3 Minefields Singaporeans Must Learn to Navigate at Work

3 Minefields Singaporeans Must Learn to Navigate at Work

When you’re still at the office at 8pm and you spot colleagues surfing the internet waiting for the boss to leave, you know you’re in Singapore.

Work isn’t easy anywhere, but working in Singapore has its own quirks and minefields you’ll have to learn to navigate to emerge victorious and, um, still employed.

If you think the only thing you have to do is work hard, you’re sorely mistaken. Here are three things you need to learn to survive your job in Singapore.


Disagreeing with your boss without pissing him off

Unless you’re working at a start-up manned only by millennials, there’s a high chance you’ll run into the superior who doesn’t like anyone opposing anything he says. Sure, you can pretend to laugh at his jokes, but at some point you might run into a situation where it’s your job to disagree with him.

And given the high power distance between employers and employees in Singapore, that’s something a lot of local bosses aren’t going to like.

Maybe your boss is making a big mistake and you need to tell him about it without sounding like a know-it-all and offending him. Or perhaps he has accused you of making a mistake that really wasn’t your fault. How do you disagree while still letting him know he’s boss?

In most conservative Asian settings, there is a large power distance between bosses and employees. This means you should not have a big disagreement with your boss in front of everyone—it makes him lose face. If you’re not in a group discussion, speak with him in private.

You also want to learn to phrase couch your thoughts in positive terms. Acknowledge that you “like his idea a lot”, but then point out that perhaps something was overlooked. Ask questions at appropriate junctures so your boss doesn’t feel like you’re bossing him around. And when a final decision is made, don’t try your luck by insisting on having your way.


Maintaining work-life balance without being penalised for lack of face time

Work-life balance is now more important to employees than pay, if the results of this survey are to be believed.

And no wonder, because long working hours are now the norm here and the majority of bosses expect their employees to do OT or work on weekends, according to this 2013 survey.

Sure, it’s one thing to promise yourself you’ll leave the office at 6pm on the dot every day. It’s quite another to have to deal with the fall-out when your boss flips out because he thinks you should be “putting in the hours” (even if you’ve finished your work), or gets annoyed because you are “never around” at 7.30pm.

If you’re spending much of your office time chatting on Whatsapp, checking your social media accounts or taking long lunches, you need to make your work processes more efficient. Working feverishly and leaving on time is preferable to dilly dallying and leaving late at night, unless you don’t care about work life balance.

But that’s just one part of the battle. If your boss is the kind of person who’s big on face time and gets pissed when you’re not physically in the office because it makes him think you’re not working hard enough, you need to learn how to make your presence felt at the office when you are around.

Short of engaging in blatant wayanging, make sure you are truly engaged with your work. Volunteer to do stuff, ask questions, actively discuss your current projects with your boss and basically be 100% present whenever you are at the office.

Conversely, if you spend your days hiding behind your cubicle walls trying not to be seen and then scoot off the moment the clock strikes 6, don’t be surprised if your boss thinks you’re a slacker.


Driving progression in your career

If you’re working for a local SME, make sure you monitor your own career progression instead of just passively doing your job for years and years.

It’s already common knowledge that HR practitioners warn against staying in the same job for too long, since it stunts your career growth and makes your pay stagnate.

Furthermore, in a 2015 survey, a whopping 40% of the people surveyed who were resigning from their jobs said there was no career progression in the roles they were leaving. Clearly, lack of career progression is fairly major problem in Singapore, especially at SMEs where opportunities for promotion are more limited.

As much as you might like to think you’ll rise through the ranks if you simply work hard and perform well, in reality this doesn’t always play out. Whether you can progress in your career depends not only on your role but also on your boss’s willingness to train you and enable you to acquire skills that enable you to take on greater responsibilities.

If your boss wants to keep you in your present role forever (or indeed doesn’t care whether you stay or go), you’ll have to be sharp enough to notice this by your second year on the job. Then it’s up to you to either speak with your superiors about your opportunities in the company and put yourself on a better career track, or leave for greener pastures.

How do you deal with the above problems at work? Tell us in the comments!