'Heart of worker is what productivity is about'

Office workers crossing a road at Shenton Way. PHOTO: ST FILE

Recent reports about Singapore's productivity efforts have not been too encouraging ("Blow to drive for productivity"; Sept 18, and "Productivity efforts have 'limited impact'"; Tuesday).

With the slowing down of the global economy, the tightening of the inflow of foreign workers and the eventual dwindling number of new Singaporeans entering the workforce, companies have to seek new ideas to innovate, particularly through the use of technology.

The Government also continues to provide all possible encouragement and assistance to companies, including the recent introduction of the SkillsFuture initiative.

But even as we focus on the "hardware" of technology and skills development, raising productivity continues to be an uphill struggle.

Perhaps the missing link is the "heartware".

During the National Day Rally in 1981, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew spoke about productivity.

He talked about his meetings with the Americans, Germans, Japanese and the Singapore National Employers Federation, and how these meetings were most instructive for him.

The Americans shared that the "Singapore Government, in its desire to provide for its citizens, has developed wage policies and social programmes such as CPF (Central Provident Fund), which causes a worker to feel his future and security is dependent on the Government rather than the employer".

The Americans said that to raise productivity, management "should not forget that not only the brains and the hands but also the hearts of people should be working for the company".

Mr Lee said in 1981: "But the heart of the worker, that's what productivity is about."

Singapore needs to persevere in its push towards restructuring the economy and being innovative, so that the productivity and incomes of Singaporeans can be raised.

Perhaps it is time we took a closer look at how better to bind employees to their companies, including having to restructure how employees are remunerated, so that they will continually innovate and create "cheaper, better, faster" products and services - because the company's future is their future.

Poh Leong Joo

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2015, with the headline 'Heart of worker is what productivity is about'. Subscribe