A recent poll of employee attitudes in 14 countries, as reported in The Straits Times recently, ranked Singapore last in workplace happiness.
Talent management company Lumesse polled about 4,000 employees from a wide variety of industries.
People were asked about how happy they were at work, whether they felt their skills were properly utilised, the career paths open to them and the training and career opportunities they had.
The result put Singapore last in three major areas.
Singaporeans least enjoy going to work, are the least loyal and have the least supportive workplace.
As a small nation that prides itself on the plaudits of being placed near the top of the rankings in so many fields, coming last in this crucial aspect of its economic life should cause its people great concern.
I have believed for many years that organisations get the workforce they deserve.
If this is so, then the survey is a serious indictment on Singapore companies and, more specifically, on their management style.
Traditionally, management has been concerned with the key tasks of planning, organising, controlling and directing the organisation’s resources to achieve maximum utilisation.
Singapore managers have excelled at this and have achieved remarkable success over the past 50 years.
On reflection, however, these very same principles of management are the principles of management laid down at the turn of the last century by writers and practitioners like Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henri Fayol.
Working conditions and organisational culture were very different then and as we progress into the 21st century, one could argue that we need a major rethink of our management attitudes, values and style.
A series of studies carried out in America in the early 1950s gave us hard evidence for the first time that good management consisted of high concern for “task” and high concern for “people”.
My suspicion is that we still have a high concern for task but that sometimes, it is at the expense of people — and that is where the problem lies.
Do we want our organisations to remain “prisons” based ultimately on a system of rewards and punishment or to become a very different place where individuals can develop, grow and flourish?
If we were to mentally create two lists with the headings of “Management” and “Leadership” and then bullet-point all the characteristics we associate with both titles, we would find all the task functions in the management column and probably find that most of the people functions had been placed in the leadership column.
Though simplistic and polarised, it gives us a pointer as to where modern management best practice should be driving.
My experience and intuition tell me that the old traditional principles of management need to adopt some of the newer concepts of leadership and that the way ahead is to transform managers into leaders who can embrace the new model of “managerial leadership” and by so doing move us up the rankings in terms of utilising people’s skills, nurturing talent and creating opportunities for growth and development for all.
To simplify and understand managerial leadership, I have adapted the acronym “MANAGER” as a framework to explore the new roles that are demanded from modern managers and supervisors in addition to their more traditional duties, which, of course, are still vital to the success of the organisation — but no longer enough.
Managers must do the following:
Motivate, inspire and energise members of their staff;
Appreciate, recognise, give positive feedback and build trust;
Nurture a climate of creativity and innovation. Let people take risks;
Align people to the vision. Obtain active “buy in” and make the job fun;
Grow, coach and never stop developing people;
Empower others, delegate responsibility and encourage the heart; and
Reflect on what they hear. Listen and communicate endlessly.
I know this is easy to write but far more difficult to apply in the fast-paced demanding environment we work in. Yet, consider the consequences if we do not.
For Singapore to grow, we need talented, motivated members of staff committed to the organisations they work for and willing to invest their own energy and potential into their own development and that of their companies.
We are in danger instead of switching people off, which will have a long-term impact on our prosperity.