The experiences of designated employees in a predominantly white consulting business unit
In the past fourteen years, South African business has experienced a period of significant transformation. The absorption of previously disadvantaged employees into higher skilled jobs is being nudged by measures such as employment equity legislation and affirmative action. Even though previously excluded racial and ethnic groups are being empowered and incorporated into management structures, overall progress has been slow. The research organisation seems to be a microcosm of the macro-environment with regard to the advancement of previously disadvantaged employees, consisting primarily of white employees (66%). Designated employees are represented in much smaller numbers: Indian (15%), African (15%) and Coloured (4%). The objective of this research was to gain an understanding of how designated employees experience working in a predominantly white business unit. Applying a qualitative research design, anecdote circles were used to facilitate the informal sharing of experiences amongst peers. Twelve individuals partook in the anecdote circles and 59 anecdotes were gathered. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was used to extract themes. Thirty-two themes were identified in the anecdotes that were grouped into seven super-ordinate themes: A debilitating organisational culture; A constructive work environment; Poor orientation and integration into the business unit; Demanding consultant role; Dissatisfaction with careers: Difficulty in handling the typical demanding client profile and Involved management style. Results indicate that designated employees find the organisational culture restrictive due to the bureaucratic nature of the organisation, the insensitivity towards cultural differences, the impersonal atmosphere in the organisation; the excessive use of acronyms; poor communication and ineffective support structures. In contrast they have a positive view of their work environment which is seen as flexible, with plenty opportunities for development and high standards of work. Good teamwork exists with designated employees receiving a lot of support from their project team members. Results show that designated employees experience poor orientation in the business unit, which results in a lack of knowledge regarding processes, tools, and ideal behaviour. They are left to find this information out for themselves and this leads to poor integration into the business unit. Designated employees find their role as consultant very demanding. They experience a lot of pressure on projects and are concerned about others' impression of them. They feel empowered in certain areas of their work life and enjoy taking responsibility for their work and development. Designated employees are dissatisfied with the direction that their careers are taking and feel frustrated by the lack of career advancement. They do not believe their managers have the power to address their concerns regarding their career. Furthermore they equate career progression with financial gain and this adds to their frustration regarding their careers. Designated employees are struggling to deal with difficult and demanding clients who neglect responsibilities and can be unreasonable. They admit that they are not sure how to handle these clients. Designated employees are satisfied with the level of interaction with their managers and the recognition they receive when a job is well done. Some indicate that they would prefer more guidance and support from their managers and they stress the importance of performance management and providing regular feedback.