Singapore gets into the top position on world rankings from time to time. I wouldn’t have thought “extreme” was a word to describe us, but judging from rankings saying we’re top in “most emotionless”, “happiest”/”least happy”, “walking with the briskest pace” and now with the newest adjective, the people who work the longest hours, I must say Singapore does have some strangely special features. Many other bigger or more popular countries probably have never topped the list in anything.
The criteria that we win at may sound silly to you. We work the longest hours? Indeed, it’s not strange to see people knocking off at 4 am and then coming back to work at 9 am the next day. People even bring their work home, if the office is not an option. Bosses insist that they have to force their employees to get off work and maintain a proper work-life balance. Just what is going on here? Do we love work all that much?
I must say from personal experience that yes, it seems that we do. There is not much fun to be had in Singapore, and even after work we may end up wandering around the city, quite unsure of where to go. Also, many Singaporeans have a competitive instinct. They want to be the first to get a promotion, to achieve sales, to be noticed by the boss, and they don’t mind putting in mindless hours to do it. And when everyone around you is competitive in that way, you don’t want to be the first to go home, do you? In fact, many workers in Singapore cast a derogatory eye on people who leave the office right on time, as if they had been waiting for it the whole time.
When asked, many Singaporeans say they simply have too much work to do to be able to put them down and go home. Indeed, Singapore is said to have a majority middle-class population, and middle-class employees tend to be middle managers, who are the ones experiencing the most trouble coping with their workload. They get work from their superiors, meant to delegate to subordinates, but if the subordinates slack off or are incapable, they end up picking up the slack.
Certain professions work longer hours than others. People in the advertising or banking sector would work long hours, for instance, especially during crunch time. I have heard complaints from entry-level workers who are overtaxed right from the first day of work, and complaining of the long hours required of them. I’m probably just as hardworking as the average fellow here, which means I should expect to receive the same treatment when I enter the workforce.
But maintaining a work-life balance is a choice, right? After all, the government is in full support of healthy working conditions. I can’t say what precisely stops those people from acting on their wishes, or whether I’ll succumb to overwork myself, but this is making me just a tad reluctant to graduate and search for a job. To put it another way, though, maybe people are so happy working that they willingly stay on and don’t want to go home. That sounds like a better alternative. I don’t care so much if my family suffers, since I never was a family-oriented person to begin with, and I’m not used to socialising at night either. Maybe staying in the office well past office hours, and deriving pleasure from it, isn’t such a bad idea after all.