3 Things Singaporeans Do That Sabotage Their Ability to Find Sustainable Careers

Joanne Poh



For those of us not born into royalty, the primary way to avoid destitution is by working. And judging by recent surveys, Singaporeans spend more time than almost anyone else in the world working… and working… and working some more. Still, so many people toil away at the office but find that their careers aren’t progressing the way they would like, and that they aren’t performing as well as they should.

If you’re putting in the hours but aren’t doing as well as you think you should be, the solutions could well lie outside of the boardroom. Here are three things it’s not smart to do if you want a sustainable career.


Working overly long hours

In many industries in Singapore, employees can work hours so long that it’s only a matter of time before we encounter our first instance of death by overwork or karoshi, as the Japanese call it. For instance, it’s not uncommon for young lawyers at big firms to work until 2 or 3 in the morning or even pull all nighters, although most of the big 4 lawyers I know say they leave at about 10pm on average.

No matter what your bosses might tell you about “putting in the hours”, working punishing hours on an extended basis is very unsustainable—as a testimony to that, the attrition rate of Singapore lawyers is alarming high. Unless you really, really love your job or you’re just looking to make a wad of cash over a few years and then take it easy, working such crazy hours is going to cause you to crash and burn in the long run. You might find yourself depressed and unable to work or just ill from exhaustion, and that’s not going to help your career in any way.


Not taking annual leave

So we already know that many Singaporean professionals are burning out in spectacular fashion. Even if your boss is a slave driver and you spend so much time at the office that you need to reintroduce yourself to your family whenever you get home, don’t forget the one bright spot in this depressing picture–you are contractually entitled to your annual leave.

Even if your boss kicks up a fuss whenever you try to get him to approve your leave or attempts to guilt trip you into not taking it all, playing the meek employee in this case may have dire consequences. If you’re always plugged in even when you’re on leave, you’re at a higher risk of experiencing falling levels of job satisfaction, being less productive and even dropping out of the workforce altogether thanks to burnout. As an aside, you’re actually paid for taking your annual leave, so losing a day of leave effectively means you’re working an entire day for free.

This might sound silly to you. I mean, who doesn’t want to take leave right? But speak to your friends and you might start to realise that for one reason or another, people don’t always utilise their leave as much as you assume they would.


Not looking after your health

It is ironic that good health is essential for productivity at work, but Singaporeans often end up sacrificing their health for the sake of their jobs. In fact, healthy eating and getting enough exercise actually correlate hugely with productivity at work.

In addition, long hours at the office and an abundance of late-night activities has resulted in Singaporeans being one of the world’s most sleep deprived nations. Sleep deprivation brings with a whole host of physical and emotional problems, from increased risk of depression to poorer cognitive skills and lower efficiency. In addition, one of Singaporeans’ biggest career obstacles is the fact that so many are just plain miserable at work. Sleep deprivation makes it harder to keep negative emotions under control and might contribute to the general dourness of the Singapore workforce.

While leading a healthier lifestyle might necessitate moving to a less demanding job, those who do take that step are likely to have a more sustainable and more enjoyable career in which they’re able to perform to their highest potential.

Are you guilty of any of the above? Tell us in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.