Khaled Almaeena
Khaled Almaeena

There have recently been many discussions about the productivity of Saudi employees, especially those in the public sector. This subject became more intense after the former Minister of Civil Service Khaled Al-Araj claimed that government workers put in barely an hour a day at the office.

There was an immediate outcry and tweeters expressed anger at his remark.

I do not know from where Al-Araj got his figure since there are no accurate key performance indicators to gauge individual employee performance nor has any accurate poll ever been done.

Others described the minister’s remark as an exaggeration, but admitted that productivity was low in government departments. Many people whom I spoke to said that three hours would be a somewhat more accurate figure.

However, let’s be very frank and face the facts. Our productivity is low. No one can convince me that our work ethics are on a par with other advanced countries in the world. Our productivity rate is far below Singapore, Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand. Individually, there are employees who are hard working and productive; however, the majority of them do not make the grade.

Having said that, it is unfair to blame only the employees for their inefficiency. Part of the problem lies with the poor management system and managers who do not lead by example. They provide neither guidance nor incentives.

Government offices need to be managed in a more professional way. There should be a proper management system that ensures discipline and efficiency. Employees lack discipline due to the absence of checks and balances and poor leadership from senior management.

I went to a government office a month ago and was told that my file was with an employee who had gone on vacation for 10 days and, therefore, the paperwork was delayed. Thus members of the public are at the mercy of employees who are either on vacation or do not show up in office or come very late to work.

In some other instances, the manager is not there and the paperwork is delayed because of his required signature. To make matters worse, some employees simply disappear after noon prayers. Yes, this often happens and people should not deny the fact that it does.

The frustration of people lining up in the morning waiting for government employees to arrive is a common sight. The lazy attitude and lethargy of many employees must be addressed by good leadership in all government departments.

Unless there are professionally trained managers who can lead and act as role models, this sorry state of affairs will continue.

What is also needed is a reward scheme and better incentives to encourage better performance. The public has a right to expect better service.

— Reprinted with permission of the Saudi Gazette and Khaled Almaeena. The writer is Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena