The human element is the most important and versatile resource in any organization or corporation as it is the only resource that is capable of thinking, planning, executing, organizing and achieving organizational results. Thus, it is imperative to ensure that personnel policies and practices are designed and formulated in a manner that will enhance its values and contribution to the organization. However, as the rate of unemployment continues to peak beyond comprehension globally, there is also an increasing tendency for employers (especially in the private sector) to prey on the desperation of job seekers and exploit labour. When most job seekers are invited for an interview by a prospective employer, the principal thought that permeates the job seekers’ mind is how he or she can first be employed on any terms of a contract of employment offered by the employer. However, by the time the new employee settles down to work and becomes integrated into the work environment, discontent may likely ferment once comparisons between conditions of service are made. Dissatisfaction will always ultimately truncate optimum productivity.
It is, therefore, necessary for a job seeker to properly evaluate the terms of a contract of employment before appending his or her signature to the document. The following tips may come in handy.
#1 – Verify the Job Description (JD) of the Post You Are Applying For: A job description is usually in a narrative form and it is a summary of the task to be accomplished by the holder of the portfolio. A job description is often developed by conducting a job analysis which includes examining the tasks and sequences of task necessary to perform the job. The analysis takes into consideration the area of knowledge and skill needed for the job. A job usually includes several roles. A job description is a list of tasks, functions, and responsibilities of a position. It will include the following:
- Name of subject, department and
- Details of the specific task to be carried out.
- Details of any person reporting to the subject
- Name of subject to whom the subject is reporting to
- Details of specific tasks and duties
In many instances, an applicant may be employed to fill a particular post but by the time he commences work, he may discover that he may even become involved in roles that he never anticipated before accepting the employment. The truth is that every employer wants to do more with fewer employees. Usually, most employment letters contain an omnibus clause which empowers the employer to assign a task to the employee outside his or her job description. Moreover, job descriptions are subject to review all the time which is a further advantage to the employer. One of the ways the applicant can mitigate being overstretched for the same salary is to insist during his interview that he or she is only skilled for the post applied for and enlarging the applicant’s roles in the course of work would be detrimental to his or her productivity. The main challenge here is that the applicant is usually so desperate to land the job that they are not willing to insist on their rights.
# 2 – Request to Study Staff/Employee Handbook: The staff/employee handbook is a compilation of the policies, procedures, working conditions, and behavioural expectations that guide employee actions in a particular workplace. Employee handbooks generally also include information about the company, employee compensation and benefits, and additional terms and conditions of employment. Very often, employers use the policies in an employee handbook to protect themselves from lawsuits, such as harassment claims, wrongful termination claims, and discrimination claims. Employee handbooks generally contain a code of conduct for employees that set guidelines around appropriate behaviour for the individual workplace. In many employment situations, the prospective staff or employee only gets to study the staff handbook after he or she must have endorsed the principal terms contained the letter of employment. In fact, in some establishments, the recruited staff may even endorse his or her acceptance of the provisions of the employee handbook without having seen it! It would make sense for an applicant (while negotiating the contract of employment) to request to see the staff handbook. The terms and conditions of the workplace transcend the issues of remuneration contained in the letter of employment.
#3 – Verify What Constitutes Your New Employer’s Work Ethics: A strong work ethic is vital to a company achieving its goals. Every employee, from the CEO to entry-level workers, must have a good work ethic to keep the company functioning at its peak. A work ethic is a set of moral principles that guides an employee in the workplace. Factors like integrity, sense of responsibility, emphasis on quality, discipline and team spirit are all constituents of a strong work ethics. For a potential employee, verifying what constitutes his prospective employer’s work ethics is a tricky and crafty pursuit. It will involve nosing about, asking questions from old timers who may not be willing to divulge any sensitive information, and reviewing evaluations of other stakeholders of the company. Some companies or employers have such a hyperbolic “strong” work ethic that they lack a human face. In other words, a company’s quest to achieve its goals and may push its corporate administration to the brink of tyranny where minor lapses and mistakes from employees are hardly tolerated and are always sanctioned. In some of these companies, the employee may even be queried within the first month of work, without management taking cognisance of the fact that the employee is still grappling to understand the work culture of the establishment. Further examples of extreme work ethics are situations where a new employee is expected to be multitasking on several roles when he or she is yet to master any one.
