Critical Issues in Caribbean Development Number 3

Institutional Aspects of West Indian Development


Edwin Jones et al.




Most modern analytical discussions of work ethics and entrepreneurship derive in some way from the work of Max Weber, who argued that there was a causal relationship between Protestant religious beliefs and the emergence and establishment of modern capitalism (Weber 1976). This study takes as its point of departure the more general formulation of that relationship, which is that principles, values, and beliefs do underlie a person's approach to work, affect work attitude and, eventually, work output and economic behaviour.


It must, however, be recognised that religion may not be the only source of these work-related beliefs and values. Further, it is necessary to draw a distinction it between work attitudes and work ethics, and to note, therefore, that positive work ethics can coexist with negative work attitudes. This disjuncture could be due to the character of the work environment within which the work ethic seeks to express ell itself. It may also be a fiat of the assessment process-assessments can, and do, vary according to the social, political, and cultural location of the assessor. In this study, it will be argued that the reality of this difference is important in understanding the behaviours of the Caribbean worker.


It will be argued here that in the Caribbean, historical forces have, by and large, ensured the nonemergence of a Protestant-type work ethic, which has as one of its main tenets, the value of work for its own sake. Instead, an ethos has emerged where

work is valued for the returns that it brings. These returns are not always financial, or even where it is financial, this is not always the only return sought. Very often the returns sought tend to include factors such as a person's ability to achieve his or her potential, to realise his or her ambition, and to generally feel appreciated for his or her human worth within the work environment.


There is some evidence of the correlation, in the Caribbean, between conditions of work and work attitudes and behaviour. Where workers have been forced to work under exploitative circumstances, therefore, they have resorted to various forms of resistance to reduce the level of exploitation. In the more modern working environment, management-worker relations have been identified as a major problem area, and a serious source of dissatisfaction among workers. Perceptions of fairness have resulted, however, in the display of positive work attitudes and willingness to work efficiently (Stone 1982). When management practices sufficiently motivate the worker, involve them in the decision making process, and integrate them into the development process, the environment for a positive work attitude is usually created (Dobson 1991; Stone 1982). In other words, depersonalised worker-management relationships and practices, especially where reminiscent of a slave master/slave type of relationship, have tended to evoke negative responses from the Caribbean worker.




There is a fair degree of consensus that the essence of the function of the entrepreneur is to bear uncertainty. However, two slightly different approaches to this basic concept were adopted by Joseph Schumpeter and Arthur Cole, two of the leading scholars involved in entrepreneurial research.


According to Schumpeter, innovation was the main criterion of entrepreneurship.  It did not matter whether this innovation was in the form of an idea or whether it was technological innovation, it was felt that these creative responses provided a springboard from which others benefited, and that the ability to be creative, to come up with a new response in a particular field of activity was the mark of an entrepreneur.


Cole (1959) on the other hand felt that entrepreneurship was,


...the purposeful activity ...of an individual or group of associated individuals, undertaken to initiate, maintain or aggrandize a profit oriented business unit for the production or distribution of economic goods and services.


Innovation in the business world, according to him, was only successful if the institution in which it was being introduced was being effectively maintained.


In the Caribbean, Cole's definition is more usually used to define the entrepreneur and entrepreneurial activity. Whenever innovation is apart of this activity, the entrepreneur to whom this creativity is attributed is usually regarded as being 'a cut above the others.'  In this study, Cole's definition has been adopted. Schumpeter's definition is useful, however, to the extent that it allows for the identification minority of those entrepreneurs who have been bold innovators, those who have been 'a cut above the others.' This will be the working position of this study.


The attribution of the failure of black entrepreneurship to slavery was mentioned earlier. However, we do not think that it is easily explained by this phenomenon only. Attention must also be focused on the postemancipation plantation era when, in a rather perverse manner, both opportunity and denial of opportunity had the consequence of diverting those of African descent away from entrepreneurial kinds of activities.


