We featured Esther Yap in the first part of our series on Ghana where we delved into her job as a marketing manager for a beverage company in Ghana, as well as her first impressions of the West African state. This week, we zoom into Esther thoughts on the Ghanaian working culture and how this is different from working in Singapore.
What is the working culture in Ghana?
I feel that the Ghanaian working culture is relatively more laid-back than Singapore. Compared to Singaporeans, there is a lesser sense of urgency and initiative demonstrated when attending to work matters.
There is a greater extent of micromanaging local employees in companies here. One example is the compulsory signing of attendance for local employees as a way to prevent any possible lapse in punctuality. Most Ghanaian employees would also prefer to close from work at 5pm sharp.
On the brighter side of worklife, everyone in Ghana enjoy many more public holidays as compared to Singapore. One can certainly feel the holiday vibe early in the office one day before major festivities start as most people tend to ‘loosen up’ and ‘take things easier’.
Ghana is predominantly Christian, it is a common sight in Ghanaian companies to start the session with a solemn prayer. Seniority and age are also highly regarded in the working culture. Formal terms of endearment such as ‘uncle’ and ‘auntie’ are used by some younger Ghanaians to address older Ghanaians even in a business environment.
What motivates a Ghanaian?
From my experience, many Ghanaians are motivated by bonuses and monetary incentives. For example, we try to give an incentive apart from the basic salary to our part-time promoters or supermarket merchandisers to drive product sales during marketing activations.
At times, we try to incentivise the waiters and bartending staff in the clubs and merchandisers in the shops to get them to push our spirit brands as well. The upside to this attitude is that while it does not cost much to incentivise them on a regular basis, they generally go the extra mile for you to make sure the job is done to your satisfaction after receiving this little extra from you.
Some companies in Ghana will prepare year-end gifts for their employees as a form of appreciation for their service. Apart from the normal bonus, gifts can range from food and drink hampers to a sack of rice. I remembered getting 20 cans of tomato paste and a whole frozen chicken as a year-end gift from my first company – I cooked it for Christmas dinner of course.
What are the challenges you have to work with when working in Ghana?
Some challenges I have faced include a high level of bureaucracy and red-tape. Work processes are generally slower and far more tedious than Singaporean companies. For example, there has to be two or three signatures on a simple document (e.g. an expense sheet) before it is approved, which can result in delays during crunch time.
On a business level, we do our best to remain cautious as there are plenty of scams about. Companies generally prefer to deal in cash rather than credit or online transactions.
I remembered an interesting case when I had a Nigerian customer who wanted to buy some cases of Dom Perignon champagne. When it was time to make payment, he suddenly stood up and bent down to roll his pants up. I was so surprised to see thick wads of US dollar bills wrapped around his calves!
He basically handed almost $20,000 in hard cash for me to deposit in the bank. It was the first time I had to count so much money and I insisted on having the security guard accompany me to the bank as I felt really insecure going to the bank alone.
What are the differences between working with Singaporeans and Ghanaians?
Work progresses at a much faster pace in Singapore. Many Ghanaians like to start a business meeting by making small talk, which is something that I don’t really have patience for until now. The people that I have worked with know I’m brisk and straight to the point when it comes to work related matters.
On a more positive note, Ghanaians are unabashed in letting you know their opinion or complain about an issue; especially when they are unhappy or angry. I see this as a good thing as the management can take steps quickly to remedy any problem.
I feel that they do not take work problems personally as much as we Asians do. Singaporeans have a tendency to keep our conflicting opinions to ourselves and as a result, are more prone to backbiting and bearing grudges with our colleagues.
What should Singaporeans considering working in Ghana expect?
Be proactive and able to think quickly for solutions when you face a challenge. Be prepared to rely on your own capabilities, hardworking attitude, inner drive and perseverance to get things moving in your company.
This is the primary reason why many expatriates are hired in managerial posts because they take initiative to drive the company forward.
Also expect to deal with a couple of inconveniences (lousy internet, work emails bouncing back & bad phone reception, ridiculously heavy traffic that does not move, unforeseen delays at work) that you don’t usually face in Singapore.
Honestly, kudos to our government for making our lives comfortable and convenient. We Singaporeans are really a fortunate bunch who could be less complacent and way more appreciative of what we have.
Do you miss hanging out with your friends back home?
I do, but I feel that social life in Ghana frees me from having to live up to the social and traditional expectations faced back home – many of whom try to ‘ballot for an apartment, settle down and have kids’ by a certain age.
Frankly, the free-spirited mindset by which they live and enjoy life does make me feel like I have not really aged since the day I came to Ghana.
What have you learnt from working with the Ghanaians?
Most Ghanaians do not define who they are as a person based on their work performance. Regardless of how many challenges they face during the day, Ghanaians always cheer up and never seem to brood over work after 5pm or on weekends. You can almost always never reach a Ghanaian on his or her work phone during weekends because it is most probably switched off.
This has its drawbacks when it comes to work but it does prove a point that they know how to set aside time to enjoy life. It took me a long while, but I learnt how to differentiate my work performance from who I am as a person by not brooding obsessively on work issues after working hours are over.
I used to be a workaholic in Singapore, clocking in crazy hours sometimes from as early as 6am till as late as 1am; with more work on the weekends. At one point of time, I had no social life as I was too consumed by work. But nowadays, I make it my priority to maintain a good work life balance enjoying the weekend with my friends.
Want to find out more about the food and culture in Ghana? Read on more about Esther’s experience in Ghana.