There was a letter in the Straits Times forum last Saturday entitled, “Social factors affecting productivity gains,” where the writer questioned some social norms that may be affecting productivity. One example she cited was perhaps our five-day work-week may have produced a “long-weekend” mentality that may cause people to take the additional Monday off for a longer break. She suggests that the days when Singapore used to practice alternative Saturdays off might be better for productivity.
One wonders if the writer, who has either a PhD or a medical degree, going by goes by her title of Dr., has really thought about it deeply. What are the determinants of labour productivity? Working longer hours certainly doesn’t add to productivity! In fact, one might be more tempted to say that working LESS might be the answer.
If one can complete all one’s tasks in less time, having more free time to oneself, that person would be more motivated to get it done. Productivity would indeed skyrocket because each worker is motivated to get the work done faster and better. The company need not maintain a higher headcount, since more can be done in less time. This will translate to higher topline and bottom-line growth. So instead of making people work longer hours – which seems to be the typical thinking of traditional business leaders, the truly innovative ones should try to get people to work more in less time.
Of course, this will work only if there was a change in the work culture in Singapore. If the worker cannot expect that her free time belongs to her, and this remains sacrosanct despite whatever is happening at work, then it would fail. Unfortunately, many people in Singapore still have a very paternalistic view of employees, thinking that they have to be told, or be controlled in some ways, in order for them to contribute. Hence, the need for them to be at work all the time. When we are able to let go of our inferiority complexes, empowering our employees to get on and get with it, we might well be able to create an environment of productive employment.
But it is also not a one-way traffic. While employers need to change their mindset and accept some risk, employees too need to take this empowerment with the right attitude. The empowerment is not a right to slack off. Since nobody is looking over your shoulder, it doesn’t mean that you should take advantage of that, and do whatever you wish. You are in that position to contribute and you should contribute to the business by more ways than is expected of you. You should take the bull by the horns and solve any issues that might crop up before it escalates. You should anticipate anything that might go wrong, or plan for any eventualities well in advance. This will allow you to put in place corrective measures when needed, so as not to jeopardise your hard-earned time to yourself. In other words, if you wanted to enjoy the benefits of a shorter work-week, you should take ownership of your job, and execute that with utmost professionalism. When that can happen, we will be in the position to raise our productivity.
So, is your five-day work-week affecting your productivity? Yes, but not in the way that the writer of the letter in the forum states. Instead, it is standing in the way of the FOUR-DAY work-week, and in the way of greater productivity.
I look forward to the day when this will be a reality in Singapore.