According to Baxter, only work or labor promotes God's glory. He considers wasting time as the worst of sins. He argued that labor is an end in itself, and ordained by God: idleness is sin. These puritan ministers and theologians consider all vocations as God's calling. Therefore Ghanaian Christians' practice of cutting work to go to prayer meetings while drawing on government salaries for work not done is unbiblical and sinful: It drags the name God through the mud. Ghanaian attitude towards time has undermined productivity, economic growth, and development. It also wards off investors who see such lackadaisical attitudes towards time as not business-friendly.