3 things you need to know about all this talk of productivity


Productivity growth has been a hot thing in the news, with several articles about using technology to minimise human effort in doing repetitive tasks, and cutting costs for businesses. In fact, to put it simply, productivity growth is the number one solution to all our problems, be it wages, immigration, public transport, and even healthcare! To the average person, this all seems like a massive wayangfest with people giving demonstrations to ministers or high flying executives on the news about how their latest technology will help automate things and replace human effort. Yet, automation is going to have a bigger impact on our lives than you previously expected. Here’s 3 things that you might benefit from knowing.


1) Its going to help keep our economy growing

Let’s briefly re-examine how the economy works. I’ll use this 4-step example to show how you contribute to the economy to keep things simple.

(a) You want something

(b) Someone else notices and makes the thing that you want

(c) You buy it from that person

(d) The amount you paid just contributed to the economy


At some point, the people making the things that you want are going to realise that they are unable to make any more even if they wanted to because they have limited resources such as materials or manpower. Since some people are unsatisfied with not being able to buy enough of the thing that they want, they’ll offer to pay more for it. Subsequently of course the people making things would rather sell it to them. This causes two things that we dread so much: short term shortages and inflation.


Finding a way to get more out of the same resources means improving the productivity of those resources. If it works out, those people making things will be able to make more things, and possibly cheaper too, hence fixing those two problems. Using the same resources, we just produced, bought and sold more things! It’s like magic! On top of that, you’ll be able to have more of the things that you want, and everyone becomes happier.


Take for example this waiter drone – Those times where the drink you ordered has been made, but is sitting at the counter for like 10 min because all the waiters/waitresses are too busy to pick it up and send it to you? And then it gets to you all watery because the ice melted? Ugh… no more!


2) You will likely see your job or how you do it change

Realistically, anyone whose earning and spending money will (hopefully) be contributing in some meaningful way to the economy, usually through their job or business. That means that you or your boss is the person mentioned in (b). For many employed people, this absolutely dreaded thing happens: restructuring and change (cue screams of horror). Typical scenario is where some consultant comes in and tries to tell you that you need to change how you do something, or your boss tries to monitor how you do your work somehow. Lots of people will complain of the added surveillance or work that arises out of it, or the fact that the job that they’ve become so good at is going through a major overhaul.


I can’t really comment on whether change initiatives are necessarily always effective, although I hope for the benefit of everyone that they are. But more often than not, if the change agents are worth their salt, they will actually be putting you first! Ultimately, you’re the one who does the job, and the guy from tech or the external consultant or even your boss would have the ultimate goal of trying to help you do your job better! Sure, it might be a minor problem if you can’t get along with them, but always remember that they’re trying to look out for you, and there is no reason why they’d want to make your job harder because you’re the person who is producing the actual work.


You might even see fewer working hours because if you’re more productive, you can do the same amount of work in less time! You’ll be much better off once it’s all said and done.


3) You’ll help to cut down labour shortages – Yes, that might mean less immigration

You know how people always go online to flame the person from (country) who did (unacceptable act) and was caught on video? In the comments there’s bound to be some twit who said some rubbish statement about how we need to stop importing foreigners and that all foreigners are bad. Then just wait for the 6.9 million figure to resurface. Happened so many times I can predict the comments as they’re posted.


The main reason why Singapore needs more immigration at this time is because there’s so many jobs out there that many Singaporeans would balk at. Things like cleaning, construction, service, and other low skilled jobs that many Singaporeans wouldn’t want to do in the long term have major labour shortages that are being mitigated by bringing in people from overseas to work. Can you imagine if there were no cleaners in your office, or if there were no construction workers to build those new MRT lines that we need so badly? Take this to the context of white collar jobs – if you are productive enough to do your own work plus take over the work of another person, that’s one less person that your boss would need to hire, regardless of whether that person is Singaporean or from overseas.


In short,

More productivity = less people + lower prices + higher wages + fewer working hours = everyone happier


Let’s make the push for more productivity!

About the author

Ali Yaakub

Ali is a current affairs enthusiast who loves to play devil's advocate in any discussion. He enjoys long late-night discussions about life, the universe, and everything over a teh tarik or warm tau huay. Look him up if you ever feel like it.

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