The only production bonus before meritocracy is reduced settler cost. The one for workers is how fast they build stuff, which isn't noticeable on anything that takes 3 turns or less. For those that take 4-7 turns it only shaves one turn. With the limited populations in ICS cities, there's not much the workers have to improve that is going to get worked, especially since most of the time a 2-4 citizen city, with enough food from CS allies, will have all it's citizens as specialists anyway. The main things workers do is hook up the trade routes and improve the resource tiles. On standard speed, roads only take 3 turns, so 25% faster is 2.25 turns, which comes to 3 turns still. Instead of spending the culture on those 3 policies to have meritocracy, you can spend it on 1 for having those specialists you're running anyway reduce the unhappiness. Three specialists reduces unhappiness by 2 since it's -1 unhappiness for each odd number of specialists. 1 -1, 3 -2, 5 -3, etc. Spending 1 more in the freedom tree to have those specialists also eat half the food. These two combined means you can run a lot more specialists, thus allowing you to grow your cities larger, or at least not having to ally a Maritime CS to feed those cities. Couple the 2 specialists policies from Freedom with the 2nd policy in Rationalism and now all those specialists are adding another 2 beakers to that city, no matter what type of specialist it is. That means only 5 policies total to have a serious science boosting, happy, specialist economy ICS strategy. You could even skip the half food for specialists policy, thus reducing to 4 policies. If you're building universities you could take the one in rationalism that gives 1 happy for the university. So 1 additional policy to have the same happiness as the 3 additional needed to have Meritocracy.