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Counselling services needed at the workplace

by Lesotho Times
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Utloang Kajeno

COUNSELING is universally defined as giving professional help and advice to someone to resolve personal, social or psychological problems. From the above it will be discerned that counseling is a multi-faceted discipline that may be undertaken for a variety of reasons. However, for purposes of this article I wish to confine counseling to retirement counseling.

It will be recognised that the most common factor in most counseling situations is that the client (retiree in this case) is demoralised, distressed or otherwise in a negative state of mind about something. Counseling is a product that needs to be consumed by all categories of consumers across the spectrum irrespective of education, wealth or otherwise.

In Lesotho, the largest employers in terms of numbers, are the government and the textile industry. Therefore, these sectors inevitably need counseling departments to cater for their thousands of employees who experience life after retirement every year.  This piece therefore seeks to urge these two biggest sectors of our economy to establish full-time counseling departments. It will be noticed that, strangely, these sectors, despite their huge sizes in terms of workforces and revenue, do not have proper counseling department in their structures. Their arguments that they have human resources departments that can offer counseling services in sadly as myopic as it is baseless. Counseling is a totally different discipline from human resources management.

It cannot be denied that there are hundreds of professional counselors throughout Lesotho who roam our streets and villages unemployed and unutilised despite the huge contribution they can make towards the mental, social, economic and psychological development of this nation, if properly harnessed.

These two sectors, therefore, owing to their importance, merit to lead the way in establishing counseling departments so that other employers may follow suit. They need to be the trailblazers in this new phenomenon at the workplace.

There are literally thousands of Basotho, who can still make a positive contribution to their communities post-retirement, yet are roaming our streets and villagers without making a proper meaningful contribution to not only their welfare but to their communities. I therefore urge the policy makers of these two sectors of our economy to establish counseling departments.

Retirement is a significant change in an individual’s lifestyle. And as with any change, it comes with its emotions.  Retirement is not only an employment-job-related concept, rather it also has several psychosocial connotations.  From a vocational point of view, it as an indicator of the concluding stage of the occupation cycle at which certain material, vocational and experimental achievements are expected of an employee. Because of the many challenges that retiring employees face, it is important to note that among the various categories of workers in our labour force, workers approaching retirement and the retired should be of great concern.  It has to be noted that once an employee leaves the workplace for good, that, is retires, he is divorced, so to speak, from the work environment, which has been part of his/her daily life routine and that he is inevitably going to face new challenges and a different environment.

People on retirement inevitably face terrible trauma and a peculiar world, that in their view they have to face, sometimes alone.  They need to be transformed to meet the new challenges and need to walk through this new journey with the help of professional counselors at the workplace before embarking on this journey alone, at least in the erroneous view of the retiree.

It is the professional responsibility of the counselor to map the way forward with the retiree by way of comparing and contrasting the many possibilities of post-employment life. It is a sad reality of most employees’ vocational life that they consider life after formal employment to be fraught with insurmountable challenges which however, is a flawed view of life. That is why most of them, though sad to admit, age at an alarming rate and go to an early grave, if not properly counselled.

Because the concept of retirement connotes being laid-off because of age, it inevitably brings with it many psycho-social challenges such as terminal cessation, relaxation or changeover of financially remunerative employment.  Retirement is defined as when worker does not have to do run-of-the-mill activities of the previous employment but rather as facing up-to new challenges associated with leisure, travel, hobbies, family activities and educational pursuits.

In Lesotho, and I reckon everywhere around the world, most employees do not retire voluntarily but retire compulsory hence the huge psychosocial challenges that follow.  This is because they lack adequate understanding of the process of retirement. Furthermore, retirees associate retirement with the social stigma of being tagged a retiree.  It brings with it at times, financial and health constraints.

Because we are only human beings, irrespective of the level of education, psychological preparedness, finances or otherwise, we are susceptible to ordinary human weaknesses and perceptions, the inescapable implications of retirement are feelings of guilt, anger, denial, fatigue and a blurred future.  There is a tendency among most people to over-emphasize issues like financial assistance at the expense of more equally important emotional aspects of retirement.

People on the verge of retirement, like for instance prison inmates or members of a bereaved family, to make an unfortunate but appropriate comparison, need counseling like everybody else from across all social spheres.  In this regard, all people even if not avid Christians, feel that in times of change and trauma, God has forsaken them, at their most vulnerable times of need.

This dimension of counseling therefore, entails religious and psychological counseling which is very pivotal to Basotho as arguably more than 90 percent of Basotho are Christians. This dimension of counseling would therefore come in handy for most employees. Prospective retirees need to be convinced that there is the inescapable need for the employer to create space for younger employees with fresh innovative ideas.

In the case of ex-prison inmates, for instance, and equally to prospective retirees, it is imperative for them to be gradually eased into the new environment and culture that is diametrically opposed to their erstwhile environment. A prison environment is more regulated and has different time-frames to life outside prison which is more unregulated. Outside the prison walls, the ex-inmates are going to face a very different environment and indeed challenges and personalities that are different from those inside the prison walls.

In a similar vein, a prospective retiree upon retirement, is no longer used to the daily eight-hour shifts of meetings, conferences and target-orientated culture but is now faced with a more unregulated culture that is less time-bound.

On the basis of the above synopsis, it is therefore considered imperative for both government and the private sector to adequately prepare their prospective retirees for their inevitable retirement, by establishing a counseling department in their respective organisations.  It cannot be over-emphasized that the demands of modern life such as death and the unstable economics of our countries, bring about a strong need for these department.

In conclusion, I felt it would be remiss of me, not borrow from Professor John Bisi Asonibare and Dr. Abdulrazeq Olayinke Oniye of University of Ilorin, Nigeria, the following tips for consideration to ensure a successful transition into retirement:

  1. Persevere and remain optimistic – No matter how difficult the circumstances, have confidence that the basic value you stand for will sustain you and don’t give up on yourself.
  1. Make sure you have a reason to retire, a list of things you want to do other than work.
  1. Before retiring, decide how you are going to spend eight hours or more you used to devote to work. Retirement is another vocation you have to prepare for.
  1. Buy enough shares in the stock market or companies to tie down a reasonable fund for retirement income.
  1. Don’t allow forced retirement to throw you off-balance. You could anticipate it even if it will never happen, because it does not have be devastating. Instead, you will have control over what comes next.
  1. Pension benefits are often inadequate for most retirement lifestyles. You may have to supplement your income by working. If so, try to find something that you truly enjoy doing. Remember that while retirement laws suggest leaving work by 60, nothing says you couldn’t work longer if you feel like and capable.
  1. If you want to do volunteer work to fill your time then find an activity you enjoy. If you don’t, it will be boring.
  1. Be careful to choose a retirement residence where most specialists like doctors, lawyers, therapists could be located easily.

It will be recognised that these sectors of our economy/employers need to allocate a certain percentage of their human resources and budget towards establishing this ground-breaking dimension in the work environment for the benefit of the employees, their dependents and the whole country so that we can all be assured of a sustainable satisfactory workforce that has something positive to look forward to.

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