The Egyptian Workforce’s Productivity Challenge

On a couple of unpleasant occasions, I had to request the help of the Egyptian Ambulance Organization. It took the ambulance half an hour to reach my destination (by the time it arrived, its help was no longer needed, obviously). Meanwhile, the ambulance team most likely entered in its daily report that they had responded to a patient’s call and provided the required services. The Egyptian Ambulance Organization’s work attitude illustrates one of our dilemmas: our false understanding of service delivery – that completely ignores the efficiency element.

Moreover, not only did the ambulance take too long to arrive, the call center, to ensure that the caller was reliable and truly in need of urgent service, had also questioned me extensively over the phone. Patients calling for an ambulance in person, who are subjected to this thorough and exhausting phone call, could be risking their lives. At the same time, the head of the Egyptian Ambulance Organization recently stated that 95 percent of the calls that the Organization receives are crank calls made by people who do not need their services.

Egyptians tend to think of their work as a task that needs to be accomplished; they are not bothered with the issues of ‘how, when and why’ the work is being done. Our employment recruitment method, which focuses on examining the knowledge of candidates instead of checking their thinking abilities, also backs up this phenomenon. The result is that we have large numbers of employees who are working, but not producing. They can, however, amuse us with the knowledge that they have (but don’t even know how to apply).

We Egyptians are not functioning well because we generally never consider the purpose of the job we are doing, its benefits, or the required delivery timeframe. The modus operandi among Egyptian casual workers is to work, be paid, take a long break until they run out of money, and then begin their work cycle again. The work ethic and the desire to offer durable products and a high quality of service have almost disappeared from the Egyptian market.

The ninety-five percent false calls that the Egyptian Ambulance Organization receives, and the difficulty that many ambulances confront driving through Cairo traffic (where most vehicles don’t give the right of way to ambulances) are challenges that could be easily resolved by applying heavy penalties on violators. However, enforcing the law would leave the Ambulance Organization with no justification for its poor services.

We Egyptians tend to be obsessed with monitoring our workers; thus, we tend to trap them into a bureaucratic process and we are keen to keep them always in sight! It doesn’t occur to us that we could achieve better outputs by applying a reverse approach. The problem does not lie only with government bureaucracy, whose negative effects are widely acknowledged in Egypt. It is more of a working culture syndrome (the private sector is performing substantially better than the public sector, but is still doing significantly less than what is needed in an emerging nation).

The difference between ambulances in advanced nations that do their best to reach their destinations in a few minutes and the way our ambulances work reflects the difference between the productivity of our workforce and those of other nations. While we tend to work on accumulating a large volume of documents that serve as proof of work accomplished and provide a false sense of purpose, other nations are simply concerned with saving lives by applying ultimate efficiency.

The Egyptian government’s economic reform won’t achieve true success unless it addresses our workforce’s productivity challenge! The current economic scheme that entails subsidization, over-employment and employees who are trained to follow blindly, needs to be changed through empowering our millions of employees by encouraging them to think of the meaning behind their work. The Egyptian government needs to ensure that workers are constantly (even when their pockets are full) engaged in their jobs. This will require incentivizing them better, along with tying them into regular financial obligations that they cannot ignore.

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