It can be argued that the slavery and postemancipation sociopolitical structures groups, m of domination imposed a culture that systematically and fairly successfully destroyed the positive self-concept of the blacks (Beckford 1988). Coercive efforts on

the part of the colonial administrators to encourage blacks to remain and work on the plantations did not meet with much success. Where possible, many turned to self-employment as small farmers, but there eventually came to be some possibility for social mobility as the expansion of education, the militia, and the government’s bureaucracy could not always be satisfied by the small numbers of whites in the colonies (Beckford 1988).


The opportunities presented in the form of education and jobs in the civil service became a source of great pride and a symbol of status, and came to be the principal avenue for satisfying the overwhelming desire among blacks to prove to the ruling class that they were not inferior. This was articulated through modes of dress, material acquisition, forms of speech and behaviour, and the occupation of public positions and white collar jobs. 


This psychological need to give centrality of place to the acquisition of status has been explained by Franz F anon (1967): 

Man is human only to the extent to which he tries to impose his existence on another man in order to be recognized by him.  As long as he has not been effectively recognized by the other, that will remain the theme of his actions.  It is on that other being, on recognition by the other being, that his own human worth and reality depend- It is that other being in business whom the meaning of his life is condensed.

Since the basic structure of opportunities remained in place throughout the colonial and postcolonial periods, and the stereotypes of the inferiority of blacks and everything associated with blackness continued to be propagated, blacks complexity continued to feel the need to place importance on status as a means of affirming their worth. In fact they had little choice in the matter, since 

the idea of Blacks aspiring towards economic dominance or playing a key role in the influence b entrepreneurial leadership to usher in the new economic order . . .had no place in the new scheme of things. Blacks were seen as a sort of supporting cast to provide support for ethnic minority economic leadership. (Stone 1988)


They therefore remained in the civil service, continuing in various ways to fight the system in order to access higher levels of education to ultimately obtain greater mobility, while eschewing entrepreneurial activities (Gordon 1986).


Other ethnic groups had, in the meantime, continued to expand their business activities and were slowly becoming financial forces. They were able to develop business traditions which were closely intertwined with family relationships, structures, and obligations, and which together have come to represent critical resources for subsequent business and entrepreneurial aspirants. Within these other ethnic groups, families have been crucial sources of capital (start-up and working), unpaid labour, and more recently, managerial and professional skills. Persons sent away for study tend to return to employment within the family business to an extent not immediately apparent in the black ethnic community.


If the above analysis is correct, it may then be that, in any redistribution of opportunities for the stimulation of black entrepreneurship, there remains the formidable task, not only of expanding opportunities for black entrepreneurship, but also of loosening the structure of relationships and the dependency on status for self-affirmation, which have hitherto been dominant. Questions of interest therefore include,

· Are there mechanisms that are needed to trigger an appreciation for entrepreneurship and risk-taking among blacks?

· Is there a latent desire on the part of blacks to become entrepreneurs, just waiting for the right opportunities in order to emerge?

· Is there a specific need to reduce the dependence on civil service jobs as a means I of achieving social mobility before one sees an emergence of interest in entrepreneurial activities among blacks?

· Under what circumstances will blacks be able to make the transition from businessmen to entrepreneurs, and be able to profitably sustain their business enterprises?

This study attempts to answer some of these questions by interviewing, in depth, black entrepreneurs who own and manage businesses which vary in size, structural complexity and lifespan.


It is expected that these case studies will provide insights into the existence of a spirit of entrepreneurship among blacks, the extent to which historical factors still influence blacks in business, and some of the factors that motivate black entrepreneurs. In analysing the data it became necessary to make a distinction between work ethic and work attitude in order to properly characterise the findings in this area. The reason for this is that very often employees displayed psychological dissonance due to the environment in which they worked. Although many of the interviewees may have had good and positive work ethics, that is, their values and principles concerning work were positive, their work attitude and behaviour were not necessarily in consonance with these values and beliefs, for a number of different reasons having , to do with conditions of work and ability to earn an adequate wage or salary.


The majority of the interviewees in fact had a positive work ethic. They believed in the necessity of doing a job well, and that work was an important aspect of a person's life. Interviewees also believed in putting in a fair day's work for a fair day's pay.


Mr. Munro, for example, who is a 72-year-old security guard working for Bims Publication in Barbados, has been working all of his life. He remembers having to work at home since he was six years old. Since then he has worked as a driver, a factory worker in New York for approximately ten years, and as an agricultural worker on an estate in Barbados. As an agricultural worker, he also maintained his own kitchen garden at home. Later, Mr. Munro became a security guard, working for a guard company until Bims Publication asked him to work as their security guard full time. As a result of his upbringing and his orientation towards work, he has come to the conclusion that

...when it come to work, there is nothing I scared to do or would turn me back. ..

A younger worker, Richard Leander (29 years), also at Bims Publication, had a similarly positive work ethic. He works as a gardener in this institution. His attitude to work as described by his superiors, and as he himself describes it in the interview, is one of work as almost noble, no matter at what level it is performed. Even his colleagues are impressed with his work ethic. Richard has never been absent for one day. The few times he has been late by half an hour he makes sure he gives it back by working late. He describes his job as being the lowest in the ranking of jobs at his institution, but feels that this does not matter since whatever one does, should be done to the best of one's ability, and with the assumption that it is very important.


Workers in Jamaica demonstrate similar principles associated with work. Many of them believe in working long hours and going the extra mile if necessary to complete the job they do. At the AB Investment and Loans Bank (ABIB) all the workers interviewed (15) across the four branches, located in rural as well as urban areas, displayed a positive work ethic. This was the case regardless of their occupational position in the bank's hierarchy. All expressed a belief in the principle of working diligently and well, of putting in a fair day's work for a fair day's pay, and of being honest when dealing with the property and resources of the employing organisation.


Winsome Cowan (23-year-old payroll clerk at ABIB headquarters) describes herself as a person who would do whatever was necessary to get the job done. She types, fills in for others when they need help, works late whenever she has to, and is intent on improving her qualifications in order to do better at her job.


Also at the ABIB, Phillip Lewis (30 years) is the operations manager at one of the branches in Kingston: He has served for a total of 11 years at different branches of the ABIB. As he explains, during his early years of employment at the bank, he would voluntarily remain at work after 4.30 p.m., the end of the normal working day, and stay as late as 10.00 p.m. assisting in other areas. This, he claims, is how he came to learn most of what he now knows. This was also how he was able to take over the position that he now holds, at very short notice.


The sources of these positive attitudes to work in the persons interviewed were, in the main, early family values and experiences, and to a lesser extent, religion. For Mr. Munro, his grandmother played the most significant role.

. . .my mother died when I was two years old. . . so I raise up with my grandmother. I learn to do everything, watch her cook, fetch water. . .I just used to have to do it and : really, I used to vex about it, but she would say to me, 'you got to put in the labour', and j the truth is, I did. . .


Richard Leander of Birns Publication (Barbados) had a similar comment.

. . . .my grandmother, she taught me when I was young to be involved in whatever work  was being done in and around the house. . .and not just involved, but to do things to the best of your ability and to be committed to whatever you are doing.


With respect to the influential role of religious beliefs, Mr. Leander further explained,

...well, basically. . .if your soul is controlling your body then you work according to how you feel, but if the spirit is controlling the soul, then your soul got to do what your spirit want it to do. Before I was a Christian I never used to like to work on a Monday. . .but the main thing we must understand is that God expects us to work to the best of our ability. If you have the ability of ten, he would not expect the ability of twenty, but if you have the ability of two, well, he expect two. . .


His Christianity also provides an approach to difficulties that may arise in relation to his job and his job expectations.

...the first time I came here to work, they ask me how much money I want to take home after tax. I figure that the person who asked me the question know well how much will be taken out, so I said a specific amount. What I received was the amount I said that I wanted to take home and then tax was taken out, and I never made any noise. . .


He was expecting a raise soon, but even if he didn't get it, he would go on,

...doing my job the same way, better and better. . .I love working because my father, who is God, is a worker.


