On New Year’s day, Channel NewsAsia had a panel discussion titled Singapore Review 2015, in which one of the discussants, a polytechnic student, asked the panel a question on work-life balance.
“In moving forward in 2016, with skills future we are going to have a much more skilful workforce. Are we ready to adopt a work-life balance with actually shorter working hours, in changing the employment act with shorter working hours; and actually achieve more family time and family bonding. At the end of the day, long working hours is not equal to higher productivity.”
Former NMP Chia Yong Yong replied to that question with another question and asked the discussant what he would like to achieve with work-life balance. She said:
“I want to ask what you would like to achieve with work-life balance, as opposed to perhaps retaining your job, as opposed to the competition that you are getting from people from other countries. And probably even from your cohort who may be willing to work harder than you. If we want shorter hours, what are we willing to trade that in for?
As a lawyer, I have spoken with many clients, who have actually talked about attitude of Singaporean workers – that they want shorter hours but they want more pay, and they expect better benefits. And they are not necessarily as good as other foreign workers, foreign employees. So, there is that tension. So, what is it that we want, and if we are willing to give up some – yes.”
The discussant’s question and the response by Ms Chia has gotten mixed reviews.
“I guess SG is like a well-oiled machine. Constantly working and anyone hoping for “work life balance” will simply be taken over by those who dont need work life balance and foreigners. And those with no kids and singles will benefit from this.” -Raizal Md Rased
“The blunt point – obviously from an employer’s point of view – is that longer working hours is equating to keeping your job or even getting employment – as the world does not owe SG a living. However, some of us do believe SG’s survivability does not depend on longer working hours which will equate to a non-existent family life – which will create social issues in the long term – like increasing trend of divorce, low birth rate, problem kids etc. The concept of work-life balance proposed by some parts of the government, is the correct long term approach and will only work if it is backed by the law across the whole of Singapore.” -Andrew Tan
“Working less hours doesn’t mean not working harder. If Sweden can do it why can’t we?” -David Butler
“We can achieve work-life balance if we stop “wasting” time at work and just focus on the tasks which are given. When I first started out, I used to do 50-60 hours per week but now, I do 35-40 hours per week. At the end of the day, it’s all about perspective and what you want out of life. Making excuses is not going to help – I think.” -Siti Arbaiya
“Lady in red, well said. No one owes us a living.” -Liwei Kwok
One commenter’s views in particular resonated with a good number of people. Ong Ruo Yan said:
“Speaking up for the student and hardworking Singaporeans here.
I think the student raised a valid point. Our system is by no means horrible, but there is still a lot of stress even after hours. Ever had that dread of missing an email from your boss at 8pm (or later) and you’ve missed the “golden hour” of replying? I’m inclined to think that’s what the student was referring to. Stress even after clocking out. You’re essentially not spared from work with all the push emails and what not (which can be exciting, but that’s not the point).
A lot of comments are about our lack of productivity during working hours by surfing personal websites. You guys make it sound like only Singaporeans are doing it. I can’t speak for the other countries, but in the UK people here surf Facebook and look at adverts as well. Doesn’t mean we don’t deliver. And not all do this “break-taking”, SG and UK included.
There is no easy solution for this issue, since i think this boils down to cultural mindset (the Western side seems to understand the need for family time better than the Asians) and possible societal attitude (prone to criticising locals…but that’s Asian culture too).
Just a last point: I think it’s commendable to speak up at such a public event. Why are the people here thinking he’s lazy for asking this question, and not think he has the foresight? He can’t possibly just ask about his prospects of entering Uni can he. Lets not bash anyone and speak constructively.”
Singaporean workers reportedly work the longest hours in the world.