The Culture of Work in Nigeria

Do you love your job or are you just afraid of being unemployed?

Over the last 5 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few startup tech companies in Nigeria and consult for a couple other businesses and i’ve observed that there is a terrible work culture. I’ve also had conversations with friends who work in different fields, hold various roles and the story is largely the same. Working in a typical Nigerian company is a daily battle with sanity.

There are 2 main sides to the problem, the Nigerian employees and the Nigerian business owner / manager. Writing this now and it seems the underlying factor is Nigeria.

Side 1: Nigerian Employees

If you give a typical Nigerian employee an inch, he will run 4th mainland bridge on your head. For example; a company decides to train employees on certain skills to improve their overall performance, the next week, an employee is applying for a job, a higher role than his current employment and definitely more pay (due to the new skill). This leaves the employer with a sour taste and hesitation to offer such training going forward.

There is also the case of a gross sense of entitlement. The number of employees who want to be told what to do outnumber those that think for themselves and are proactive. People want to do the barest minimum and get paid, with an apartment and a personal driver.

Side 2: Nigerian Employers / Managers

Nigerian business owners / managers believe that due to the high rate of unemployment, you have no choice but to do their bidding. Each job posting they put out, gets over 500 applications, so. There is also a fundamental lack of feedback mechanism, imagine telling your boss the idea he’s proposing cannot work. LOL!

If he doesn’t let you know he is your Oga and you are still learning on the spot, he will probably allow you, only to frustrate your efforts and blame you at the end. The common relationship between an employer and the employee is “Anything you say is correct sir”.

Picture this; Leye, Young smart chap, has some experience with marketing and conversions works in a startup where the CEO believes his way is the only right way. Smart chap is blessed with ignorance and passion, he wants to push out the best ideas to help the business.

The CEO heard their competitors radio jingle on RayPower on his way to work. CEO talks to Leye getting their jingle on the station by the end of the week, Leye explains to the CEO that the typical RayPower audience is totally parallel to their customers (their typical customer is between 14–30), and the cost to run the jingle on the station is 5x the station their youthful audience listens to, but the CEO insists.

They run the campaigns, generates no conversions and the CEO instead of admitting he didn’t quite get it, blames Leye for not creating the right messaging, even though he approved what was aired.

It is typical for Nigerian business owners to shoot down the idea their smart team members bring due to a pre conceived notion, or an experience they’ve had before and the more the ideas are shut down, the lower the number of ideas brought to the table.

It is generally believed that if someone is older than you, or has spent more years working, they would have know about any subject better than you. This is more of a cultural thing; showing respect to elders.

Another issue is the management style where it is believed that the more time you spend at the office the more committed you are about your work. Like Nigeria, most companies work based on assumptions rather than data. There is no correlation between length of time at the office and productivity.

People have different work patterns, some are more productive very early in the morning, while some are off to a slow start, pickup momentum later in the day. It’s even tougher when you live in Lagos, and have to leave your house early, face traffic for an average of 2 hours to and fro work.

Way Forward:

  1. Nigerian employees (Read; Nigerians) need to improve their work ethics, this will do you more good than even your employer. Learn the skills you need to progress in your career and give every task your best shot
  2. Nigerian businesses need to deliberately focus on building a healthy work culture a system where 360 degree feedback is encouraged and everyone is enabled to thrive.
  3. Age is not equal to subject matter knowledge or expertise. Take time to listen, be open minded. Let people do the job you hired them for or improve your hiring process if you keep hiring the wrong people.
  4. The responsibility is on the business owners / managers to find more creative ways of ensuring productivity, these will include result based work as opposed to time based work. If an employee is clear on what the expected outcome is, allow them to do the work (except if you hired the wrong person).
Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.
George S. Patton

5. How work is done in this age is totally different from 10 years ago, i actually found a company with over 600 employees and no physical office. They’ve won awards for the company with the best culture. You can check them out here BELAY

This post started from conversations with Seye Bandele and Tayo Sowole