5 Productivity Moves That WON’T Raise Your Pay

Ryan Ong



Inflation still a problem? Singapore’s government has a solution: Endorse a mass productivity drive. If you raise your productivity, your company will make more money. And if your company makes more money, your boss will pay you more. Really. Enough with the muffled laughter. In this article, I look at the productivity moves that do nothing for your pay:


Productivity and Your Pay

Productivity is a way to squeeze every last ounce of work from you. But does it mean a bigger pay cheque? Maybe, if you avoid these five mistakes:

  • Do More Of the Same
  • High Risk Innovation
  • Inept “Efficiency” Boosting
  • Pointless Upgrading
  • Employee Empowerment


1. Do More Of The Same


Warehouse full of stuff
These are custom products for just five clients and…wait, what’d you just say about extra effort?


Let’s say I’m a line worker in a canned soup factory. Because of the horrid recipe, the product tastes like a homeless man died in the vat. The only one who joined the focus group was a raccoon, and he puked.

Now, if I were to triple my soup-canning pace, would my pay rise? Probably not. Because no one wants the damn product. You’ll see this often in corporate environments: Your job may not impact the demand curve. Just because you make stuff faster, it doesn’t mean customers buy faster to match you.

Stop and think: Does your company make more money if you do more of the same thing? If not, don’t expect a bigger pay cheque, even if you work your fingers to bloody stumps. The key is to do different, not to do more.


2. High Risk Innovation


Complex drinks mixer type thing
And while we *were* funded to develop bio-weapons, we happened to build the perfect coffee-maker.


Innovation is messy. It can end up costing the company money. It can get you fired. And while every company insists otherwise, Singapore’s work culture tends to shudder at the word “innovation “. What it’s replaced by in people’s minds is – “More work”.

From Mandy Yap, a senior retail sales assistant:

At my last job I had this idea to set up a fashion catwalk, starring top customers as the models. We had a lot of good looking 20 somethings who were regulars.

It wasn’t my job but I opened my big mouth. It thought I could show that I’m management material.

When the organizing fell through, the boss pinned it on me. She said we wasted so much time, we blew so much money on the promotion, etc. etc. And later I found out I was the only one who didn’t get a raise that year.

So yah, that was my reward for being innovative.”

Before innovating, test the waters. Discuss the risks with the bosses. If your experiment fails, they might remember it as a good effort, instead of “that loud-mouth who couldn’t deliver”.


3. Inept “Efficiency” Boosting


Paper clips
Before going home, could you quickly check how many we have left, exactly?


A few years back, I had to work with an “efficiency expert”. His goal was to raise our productivity by streamlining our work flow. So I thought:

“Hell yeah, I’ll be like that billionaire who got rich listening to time management advice. What’s his name? Oh wait, there’s no such person.”

Throughout the year, we documented every single thing. How long our meetings were. The word count in our e-mails. Our transit time from home. At one point, someone even joked that we should be put alarm clocks in the pantry.

The sarcasm stopped when the expert asked: “How much would the alarm clock cost?”

That year, the company made zero extra money. No one got a decent raise; all we got was a buttload of extra “efficiency” related work. The consultant got a fat cheque though, and we’re still in touch.

As in, I’m still trying to hunt him down and kill him.

The lesson here: Petty administration won’t raise your pay.  Overdo it, and you might cause the opposite.


4. Pointless Upgrading


Calculator and maths books
Relax, all our doctors have Degrees in Finance. Medicine not so much.


If you attend upgrading courses, you will earn more money. It’s like magic, or levelling up in a video game. After a dozen courses, you’ll practically fart competence and spit excellence. Right?

Let’s ask Fauzi, who runs a home repairs company (and is a perpetual student of technical courses):

We need the training. No such thing as pay go up just because we attend. Might as well you say that you give me a screwdriver, then my pay will go up. I just need it to do the job, right or not?

…in working life, it’s very simple. You can have more qualifications, but if the job needs A, then they don’t pay you more for knowing A, B and C.

What he’s suggesting is that education only makes you more skilled. “More skilled” is not the same as “better paid”. To link the two, you need to convince employers that your new skills apply.

So before joining the next course, ask how it would make your company money. Don’t assume that the certificate alone will justify a raise.


5. Employee Empowerment


Employee award
You’re in charge of the new land delivery fleet. Tell me, have you got a long hose and car wax?


Bosses do this when their budgets are stretched. They need need another manager, but can’t afford one. So what do they do? They point at you and…

Congratulations, you’re now “empowered” or “promoted”. With a pay raise of $0.00.

That’s the promotion you least want; if you were in jail, it would be like getting “upgraded” to maximum security. Not exactly cause for champagne.

Empowered employees are asked to work for a promise. The promise that some day, they’ll be highly paid leaders. But in the meantime, they can be over-worked like the Hebrew slaves in that Prince of Egypt cartoon.

If your boss tries this stunt, see if you can clarify when the promotion will come. Try to get dates and numbers, and get it in writing. Refuse to be flattered, and negotiate aggressively. Why should you do more work for equal pay?

Image Credits:
leyla.a, toolstop, oskay, Dominique Godbout, scui3asteveo, City of Marietta, GA, Rubber Dragon

What productivity moves don’t you agree with? Comment and let us know!

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.