The View From Asia

Work: Too much, too little and how it can boost economy

A plea from the chief economist of Bangladesh Bank for better work-life balance for bankers. A former Indonesian ambassador to Switzerland talks about the stark contrast in lifestyle when career diplomats retire. Here are excerpts of commentaries from Asia News Network newspapers offering a glimpse into work and other related matters in the region.

Humane banking for human capital

Biru Paksha Paul
The Daily Star, Bangladesh

When I joined the first private bank of Bangladesh some 27 years ago, the definition of a good banker remained as before: a star performer who returns home at night walking with an unsteady gait, almost like a drunkard.

Unfortunately, the definition still applies.

Although labour productivity increased, which empowered the employees to finish their jobs earlier than usual, the senior managers did not like to let the young officers leave the workplace on time at the end of banking hours at 5pm.

The definition of a good banker asserted: The more a banker stays beyond 5pm, the better the banker he or she is.

This mindset of top-level managers ruined the possibility of building human capital.

Bangladesh is a poor performer in the knowledge economy index. We cannot afford this any more when we aim to be a model performer in growth and development. We cannot let our growth potential sag in the near future.

Banking is an evolving discipline where we need to educate our workforce in a continual fashion, so the industry can take advantage of new products and services.

To make it happen, a modern bank has to provide ample time to its employees, so they can pursue business studies, or train them to learn skills and technology in the age of digitisation.

This way of building human capital indirectly helps the bank to improve its future profitability.

Bangladesh is a poor performer in the knowledge economy index. We cannot afford this any more when we aim to be a model performer in growth and development. We cannot let our growth potential sag in the near future.

We need to not only let bankers make balance sheets, but also strike a work-life balance through which their day-to-day pleasure and productivity will swell up.

When machines are taking more responsibilities to run banks for 24 hours, human beings warrant to be released on or before the closing hour so they can have ample opportunities to perform various

• Spending more quality time with their spouses.

• Tutoring their kids and taking part in leisure activities.

• Pursuing higher studies to improve productivity.

• Taking care of their heath and finally,

• Engaging in social service and cultural entertainment. Life remains incomplete without these attributes.

To respond to cut-throat competition among workers, the young officers have to sacrifice more and more hours from their private lives, making late-sitting a norm rather than an exception.

They miss the sunrise and hardly see the sunset. They have no energy to pursue higher studies to improve skills and knowledge. That is one of the major reasons Bangladesh performs so poorly in the knowledge economy index.

The situation has been even worse since the government changed the banking hours from 9am to 5pm to 10am to 6pm.

A lucky few are released at 6pm. Most officers work one or two extra hours almost every day, losing energy and spirit to think about future development.

City-dwellers facing traffic jams return home at 9pm or even later.

Former diplomats are a forgotten lot

Djoko Susilo
The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

It is an irony that when new ambassadors leave Indonesia for their new posts, the State Palace, the Foreign Ministry and the House hold parties to honour the departing ambassadors.

But when they, particularly the political appointees, arrive home after completing the job, there is no welcome-home ceremony for them. They will instead be welcomed by low-level officials at the Foreign Ministry who will help them deal with some administrative procedures, such as how to fill in the pension form.

A former ambassador receives a monthly pension of around 2,229,000 rupiah (S$223).

Beyond the small amount of the pension, any connection between former ambassadors who are non-career diplomats and the Foreign Ministry quickly ends, except for the lucky few who are invited to attend the ceremony to celebrate the anniversary of the Indonesian foreign service, which falls on Aug 19.

The sad and ignoble end for Indonesian diplomats is worse at the level below the ambassador.

For career diplomats who never achieve the rank of ambassador, they will receive a pension worth about 3 million rupiah each, depending on their last position.

There is no official assistance from the Foreign Ministry to find new jobs related to their experience.

Since most career diplomats spend their active duty abroad, they never manage to develop personal business contacts to support their families after retirement.

It is a reality that some former diplomats endure economic difficulties, a stark contrast to the lifestyle they enjoyed when living abroad.

Fortunately, when I was a member of the House's Commission overseeing foreign affairs (2004-2009), my fellow commission members and I managed to push the Foreign Ministry to pay more attention to the welfare of our diplomats.

As a result, the children of diplomats will now have their school fees covered by the government, although not in full.

Every time I visited the Sekdilu (school for junior diplomats), I used to see optimistic young diplomats dutifully attending classes in order to realise their dreams.

An opposite mood prevails when I meet fellow former ambassadors and retiring diplomats.

I am not arguing that former envoys should get government posts automatically, but I am arguing that the government should assist them by helping them enter the private sector or the academic world.

Tapping local talent, market

Editorial Desk
The China Post, Taiwan

Economists have been saying that Taiwan needs to diversify from its excessively export-heavy trade and shed its reliance on low-margin, high-tech contract manufacturing of high-tech products and components.

Economics Professor Chiou Jiunn-rong at National Central University said that Taiwan's economy was lifted by the release of Apple's smartphone, the iPhone 6.

Without the release of new best-selling phones or high-tech products, the economy performed weakly, especially when compared with the bumped-up 2014.

The fact that a single consumer product, even if a widely popular one, can exert such a substantial impact on Taiwan's economy is worrying.

Experts are pointing to Taiwan's need to enhance its domestic consumer market, in particular the sale of high-value products and services.

Taiwan has also some way to go in building premium service brands.

The nation is well-equipped: It has a highly educated population, its people are renowned for their friendliness and it has no shortage of creativity and entrepreneurs.

Yet Taiwanese consumers' excessive preference for cheap products means that businesses often race to the bottom, some even resorting to illegal means - such as using subpar food additives - to cut costs.

This is not only a problem for the consumer and service markets.

The preference for low-cost gimmicks only ruins Taiwan's hand despite holding good cards.

One example would be the recent hype about "Xiao Hong" (Little Red) and "Xiao Lu" (Little Green), two sheet-iron postboxes distorted by the strong gusts of Typhoon Soudelor.

The two postboxes - which were bent in the same direction, resembling cartoon figures striking a cute pose - became instant stars and drew such a large crowd of tourists that the authorities considered moving them to a more spacious location to avoid traffic jams.

In a rare unbureaucratic move, Chunghwa Post, Taiwan's state-owned postal service and owner of the two postboxes, swiftly decided to keep Xiao Hong and Xiao Lu as a tourist attraction.

The company even sent employees to pose with photo-taking tourists.

However, excessive hype and media coverage of the postboxes - especially when many typhoon victims were still facing danger - soon soured a nice symbol of optimism.

Taiwan has the potential to create world-class consumer brands, but it needs the vision to see beyond the lure of cheap prices and hype.

•The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers. For more, go to

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2015, with the headline 'Work: Too much, too little and how it can boost economy'. Print Edition | Subscribe