Africans still struggle to call their bosses and older colleagues by their first names


But HR consultant Edwick Mabika says this has an adverse effect on innovation and engagement.

referring to one another on a first-name basis is an important aspect of a positive culture for an organisation in this era. This is one area that has had slow progress across the African continent mainly due to how respect is taught and instilled from a young age. A culture of respect, honorifics of the elders' deference, distance, and formality has been inculcated in us and addressing elders on a first-name basis is regarded as disrespect. In an era of globalization, however, life in the corporate world is different from the normal life that people live in society and this is why there is likely to be workplace clashes on this issue. This can particularly be a challenge for people that have to manage employees who are significantly older than them. 

Many executives and managers insist that they are addressed by honorifics that reflect their seniority or title but this does more harm than good. 

Niccolo Machiavelli once said that “It is not titles that honour men, but men that honour titles.” A title won’t increase one’s ability to create impact and the ability to drive change.

Having a culture dressing all colleagues on a first-name basis and avoiding titles contributes positively to psychological safety. Individuals feel they can speak up, express their concerns, and be heard by their superiors. This creates a sense of the workplace being a safe space to share ideas, which in turn leads to higher productivity, collaboration, creativity and engagement. Employees can speak up and this contributes to organisational effectiveness. Rather than a hierarchical organization where fear is predominantly and status differentiation is emphasized. 

As per this Harvard Business Review article, when a young person is obliged to address someone as Mr. or Ms. they immediately establish themselves as either a) younger or b) lower status, neither of which is particularly helpful to their cause professionally. 

"Demanding an underling use a more formal title now seems ridiculously outdated and perhaps even pompous," reads the article. However, it is surprising that many organisations on the African continent are yet to recognise this.

Professor Morand says bosses and workers are better off when they call each other by their first names because it sets the tone for a more collegial relationship.

He says that, for culture to be successful in organisations management should take the leading role. As this can be highly uncomfortable for juniors stuff to implement calling superior employees by name if employees call top officials by a title and last name, they are openly corrected in a friendly way.

Organisations with a positive culture and that want to have a competitive advantage over others have recently become culture aware of such small things and its impact to the success of the business they have turned to use first name and more friendly titles.

Employees are attracted to companies that are not only financially successful but also are culturally successful. Old habits die hard for all of us this must be reinforced with clarity and specificity the behaviour you’re looking for.

Related articles

Psychological safety leads in the protection against burnout

Burnout may be enemy number one in the global workforce. Of the many interventions to curb it, psychological safety emerges as the most promising ingredient, write Tyler Phillips, head of research and content and Dr Etienne van der Walt, CEO and co-founder, both at Neurozone.

The secret currency to talent: the EVP

EVP could be an employer’s secret sauce as it enhances talent management, highlighting company values and sustainability, attracting and retaining top talent, writes Celeste Sirin, employer branding specialist and CEO of Employer Branding Africa.

Old Mutual leaders unpack the impact of parental leave changes

New parents will soon legally have the right to decide how to divide the four months of parental leave. Lindiwe Sebesho, managing director of Remchannel, and Blessing Utete, managing executive of Old Mutual Corporate consultants, provide their views on whether workplace policies and culture are ready for this gender shift.

Shining a light on neurodiversity research

Way more than a buzzword in the modern workplace, the topic of neurodiversity is being covered by the likes of Forbes, Bloomberg and the World Economic Forum. Here’s why it’s important for astute employers to incorporate these new skill sets into the mix, writes Jeremy Bossenger of BossJansen Executive Search.

The case for employers to support employees’ financial wellness

South African over-indebtedness is severe, with quick salary depletion, leading to short-term loans and worsening debt. Bayport's solution offers debt relief and financial education, reducing debt and improving financial stability for employees writes Alfred Ramosedi, CEO of Bayport Financial Services.