- Posted by Edith Ohaja
- On May 1, 2019
- 71 Comments
Happy Workers’ Day, everyone! The public service is notorious for corruption, negligence of duty and absenteeism by its workers. But thankfully, there are some public servants who do their work diligently and even go above and beyond the call of duty.
In this post I share a memorable encounter I had with such a staff at an accounts office in the University of Nigeria, my personal experience at work, and much more to encourage us to do the same.
The post is crisp and animated and I hope it moves us to reconsider the way we do our jobs if we’ve been falling short. I also hope it helps to prepare the minds of the younger ones to make a difference when they do get that job they’ve been yearning for.
Constantly Go Above And Beyond
Does anyone else dread going to government offices for any reason? That is something I try to avoid as much as possible. One fellow rightly remarked that you can scarcely get an answer out of people in government offices. I know it is so in Nigeria and many other countries, if what we see in movies is anything to go by.
(Related: Are You Selling The Sweepings With The Wheat?)
Many public servants will do anything but attend to official visitors with the courtesy required of their positions. And the treatment they give you gets worse if you’re small statured or they deem you poor. You can spend a whole day trying to get attention from an officer. If he’s not pretending to be busy by glaring at a file before him, he’s chatting with friends and colleagues seemingly oblivious of your presence. And when you finally get a word in edgeways, he’ll bark at you to come back tomorrow, the reason which you gleaned from his endless chatter being that salaries have just been paid and he probably wishes to dash off to the bank. If you’re bold enough to state that you came from 500 kilometres away and have made no overnight arrangements, he’ll simply bark louder and dismiss you.
The guy may have an unwritten rule that you must drop lunch money for him before he attends to you but since he doesn’t openly demand gratification, you may think he has a cogent reason for delaying you. But the more galling thing is that while you’re made to wait, he promptly attends to friends, relatives and VIPs that come on a similar mission to yours.
Many of us intend to own businesses someday. If we apply the same lackadaisical attitude we do to our pubic service jobs to those businesses, they’ll probably collapse.
Such incidents occur everyday in the public service. In the university where I teach, for example, workers just see people and classify them. These ones must be students, job applicants or candidates seeking admission, they conclude. Having pigeon-holed them, they feel they deserve to be treated shabbily. But everyone we meet at work should be given civil and decent treatment irrespective of their age or social status.
This problem is rife among junior workers. It appears that having an official position, no matter how lowly, gives people a sense of power which they exercise by being harsh and rude to those they ought to serve. On many occasions, I’ve been dealt the rough edge of junior workers’ tongues on campus while making routine demands. But I never cease to be amazed at the spectacular reversal of roles that transpires once another staff who knows me comes into the office where I am being abrasively addressed and gives me a deferential greeting. The raging staff quickly simmers down and, before you know it, our proud patrician is grovelling like the lowliest of slaves.
Why? Because the smart fellow that he is, he has quickly calculated that he may need to get a degree from my department and who knows, I may want to settle scores, or he may have a child taking one of my courses for whom he may seek a favour or he may be posted to my department someday …. The list of self-serving reasons for which some staff do what they are paid for can go on.
But how about doing the job and actually earning the money we receive? How about doing unto others as we wish them to do unto us? How about the joy that comes from serving and putting a smile on someone’s face? How about setting a good example that others might follow?We have enough spiritual and secular reasons to go above and beyond at work. Click To Tweet
The last reason above inspires my interactions with students. I feel bad when I send a student out of my office without rendering the help they asked for because I was busy reading or writing, although reading and writing are part of my job specs. Or the times I wasn’t patient enough to explain that I was incapable of offering the help they needed and pointed them to the right people or sources. I find myself bending over backwards to make up for those times because those kids are mine too (they belong to all of us) and if I’m unkind and insensitive to them, they may go out malformed and continue the vicious cycle of misbehaving in their official capacities.
Many times alumni refuse to attend reunions at the university or give back to their alma mater because of the horrendous treatment they received as students. Some scars from those ghastly experiences are so deep while some of the wounds just refuse to heal. Many put off collecting their certificates and use their Statements of Result for decades because they don’t want to go through the nightmare of dealing with unreasonable and heartless staff.
That is why I cherish one experience I had with a non-academic staff early in my career at the University of Nigeria. I had spent a greater part of that particular day in the heat and crowd at the only bank on campus then trying to get the sum of allowances recently paid into my account by my employers (who did not send me a pay slip). The fellow who was supposed to operate the computer at the enquiries desk was absent and overstayed my patience, which had been long enough! Since the option of sailing across the sea of heads and the security barrier to see the accountant was clearly out of the question, I shuffled my feet to the Senior Staff Emoluments Unit of the bursary as a last resort.
I was directed to a dark-complexioned, bespectacled lady who offered me a seat! That was the first sign I got that a miracle was on my way! Next she actually listened as I presented my petition and commiserated with me for the time lost at the bank. She also offered that whenever I need to get figures of such deposits, I should come straight to her office. Then she requested that I exercise a little patience while she attends to an elderly man sitting nearby. Thereafter, she left the assignment on her desk and spent nearly half an hour going through files and cabinets until she located the sheet for my department. (This was before widespread computerisation of records in the public service kicked in here.) Amazed at her courtesy and care, I shared my experience with some other university staff who told me that the lady treated everyone who came to her office the same way, that it wasn’t just that it was my lucky day as I assumed.
That is a lady to emulate! She had a glowing testimony, standing out in the midst of the shabby and hostile treatment other workers meted out to official visitors. But it’s hard to serve like that except we understand that our service, is first to God, before it is to our employers and the individual before us.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” – Colossians 3:23 -24 (ESV)
Daniel the prophet was also an outstanding public servant. Although an exile and eunuch, he worked better than the freeborn in the land of his captivity because he was devoted to God. The Bible records that “the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.” – Daniel 6:4 (NIV) No wonder Daniel served in the royal courts of Babylon and Medo-Persia and was the third highest ruler at some point.Anyone who excels in his work will serve kings rather than mere men.- Prov. 22:29 Click To Tweet
When we know that we are working for God, we will be encouraged to not only do what our job demands, we will be motivated to habitually go above and beyond what is expected of us in the discharge of our duties. That smile; that extra effort to help someone get information, meet a deadline; that kind word to calm their nerves; that offer of a snack while they wait; the telephone calls to alert them of something when official communication fails and so on, make a lot of difference.
And if more of us adopt the practice of going above and beyond, we will overthrow the disgraceful norms in the public service and extinguish the prevailing sense of dread people have of dealing with us as public servants.
Part of this article was lifted from a similar one I wrote on the same subject titled, “How We Need More Pearls, Lord!” and published in my book, Magazine Article Writing.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers
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