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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Reshaping Work and Productivity in Lagos

Most developing countries usually don't have the luxury of having robust labour laws. Workers could be laid off without compensation, age discrimination is acceptable and working hours are longer than usual. As per the latter, it affects the productivity of the work force and the economy at large.


LAGOS: THE BIG YAM

Your blogger once took up an internship at a bank in Victoria Island, Lagos. The city is not particularly the best place to live - one of the worst, says the economist, a newspaper. This year the city would surpass Cairo to be the most populated city in Africa, 12 million strong and 20 million by the end of the decade. The GDP of the city surpasses that of the entire Kenyan economy.

This internship required the blogger waking up as early as 4.30 am, leaving home at 5.30 am (No need counting how long it took to get ready) and getting to work at about 6.00 or 6.15 am. The bank opened its doors to its customers at 8.00 am. Don't ask what I did till 8.00 am.

The bank closed its doors to customers at 4 pm and the staff closed at about 5.30 pm. The staff bus left at 6.30 or 7 pm. To cut the long story short, I got home (Ikeja) at about 9 pm or later. I went to bed at about 11 pm. You don't really have to be a wiz-kid to calculate how much time I spent at work. Was the pay commensurate with the amount of hours? That is story for another day. Do I think it was worth it? Not really!

The point being made in the piece is to show how low productivity is in Lagos. To a very large extent, such hours being spent at work could be regarded as inhumane, unhealthy and slavish. Just before mid-day the heat makes productivity almost impossible and by afternoon, the brain shuts down (there is research to account for this). My thoughts are not a panacea on labour issues but on the issue of productivity. Here are some suggestions from a recent simulation and visualization study.

EARLY TO BED, EARLIER TO RISE

According to Acuzio Consulting, a technology and international development firm, who conducted the simulation study, banks  should take the lead in opening at 6 am, to its customers at 7 am and close at 3 pm. Back office folk can have flexible work times. The economy revolves around banks so they would be able to make customers and other businesses adapt to this. Multinationals could follow suit or maintain their 7 am to 4 pm hours. Small and medium businesses could benefit immensely from this with very flexible working hours (hospitals included). Civil servants could maintain their 8 am to 4 pm shifts and schools should not be affected. Workers should be allowed to come in 15 minutes before resumption.

They (Acuzio) reckon that this would see a reduction on the strain on its already crippled infrastructure, as traffic would be dispersed and  less congested. When most the infrastructure was built in 1970s, the city had about 2 million people. A recent estimate puts the population of the entire Lagos State (including the swamps and creeks) at about 20 million.

Acuzio also reckon that working in the early hours of the day, when the weather is still cool increases productivity and closing early gives room for time to do better things rather than staying at work being unproductive. Lagos might not only become a smarter city but it will never sleep. As audacious as this proposal may sound, time will be well spent at work. There are no guarantees these would work but people wake up early enough already.