The main barriers keeping families from spending time together are long working hours (for half the respondents) and fellow family members working long hours (slightly more than a third).
The strong wave of agreement online in response to these survey findings got me thinking about the current state of working conditions we have here in Singapore.
Howevever, some are still resistant to the idea of having more worklife balance. Their common argument goes along the line of:
Singapore is a country with limited natural resources. We only have people to drive our economy. Thus, we need to work extremely hard and work long hours in order to sustain our standard of living. If we don’t, we’d be replaced by foreign talents or foreign MNCs will exit Singapore and we will have no jobs.
However, are long working hours and productivity really linked? Let’s take a step back and examine this.
For instance, in Germany, most employees only work 35 hours per week. Yet, Germany recently topped an OECD ranking of the world’s most productive employees.
In contrast, according to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) statistics, Singaporeans work an average of 45.5 hours a week in 2015. Yet, despite the long hours, Singapore had one of the lower levels of GDP per hour worked.
In a recent paper on what Singapore can learn from other small advanced economies, Dr David Skilling, director of government advisory firm Landfall Strategy Group, pointed out that in 2013, Singapore had labour productivity of $21/hour worked.
This is far lower than other developed contemporaries, with the United States (US) at $41/hour worked and the Nordics at more than $30/hour worked.
I do agree that human capital is extremely valuable in Singapore. However, are we doing it right by focusing on long hours?
A recent International Labour Office Report shows that increased output (ie. longer working hours) actually decreases the amount of labour output per hour.
It appears that many Singaporean workers also believe working efficiently and being productive is more important. Based on a recent Regus survey in 2015, 94% of the respondents felt that productivity should be measured and rewarded by outcome produced rather than time spent working.
However, they could also feel obliged to work longer hours due to their employer’s value for face time. Many companies are being run by Generation X managers who tend to believe that long working hours is a sign of how diligent a worker is.
In fact, employees who want “worklife balance” or more annual leave are lazy, entitled and unmotivated. This is especially so if the employee is from Generation Y due to the discrimination and harmful stereotypes about my generation.
In a 2013 article titled “Are Singaporean workers expensive and entitled?“, Mr V. S. Kumar, managing director of local courier company Network Express Courier Services, complained about the working attitude of Singaporean workers.
He feot that Singaporean workers only seem motivated just to do enough and have no qualms about dropping everything and leaving on the dot at 5.30pm every day.
In contrast, his staff from India, the Philippines and Vietnam are keen to stay back after office hours.
His sentiments are echoed by PM Lee who once said “If you look at other countries: Vietnam, China, even in India, they’re not talking about work-life balance; they are hungry, anxious, about to steal your lunch. So I think I’d better guard my lunch.”
However, isn’t it is only normal that each new generation desires better welfare at work? Singapore as a developed nation is no exception. Hence, the general consensus of wanting to move away from valuing “face time” to focusing on “productivity and efficiency”.
As reader, Ryan Tan, puts it:
Lazy? I think people have different understanding of being lazy. If it wasn’t these ‘laziness’ trait, humanity won’t progress to this day. You go to work by train? You are lazy then, walk to work as there more effort into it. You doing the calculation of your monthly report by excel? Then you are lazy, use a pen and paper and do the math. Then we can see how ‘hardworking’ you are now…
Further Reading: Why Singapore should go just a tad slower
To address the issue of poor worklife balance, I believe that Singaporeans should have more vacation time.
In fact, this is what most Singaporeans want at work but do not have. Based on a survey conducted last year by a leading recruitment agency, Robert Half, it found that having more annual leave topped Singaporean employees’ wishlist.
The annual leave entitlement in Singapore currently starts at seven days for regular employees, with a day more for every extra year of service, to 14 days. According to MOM statistics, almost 60 percent of our full-time employees here get 14 days of leave or fewer.
This is something really sad compared to the minimum annual leave that other developed countries globally – South Korea (15 days); Switzerland (20 days); Germany (20 days); Australia (20 days); UAE (22 days) and the United Kingdom (28 days).
Some may feel that it is best to let each company decide how many days of leave they wish to give. However, without legislation, many companies will just take advantage of the situation and continue to give their workers fewer days of annual leave.
For instance, many East Asian HQs have low minimum annual leave even though they are markets which generate significant revenue for global companies.
Japan has 10 days; Taiwan has 7 days and China has a pathetic 5 days. As a result, these countries often end up having highest working hours, high levels of stress and lower birth rates (since people have no mood or time to procreate anyway).
Having worked so hard for so many decades, having one of the highest stress levels and longest working hours globally, Singaporeans definitely deserve better welfare at work and time to spend with their families.
Sadly, I think it would take some time for us to change this.
According to Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, MOM would not consider increasing the current minimum annual leave days. He feels it is unnecessary as 35% of companies here already provide 14 days or more. This leads us to the question, what about the 65% who don’t?
So, if you’re a worker looking for more annual leave, I urge you to try to join European company or the technology sector. For instance, many German MNCs give their staff as much as 21 days of leave.
In addition to vacation time, it is also urgent for us to implement compulsory elderly care leave for Singaporeans.
As former Worker’s Party MP Lee Li Lian spoke up for during her term:
“Making such leave mandatory is reasonable since many of our elderly parents visit the hospitals or clinics very often for checkups. Hence I would like to urge the Ministry to make it mandatory for all private companies to offer Singaporean employees parent care leave. In order to prevent abuse, supporting materials such as hospital receipts, and letters from doctors or physiotherapists may be submitted to employers.”
I strongly believe in this due to my personal experience. To take care of my grandfather and late grandmother, I witnessed how my parents, uncles and aunties had to take turns use their annual leave to care for them.
For their generation, perhaps it is still not as stressful for some as they have many siblings. However, when it comes to the younger generation’s turn to care for our elderly parents, we might not be as lucky and this responsibility would have to be shared among 1-2 siblings for most people.