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3 Things That Could be Sabotaging Your Singapore Career

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Joanne Poh

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Returning overseas Singaporeans often find to their dismay that working in Singapore is a different kettle of fish altogether. While being efficient at work and speaking up when something is amiss might be valued in workplaces elsewhere, the rules at local companies are quite different.

If you’re left scratching your head trying to figure out just why your career in Singapore doesn’t seem to be going as well as you thought it would, here are three things you could be doing that are sabotaging yourself at work.

 

Not enough face time

This might sound weird, but at many Singaporean workplaces, efficiency at work is often punished rather than rewarded if it means you leave the office earlier than your colleagues. Obviously this depends to a certain extent on what kind of boss you have and which industry you work in, but in more “corporate” or conservative industries there’s a high chance you’ll wind up with a boss who is displeased when you leave on the dot, never mind that you’ve finished all your work, and done it well.

The sad truth is that Singaporean employers are still by and large obsessed with face time, and this can be devastating for productivity. At two of my previous workplaces, many employees would spend the entire day chatting with colleagues, only leaving at 9 or 10pm. Conversely, those employees who left on the dot were often looked upon unfavorably by their bosses, even if they were clearly more efficient than the ones who stayed late. It is thus very telling that a shocking 75% of bosses surveyed by JobsCentral Group believed it was important for their staff to do overtime or work on weekends.

If your boss is local and the conservative sort, there’s a high chance he’s the sort who believes employees should stick around until their boss is gone even if they’ve finished all their work.

In one of my previous jobs, I used to skip lunch so I could finish my work on time and leave on the dot, sitting glued to the computer until closing time. My boss’s logic-defying response was that since I left on the dot every day, I clearly wasn’t asking for enough work.

 

You’re not building rapport with your boss

Anyone who works in a local SME knows that your actual job performance isn’t the only thing you’ll be assessed on. Other than face time, building rapport with your boss tends to be quite important in Singapore. This doesn’t necessarily mean you become your boss’s best friend and drinking buddy, although that might help.

It does mean you might need to “wayang” a little or risk being overlooked at work, if your boss is the kind of person who expects employees to suck up. If you’ve gone through NS in Singapore, you already know his this works. In fact, in a previous job I had a supervisor who actively advised employees that it was important to know how to get into one’s boss’s good books.

Many old-school bosses in Singapore tend to expect recognition of the power differential between them and you, so no matter how close you think you are, never forget to respect the appropriate boundaries. For instance, don’t start calling your boss by his first name when the rest of your colleagues refer to him as Mr Something.

If you’re unable to build rapport with your boss, don’t be surprised if you get a poor appraisal. A friend of mine was warned by her boss that she didn’t fit in and had better do something about it, when she actually got along great with her team mates but had deliberately kept a distance from the boss.

 

You do the bare minimum and it shows

Singaporean workers are some of the world’s unhappiest, if the numerous surveys on workplace happiness are anything to go by. Whatever the reason, this has resulted in employees who are disengaged and just waiting to make a speedy exit the moment a new job comes along.

When you feel like death every day on the job, it’s pretty damn difficult to do more than the bare minimum. If that’s how you feel, you’re better off looking for a new job instead of continuing to scrape by in your current role. Bosses are always looking for employees who willingly contribute to the organisation, rather than simply try to get by doing as little as possible.

Even if you’re a competent worker and are actually good at your job, if you consistently get the feeling that you’re doing the bare minimum, your boss probably notices too. Don’t be surprised if your attitude causes you to get consistently passed over for promotions or receive lousy bonuses while less competent but more agreeable colleagues sweep up all the accolades.

Have you been guilty of any of the above? Share your experiences 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.

  • JohnnyWu

    Why I have feeling that this article has been written like 5 times before by Joane?

    • Dharmalingam

      Because you don’t agree?