Tendency towards learned pessimism in the South African industrial multinational sector industry
Van Schalkwyk, Heidi
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South Africa's business environment is changing dramatically. Companies are continuously placed under pressure to reform. Government introduced clear guidelines in the form of transformation strategies to assist companies in moving towards a more democratic, non-racial and fully representative organisational structure. The two major strategies are coined Black Economic Empowerment and Affirmative Action. The aim of the strategies is to empower and uplift the previously disadvantaged communities of the Apartheid era. These communities include black people; who consist of Africans, Coloureds and Indians; women and disabled individuals. However, these strategies are perceived with mixed emotions. A sense of negativity is evident within the attitudes of all race groups. This may give rise to a new problem in the workplace: pessimism. Pessimism is associated with undesirable characteristics such as external, unstable and specific explanations for bad things and has emotional links to depression. Pessimists view problems as long lasting and inescapable, and tend to blame all misfortunes on their own ineptness and incompetence. On the other hand, optimism is associated with characteristics such as positive mood and good morale, happiness, perseverance and effective problem solving, achievement and health and even a long life and freedom from trauma. It is characterised by internal, stable and global explanations for bad things. A cross-sectional design with an availability sample (N 68) of junior and middle management workers working in a multinational industry was used. Non-probability purposive sampling was applied in the selection of the study population. The results indicated that males experience more dispositional pessimism than women. Black employees also experienced more dispositional pessimism and optimism than white employees, and employees who attended Affirmative Action induction programmes displayed higher levels of optimism than those who have not attended such programmes. If the tendency towards pessimism increases the result may have devastating effects on the organisation as a whole. It is possible that performance will decline and organisational targets will not be reached. To address these issues organisations may need to change their structural planning in order to utilise males more productively, and to enhance a sense of empowerment. Companies should formulate clear goals with regard to what they want to gain from Affirmative Action programmes. Programmes should also be constantly revised and continuing evaluations must be carried out in order to track the effect of the programmes on the workforce. Recommendations were made for future research.