Commentary: Employers have obsessed over productivity. They need to focus on people instead

green and white leafed plantsSINGAPORE: Singaporeans are hard workers. In fact, they are one of the hardest workers in the world, clocking in 44.8 hours a week on average last year.

But long hours don’t always equate with high productivity.



There’s a danger that these long hours are the result of presenteeism, a well-documented workplace culture among employees who choose to work long hours or work while unwell.

More often than not, presenteeism is the result of perceived benefits that these actions at work will be highly regarded by employers as a show of dedication and commitment.

Presenteeism is still prevalent in Singapore. A quarter of Singaporeans almost never leave work on time just to “show face” or boost their reputation and curry favour with their bosses, according to a recent YouGov survey.

(Photo: Unsplash/Annie Spratt)



What’s more, six in 10 show up at work even when they are ill.

The pressures of work are unquestionably taking a toll on employees’ well-being. While almost two-thirds of the Singapore workforce have high levels of stress, a mere 27 per cent of companies are addressing the issue, according to research by Willis Towers Watson.

And it’s affecting more than just talent retention.

Research by Virgin Pulse revealed that presenteeism can lead to 57.5 days per year in lost productivity. That’s just shy of three months, and is a staggering number compared to the four days lost on average to absenteeism. This disturbing problem can also wind up costing companies billions.

Employees who come into work despite feeling unwell are not just threats to the health of other employees around them, but are also working with diminished productivity that affects the company’s bottom line.


Often, it is how a workplace works – or doesn’t – that causes frustration and a loss of productivity.

(Photo: Unsplash/rawpixel)

Organisations can use technology to promote healthy work-life balance, as well as boost productivity and ultimately yield long-term business gains.

The rise of technologies such as connected devices, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cloud infrastructure mean that businesses have many ways to modernise routine work processes and help employees work more efficiently and unlock greater productivity.

For instance, DBS Bank last year launched a virtual bank recruiter powered by AI to help its recruiters hire more efficiently. The custom-built application saves the recruiters some 40 man-hours a month and enables them to dedicate more time to higher value work including interviewing applicants.

Additionally, technology can go a long way in reducing the administrative burdens workers face.

In Singapore, a study revealed that workers spend only 60 per cent of their time (versus a global average of 72 per cent) on primary tasks, and approximately 380 hours yearly or 47.5 work days completing administrative or repetitive tasks.

By leveraging intelligent technology such as AI and robotics to handle the majority of task-oriented, repetitive work, employees can focus on the more creative, value-added aspects of their jobs – and also get work done faster in less time.


Another way to address the culture of presenteeism in the workplace is to introduce flexible work arrangements.

Thanks to technology, workers don’t always have to be in the office. More companies in Singapore are also offering employees the ability to work from home or opt for staggered start hours or part-time work.

(Photo: DESIGNECOLOGIST / Unsplash)

Technology functions as a key enabler to support these flexible working practices and transform offices into connected hubs.

Web conferencing, communications apps and mobile digital workflow solutions are on-hand to facilitate efficient work processes, wherever the employee may be working from.

Companies who haven’t started embracing flexible arrangements should get cracking. Not only will this empower workers to better manage their time and attain better work-life balance, it also reflects how much employers care about their employees’ needs.


While the culture of presenteeism might be ingrained in Singapore workplaces, we’re not far off from making a change.

Organisations can start by crafting a vision of how the workplace should function, and then identify moments that matter most to employees and make them great.

These moments include investment in the right technologies that enables organisations to place focus on their employees, allowing them to collaborate and get what they need more quickly and easily, so that they have time for more creative, innovative and meaningful work.

Additionally, offering flexible work arrangements can foster a positive company culture where employees are entrusted to make smart choices that enable them to attain balance in their lives while still being productive.

(Photo: Unsplash/rawpixel)

Communication is key too. It is important to nurture a safe and open workplace where dialogues are open, frequent and transparent.

Employers can organise regular catch-ups with their employees, and check in on anyone who seems demotivated or overworked.

To improve general well-being of employees, companies should offer staff support when needed and ensure that they are engaged in work that they feel is meaningful.

Ultimately, the future of work needs to be built around people – where organisations and technologies adapt to meet human needs.

Mitch Young is Senior Vice President for Asia Pacific and Japan at ServiceNow.

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