Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Our work ethic, it’s worth fixing

Work is very important to human progress and prosperity. If an able bodied man does not expend his labour to produce food and other goods, then he is setting himself not only on the road to serfdom but misery and ruin too.

This truism even was even recognized in biblical times when St Paul wrote as follows in his letter to the Thessalonians:

“You yourselves know very well that you should do what we did. We were not lazy when we were with you. We did not expect anyone’s support without paying for it.  Instead, we worked and toiled; we kept working night and day so as not to be an expense to any of you. While we were with you, we used to say to you, “whoever refuses to work is not allowed to eat” ”.

Wherever you go in this country, you get a sense that our attitude towards work and by extension the standard of   customer service, is not what it should be.  You pull up at the fuel station and invariably, the attendant continues to engage in twaddle with his colleagues instead of preparing to receive you. Ideally part of his preparation would be ensuring that a POS machine for example is on hand. Instead he only asks you at the end whether you are making a cash or bank card payment.  As a result, time is wasted unnecessarily as he now scampers around looking for the POS machine.

Just the other day I was disappointed that a lunch delivery order at a popular chicken outfit took two hours! And by the way, the distance between the outlet and the place of delivery is a mere three minute drive. To add salt to injury, after two hours the food was no longer warm.

I also happen to use this other car wash because the guys there are trustworthy and do not tamper with personal belongings especially the much loved lap top computer. I was there again last week and they started working on the car and then abruptly took a break midstream to have lunch. Because I am a repeat customer and therefore almost friends with them now, I asked them to drop the lunch and get back to work. After all the culture in the rich and developed world is to work first and eat later.  Even here at home, it used to be that people woke up early to plough, retire the oxen just before for the day and then have that famous big meal.  All in that order.

So things are too laid back and this is not the way to build a platform for that momentous leap from an upper middle to high income country. That transition demands a total shift in the culture of work to a point where work is not equated with subservience but is seen as important and therefore treated with respect. The moment we take work for granted, we lose the ability to raise both productivity and our own incomes. And with that, our living standards cannot improve and if they don’t, we cannot become a high economy.  So at a macro level, the country cannot make the transition to high income if individuals still exhibit a less than appropriate work attitude.  The goal to high income is difficult enough already, and should not be exacerbated by the individual not having the right attitude towards work.     

Some of the problems that we face with work attitudes are perpetuated by a widely held view in the hallowed grounds of Government Enclave that the private sector abuses employees. This is obviously meant to curry political favour with unions but it is doing neither the country nor the concerned workers any good in the long run. By pushing back against employers’ concerns about poor work attitudes the political and union leaders secure their jobs.  The economy loses out.  


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