The influence of the family as a source of a positive work ethic was more noticeable in Barbadian respondents than in those from Jamaica. The latter tended to identify early work environment as the source of these values. Positive work attitudes were often inspired by the prospect of material reward in Jamaica. Thus, in the case of Joshua Passley, a worker at ABIB (located in a rural town branch), although he feels that he has absorbed discipline and the ability to work hard from his mother who was a single parent, and although he has very high standards of work both at the bank and at the farm which he owns, he says:

It is really after I started to work and then I wanted to achieve certain things, to own my own motor vehicle, to own my own home, that type of thing, that I remember working so hard. . .I think I could have done much better at school and I wasted some time and I didn't realize I was doing it until after I left school.


Similarly Winsome Cowan (ABIB, Kingston branch) confesses that, although she thinks that the potential for hard work and discipline was instilled in her as a young girl, the actual love of work did not arise until she began to see the rewards that it could bring. like in school I used to like be tired most of the time, ...I didn't want to work or anything like that. All I know is that I just didn't want to be there, . . .

She also admits that she was definitely against banking as a career, because 'people used to say that banking is hard work, plenty stress and so forth. . .'  She is now very interested in a career in banking and does not mind the hard work at all.

I intend to be a manager soon ...I will be moving up the executive ladder ...there are things

out there to achieve if one is willing to work honestly and hard.


One of the major hypotheses of this study is that the Caribbean work ethic is driven, not by the principle that work is good in and of itself, but that hard work brings rewards. These rewards may be tangible or intangible and the data seem to suggest that material or tangible rewards are responsible, first for awaking the positive work ethic in some Jamaican workers, and secondly, that they certainly elicit a positive work attitude in workers in general.


It may be asked whether or not a stable macroeconomic environment is likely to produce a contented worker with positive work attitudes? A look at the general industrial relations environment in Barbados and Jamaica suggests that there may be some merit in such an argument. There are far fewer strikes and disruptions in the workplace in Barbados than in Jamaica. In fact, Jamaica has, for the past two years, 1994 and 1995, been beset by a high level of industrial unrest. Barbados has been characterised bya far higher level of social cohesion than Jamaica. This social cohesion has manifested itself in macroeconomic policies in which the elite in the society demonstrate a much higher level of social responsibility. One example of this is the high level of effort and money invested by successive governments-pre- and postindependence-in the creation of capital goods and the development of public infrastructure.


They also ensured the provision of the basic social goods such as health, education, housing, and social security. The result of this was a 'reasonably disciplined workforce with high levels of functional literacy among workers' (Howard 1987).


It is not accidental that every one of the persons selected for case study in Barbados, with the exception of Mr. Munro, who is over 70 years of age, has had more than four years of high school education. This included the gardener, who had the lowest occupational ranking in his organisation, but was impressively articulate about the values and principles that underlay his work ethic. By contrast, younger persons in the sample in Jamaica were much more likely to have had no access to secondary education, or to be graduates of comprehensive and secondary schools. This meant that not only were basic literacy and educational levels lower, but there would have been less opportunity for them to acquire and absorb those social skills, values, and attitudes necessary for easy and consensual participation in the wider civic community.


Since the late 1960s, Jamaica appears to have had an unending experience with economic crises, induced by internal deficiencies and inefficiencies, disadvantageous external developments, and the medicines administered by structural adjustment policies to treat the perceived problems. Economic contraction, sharp de- clines in standards of living, as well as the reduction and deterioration of the public social services, have been the fairly well-documented consequences (Anderson and Witter 1994; Polanyi-Levitt 1991).


Macroeconomic policies that deprive workers of basic social services, or make it difficult for workers to access these services, can result in a situation where the utilitarian definition of the rewards sought strongly compete with the yearning for status recognition. Support for this argument may be found in the comment of the personnel officer of Bims Publication Newspapers.

The employees here used to be a lot more hardworking before. ..they used to be willing to work late without putting in for their overtime. Since structural adjustment policies have been implemented in Barbados, the organisation has had to be more careful about salary increases and such, and workers are a lot more exacting about overtime and a lot less willing to put in the extra work.


It would be interesting to observe the extent to which the higher levels of social cohesion in Barbados provide any long-term cushioning effect against the disengagement of work ethic and work attitude.