‘We need collectively as country to improve our level of productivity.’ Government has been saying so for years. The private sector too as well as trade unions. On this critical issue, the three members of the island’s tripartite arrangement are ad idem.
However, notwithstanding the repeated calls, it seems somehow that the message is not getting through at the level of the individual Barbadian worker. Otherwise, there would be no need every now and then for repetition of the same old call.
If anything, it seems that the problem is getting worse, going by the tone of the latest calls. A critical question which we must ask is simply ‘why?’ It seems we have an interesting topic here that could be the subject of rigorous enquiry by some enterprising economics student on Cave Hill or elsewhere.
Could it be that the average Barbadian worker does not fully grasp the importance of productivity, especially in the current globalized environment, or see a direct link to efficiency of the business or Government department where he or she is employed and the global competitiveness of the Barbados economy?
The textbook, Boundless Economics, defines productivity as “the efficiency in which a company or economy can transform resources into goods, potentially creating more from less”. In other words, achieving greater output from the same amount of input. Does this point to a need for Barbadians to work harder, as some persons making the increased productivity call suggest and many Barbadians believe?
Not necessarily. Actually, working smarter is a better way to look at the issue. There are many organizations which are set in their way of doing things and, as a result, are not be open to the idea of trying new and alternative approaches. However, it is through such exploration that effective solutions may be found to the productivity problem.
Barbadians were known in the region for their high level of productivity. A Caribbean business executive, who once managed a major enterprise here, identified resourcefulness, for which Barbadians were traditionally known, as a highly positive attribute that allowed Barbadians to produce a lot from little.
It can be argued, therefore, that being highly productive is embedded within the Barbadian DNA. Perhaps, the seemingly stubborn refusal of Barbadians to heed the call to be more productive stems from their interpretation that being more productive means working harder. And many already believe they are working harder but not seeing any real benefits especially in terms of improved remuneration.
When dealing with human beings, especially in cases where they are being asked to take particular form of action or adopt a particular kind of behaviour, it pays to bear in mind that people are generally motivated by self-interest. The critical “what’s in it for me?” question. If the rewards are obvious and meet the expectations of the target audience, they will answer the call. If that is not the case, then it is a no go.
Besides labour output, there are several other issues which could be contributing to declining productivity on the island. One relates to the level of investment in relevant technology. Are companies and Government departments really capitalizing on the advantages offered by technological innovation to improve organizational efficiency? That is a question worth exploring.
Another is the perception of Government which is generally regarded as a haven for inefficiency and wastage and for people who do not like to work. Some of our young people confirm this perception when they describe Government as a place to “breeze” and make easy money. This explains why some would do anything to get a Government job in preference to employment in the private sector where hard work is seen as inescapable.
Therefore, there is a credibility issue when Government speaks to the population about the need to improve productivity. To be taken seriously, Government first would have to demonstrate a willingness to put its money where its mouth is. One way of doing so would be through making an attempt to come up with benchmarks for measuring productivity in the public sector to permit a reasonable comparison with the private sector.
The problem of low productivity in Government is an issue which concerns the wider population and is a problem which can only be fixed by the persons we elect to run the Government committing to the implementation of fundamental reforms to change the organizational culture of the public service. However, for whatever reason, perhaps political self-preservation, this seems an issue our elected officials are afraid to touch beyond paying the usual lip service.
It is in every country’s interest today to improve productivity. However, there are so many facets to the problem that should be equally considered, instead of focusing almost exclusively on and pointing fingers at labour.