Career

4 Ways Singaporeans Can Get More Time Off From Work

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Joanne Poh

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Once upon a time, whenever I met random people overseas and told them I was from Singapore, those who knew we weren’t part of China used to snigger and comment about the chewing gum ban. These days, they chuckle and say, “Oh, I guess that means you work a lot.”

Our long working hours and lack of work-life balance have made the news so many times they’ve now been accepted into the canon of general knowledge.

A recent news report has revealed that the #1 item on Singaporean employees’ wishlist is more days of annual leave, while flexible hours come in a close second. However, the survey shows that few employers are aware of how much a day off means to their employees, which is probably why feigning illness in order to skip work is fairly common.

While employers in Singapore are still by and large quite reluctant to increase the leave entitlement of their staff, here are some tactics that might work.

 

Negotiate your annual leave entitlement during your interview

It’s surprising how seldom Singaporeans try to negotiate anything during an interview. That famous subservience to authority tends to cause interviewees to slink away dissatisfied when quoted a salary that’s lower than what they would prefer.

However, those who do try to negotiate better terms often come away successful, so it’s a pity few people try to do it.

I have a former colleague who managed to get her bosses in a notoriously inflexible company to agree to her coming in and leaving an hour early every day so she could pick her kids up from school, while another became a part-time employee, coming in only 3 days a week.

Yet another friend managed to get two extra days of annual leave thanks to some clever bargaining.

Trying to negotiate more annual leave is particularly effective if you’re interviewing for a company that pays only market-rate or below market-rate salaries, as such firms usually have trouble retaining talent.

If you know for a fact that the company needs to hire urgently or has been trying to fill that position for some time, you also have the upper hand.

 

Make sure you’re getting at least the minimum amount of annual leave stipulated by MOM

If you’re a private sector employee who’s earning not more than $2,500 a month or a workman earning not more than $4,500, you’re covered by the Employment Act and entitled to a bare minimum amount of annual leave depending on how long you’ve worked at a company.

You should have at least 7 days of leave in your first year of service, and with each additional year you work, this leave should be increased by at least 1 day up to a maximum of 14 days.

This means if you’ve been with the company for 2 years, you should have a least 8 days of leave. If you’ve been with them for 3 years, you should have at least 9.

While you probably got at least 7 days of annual leave in your first year (because any employer who wants to give less than that has to be a monster), it’s easy to forget that that amount is supposed to increase with each passing year.

So don’t forget to make sure you’re at least entitled to the bare minimum of leave MOM requires employers to offer!

 

Trade other benefits for additional leave

Unless you’re an inmate at Changi Prison, you’re probably getting some kinds of employment benefits for your labour, whether it’s medical insurance, the use of a company doctor, a gym membership or transport or phone allowance.

Before you agree to take on a job, it’s a good idea to ask HR about the full list of benefits you’ll receive, and see if you can trade any of them in for additional days of leave.

For instance, many companies offer their employees taxi allowance if they work beyond a certain hour. If you drive or ride to work, this is one benefit you won’t be needing.

If you are allergic to exercise, that gym membership isn’t going to be of much use to you.

If your employer isn’t a stick-in-the-mud who needs to follow every rule to a tee, he or she might be willing to agree to the trade-in.

 

Take unpaid leave or go on sabbatical

Anyone who has friends in high earning industries like finance, shipbroking or law knows people who constantly seem to be taking year-long sabbaticals from work, or a month or two of unpaid leave here and there.

Obviously, this option isn’t for everyone, especially those who are struggling to pay a mortgage or raise a brood of children.

But for upwardly mobile PMETs who earn high salaries but suffer from terrible work-life balance, it can be a good idea to avoid the depression and burn-out that’s plaguing a rising number of young Singaporean professionals by taking periodic unpaid leave or going on sabbaticals every few years.

Bosses are more likely to agree to a sabbatical if you have a good excuse, like taking a 6-month course overseas or trying to start a family. Otherwise, if you’ve got years of experience in a robust industry where hiring isn’t a problem, you might even choose to take 6 to 12 months off in between jobs.

It might not sound like the best plan for maximising earnings, but as a lawyer friend of mine (accustomed to working 15 hour days) once said, it might be better to sacrifice a bit of money in exchange for a sustainable career.

Are you satisfied with the amount of annual leave your job entitles you to? 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.