Raising productivity and retaining talent in Singapore


May 9th, 2012

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In his May Day message last week, Prime Minster Lee Hsien Loong has made another urgent call to increase productivity as the country faces domestic constraints.

His speech calls for every worker to make the effort, looking beyond short term profits to build successful organisations for the longer term.  Organisations must do their part by treating their employees as partners, investing in their development and welfare as well as contributing back to society through corporate social responsibility or philanthropy.

Compared with the Eurozone and USA, Singapore has been enjoying modest growth rates and the lowest unemployment rates for 14 years. Restricting the influx of foreign workers has meant that talent retention is a real issue for organisations wanting to expand but finding it difficult without being able to recruit enough of the right employees.

For leaders it’s a difficult conundrum.  How do you make your workplace meaningful, conducive and enjoyable?  How do your retain your talent without offering increased compensation?

Our research has consistently placed importance on the strength of collective purpose in organisations.  Organisational performance and engagement improved when employees had a clear sense of and cared passionately about the strategic direction, buying into the values and going the extra mile.  Organisations need to bring to life their value statements to ensure that they are not just pithy statements for noticeboards and annual reports.  Key to this success were leaders who play a pivotal role practising those values: being role models who are honest, open, keep promises and communicate.  If they achieve this, line managers will follow suit and organisational values and purpose become embedded as  ‘DNA’ which will be tough to shift.

Our research with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices in Singapore, points to flexible working as a key tool for becoming an employer of choice and retaining talent.  Flexible working arrangements – part-time work, variable hours and working from home – has traditionally been seen as most relevant for parents with young families.  However, Singaporean organisations taking part in the survey highlight the importance of flexible working to other groups – Generation Y employees and employees with elderly parents or grandchildren.  As organisations actively encourage retirees to return to work and we all face working for longer – flexible working will become a key factor in deciding who we work for.

This is all backed up by a recent article in Forbes who quoted a survey highlighting that talent shortage is the 2nd biggest risk facing organisations today, moving up from 22nd place in 2009.  They call for a new way of approaching talent management, building a flexible, motivated workforce with the policies and practices that encourage employees to be agile while motivating them to perform well.

All of this at the same time as encouraging employees work harder AND smarter without extra salary.  Strong collaboration and commitment from everyone will be key to success.