On the converse to companies and organisations with strong work ethic, other prospective employers and companies may unwittingly imbibe a negative work ethic. Organisations with negative work ethics lack team play and integrity. They lack organograms, proper delegations, and discipline. You can never distinguish between a unit head and his team. These are two extremes that any job applicant would do himself a world of good to avoid. The applicant should always search for a work environment with a balanced work ethic.
# 4 – Verify the Length of Probation: Most jobs of permanent nature will involve an official probationary period. The implication of probation is that although you have been hired because you were probably the best candidate for the job, your new employer desires to evaluate you over a period to ensure that you are really suitable for the position. This period is also designed to ensure that your new colleagues support and assist you to make a hitch free transition into working with the firm. Usually, a new staff should have a pay raise after he or she has successfully undergone probation. An unconfirmed staff should have a shorter notice to serve his employers if he or she chooses to resign from the new job. The length of probationary period differs between institutions and jobs; in some places it can be as short as a few months (traditionally six months); in others, it can be several years. An applicant negotiating a contract of employment will do himself a world of good to ask members of the interview panel how long it will take for him or her to be confirmed if he accepts the offer of employment. Usually, the letter of employment which is termed “provisional” ought to state when the employment will be confirmed. However, many new employees have had experiences where they work for several years without being confirmed, regardless of the 6-month provision in their letter of employment.
#5 – Clarify Latent Clauses: Many employment contracts have clauses couched in legalism and phraseology that will leave a new employee unaware of their rights and how to seek enforcement thereof. Some employment letters are steeped in certain productivity clauses based on the company’s evaluation format, which may eventually rob the employee of his or her complete remunerations, should such employee fail to reach the set target of goals. It is needful for an employee to carefully study every paragraph of the contract of employment with a solicitor or any other professional adviser before putting pen to paper. The moment the employee accepts through his signature that the terms and conditions of the employment are acceptable to him or her, there is a presumption that he or she understood everything therein.
#6 – Right to Patent Invention: If you are taking up a job that will require your direct involvement in research and innovation, it will be in your best interest to insist that the contract of employment should provide for your right to patent your inventions or where that is not feasible; the contract should provide for a special bonus or remuneration, especially where you are involved in contributing to any inventions for your employer. Alternatively, before you take the job, you may insist that your job description should not include any inventive activity. This because under Section 2 (4) of the Patent and Design Act, Cap P2, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, where an invention is made in the course of employment or in the execution of a contract for the performance of specified work, the right to patent in the invention is vested in the employer or as the case may be in the person who commissioned the work provided that where the inventor is an employee, then if his contract of employment does not require him to exercise any inventive activity but he is making the invention through the use of data or means which his employment has provided or put at his disposal or the invention is of exceptional importance, he is entitled to fair remuneration taking into account his salary and the importance of the invention.
#7 – Verify what Kind of Referrals Are Being Sought by the Employer: A referee is anyone who can vouch for your character and what you are like to work with. When choosing someone to be your referee, ensure you choose responsible citizens who can say good things about you to the potential employers. It is also needful to find out if your prospective employer is only interested in referees. Some employers may want more than referees; they demand guarantors! A guarantor is a person or entity that agrees to be responsible for another’s debt or performance under a contract if the other fails to pay or perform. Guarantors are only necessary where the sudden disappearance of an employee from the workplace will result in manifest losses to the employer. It is necessary for a job seeker to decide whether the stress of finding guarantors is worth the gains of the contract of employment, because these days, it’s really difficult to source for guarantors.