When I was working in an office, I had the distinct impression that at least 80% of the people around me hated coming to work.
Alicia, 26, fell sick at least once a month because her insomnia wouldn’t let her fall asleep early enough and she would show up at work exhausted each day.
Roy, 29, constantly grappled with the fact that he wasn’t happy working until 10pm each day, but always concluded his bouts of soul-searching with the resignation that he couldn’t give up the money.
Yvette, 37, had just had a baby and was exhausted from waking up in the middle of the night. Her employer refused to allow flexible hours or part-time work although she would have been able to continue doing the same amount of work.
So clearly, it seems working regular office hours isn’t working out for many people.
A recent poll which showed that Singaporeans are some of the unhappiest employees in the region seems to concur.
While decades ago, getting stable job that would feed your family until retirement was the be-all and end-all of a person’s working existence, these days more and more people are questioning the status quo.
In response to the usual argument that privileged millennials born into the middle class need to revise their expectations, while that line of thinking certainly doesn’t lack validity, experience has shown me that there is a growing crop of young people willing to put in the hours and the hard work to master skills and build something of their own—but only on their own terms, and not within the confines of the 9 to 6.
Let’s examine some of the reasons behind this phenomenon:
1. It’s No Longer Just 9 to 6
We already know that Singaporeans work some of the longest hours in the world. And while I’m not saying you need to refuse to work once the clock strikes 6:01pm out of deference to the hallowed “work-life balance”, the lack of time to develop oneself in personal, social, recreational and spiritual ways is causing many to question whether the 9-6+++ grind is really worth the trouble.
Ironically, if it was simply a question of choosing whether to work 9-6 or not, the odds would be in favour of a desk job for many.
Sharon, a 30-year-old analyst at a multinational bank who proclaims she is miserable at work, says, “If it were really 9 to 6, I wouldn’t mind it as much. But I mean really 9 to 6, and not 9 to 11 in practice.”
The reality is that for many burnt out young professionals, it’s really a question of whether it’s worthwhile working 9am to 9pm and beyond and sometimes weekends.
Lynn, a 30-year-old marketing manager who took a break from the corporate world for a year, says, “I think 9 to 6 is alright actually if it’s just 9 to 6. The thing that’s really bad is that with the Internet and mobile phones, now work life and personal time blend into one another and there’s no break. And while you’re at work you’re expected to juggle ten things at once.”
While many young people are willing to work hard to scale the career ladder, it appears there is a limit to how much they’re willing to sacrifice in terms of their personal lives and health.
“If there’s a better, more productive way to get things done, I don’t think all-nighters in the office do anyone any good. But older workers are resistant to change and insist on face time at any cost,” laments Nadia, a 27-year-old lawyer.
2. Eroding Confidence to Keep Pace With the Cost of Living
It used to be that a typical full-time job was your ticket off the streets.
These days, however, it seems that youth is no longer a carefree time of self-reflection and exploration. For Singaporean youths, it’s all doom and gloom regarding their financial future, and nobody these days really believes that getting a stable job is the ticket to financial wellbeing.
With private sector salaries creeping up at an average rate of under 5% per year, many pay packages are fighting a losing battle against inflation, and this is eroding employee loyalty.
This has gotten many Singapore employees turning to other sources of income. Some freelance on the side outside of working hours to earn an extra buck, while others leave to start a business in hopes that they’ll make it big.
Larry, a 30-year-old former web designer and the star of one of our previous posts, agrees. “Although I was earning $4,500 in my last job, which to me is quite decent, a few months ago I quit to start my own business with a few friends. I asked myself how much room there was to grow, and realised that I wasn’t going to get much further. I don’t want to have to rely on a job that may not be able to support me ten years down the road if I want to buy a home or start a family.”
3. More People Moonlighting
These days, many people believe that true job security is having multiple income sources.
More and more people are realising that it’s possible to make money without going through the usual channel of a 9-6 job, or at least to supplement wages from their day job.
And it shows, based on the growing number of people moonlighting after office hours.
From lawyers who moonlight as tutors to journalists who moonlight as photographers to designers who moonlight as DJs to bankers who moonlight as yoga teachers, more and more people are exploring various forms of self-employment outside of office hours.
Take Lionel, for instance, a 29-year-old civil servant who’s in the process of becoming a certified tour guide. He plans to run tours on weekends and eventually make the transition out of the 9 to 6. Having a side hustle stops him from feeling trapped in his job.
4. Shifting Values
While those in senior management will say that everyone has to pay their dues to get to where they want to be, many young workers these days aren’t even sure that that is where they eventually want to be.
Young people are embracing alternative lifestyles that would give their parents heart attacks, from digital nomads who live out of backpacks to lifestyle entrepreneurs who make their work revolve around their lives and not the other way around.
Roy, a 29-year-old lawyer, laments, “I look at my boss and I don’t even know if that’s what I want to be doing when I’m 40 or 50. Sure, he has the expensive car and the massive property on prime land. But he’s overweight, spends all his time at the office and only goes on vacation to play golf. I want to travel and experience things, not end up like that.”
(Some names have been changed to protect the respondents’ identities.)
What are your views on the 9 to 6 routine? Let us know in the comments!