Civil Service: Pros and Cons

Ryan Ong


These days, the corporate sector is taking on the texture of refined dog poop. With the Eurozone Crisis and American debt looming, everyone’s looking for a safe port: the Civil Service. Pay rates are high, the system is incorruptible, and it’s an “iron rice bowl”. But is the Civil Service all it’s cut out to be? And what are the drawbacks to being a government, as opposed to corporate, drone? Let’s find out:


What is the Civil Service?

In the simplest sense, everyone who works for the government. This ranges from SAF regulars to the people who stamp your passport.

The biggest difference between civil servants and corporate workers is their key performance indicator (KPI). The fire department, for example, doesn’t generate any profit. Their KPI (and hence their bonus) is based on a statistical drop in the number of fires. In the corporate sector, KPI is seldom tied to what doesn’t happen.

To illustrate the difference: if the bank ran the fire department, they’d set fire to your apartment every other week, and then charge you to put it out.


Burning House
“Hi, remember I called to ask if you want home insurance? Well how about NOW?”


The Civil Service Pay Scale

The pay of civil servants is organized into “bands”. This makes the pay uniform across the different departments. So a sergeant in the army, for example, makes as much as a supervisor in a community club.

Yeah, someone who handles live explosives earns as much as someone who stacks chairs all day. I said “uniform”, not “fair”.

The following table is an approximation, derived from annoying civil servants with too many questions. It’s not official:



Pay Range

MX9 (Directors)

$9000 – $15,000

MX10 (Senior Management)

$6000 – $9000

MX11 (Middle Management)

$4000 – $6000

MX12 (Management)

$2500 – $5000

MX13 (Fresh Graduates)

Around $2500


The “MX” stannds for “Management Executive Scheme.” This is the track that most degree holders can expect to be on. In theory, the civil service pay scale is pegged to private sector rates.


The Pros

The main advantages of the civil service can be summarized as:

  • Security
  • Consistency
  • Subsidised Skills Development
  • Subsidised Facilities
  • Practical Services


The Civil Service is often called “the iron rice bowl”. It’s harder (not impossible, but much harder) to get retrenched from the Civil Service. Regardless of how far down the toilet the economy is, we’ll always need a police force, a customs department, a health department, etc.


Rice Bowl
“Huh? Money? But during your job interview you kept saying you wanted a rice bowl?”



Because they set the labour laws, the Civil Service has a tight adherence to them. You won’t have bosses who give you a blank stare when you mention AWS, or have a dental scheme that involves string and a doorknob. The pay is always on time, the bonuses are predictable, and it’s easy to exercise employment rights.

Subsidised Skills Development

Singapore’s Civil Service emphasizes workforce development and lifelong learning. If you work for them, you can look forward to subsidised training or degree courses. Granted, you can also find this in the corporate sector; but opportunities are never as abundant and accessible as in the Civil Service.

Subsidised Facilities

Pound for pound, the Civil Service offers some of the best employee facilities. From the SAF yacht club to the Aloha resort, Civil Servants have more discounts than Geylang has…food outlets. There are corporate sector jobs which have subsidised facilities, but few to the extent of Singapore’s Civil Service.

Practical Services

Civil Service offers jobs with immediate, practical value. If you’re being mugged, who’d you rather see coming round the corner? A policeman with a tazer or your lawyer with a briefcase? Most Civil Service jobs are of immediate value to someone.


The Cons

The downside to working in Civil Service can be summarized as:

  • Strict Top-Down Hierarchy
  • Emphasis on Paper Qualifications
  • (Perceived) Lack of Creative Space

Strict Top – Down Hierarchy

The hierarchy in a Civil Service department is strict, especially in segments like the military. Instructions come from the top-down, and there’s less communication between the levels. This is not the right career path for someone who won’t take orders, or likes to ask “why”.


Trash Cans
“Just put your feedback forms in these…boxes.”


Emphasis on Paper Qualifcations

Talking to Civil Servants about government scholarships is like strapping Molotov cocktails to your groin and playing with matches. It’s dangerous is what I’m saying. Apparently, you can’t even talk about this online without everyone staying civil (pun intended).

It’s a common complaint: In Civil Service your qualifications matters more than your work. You’ll have to tolerate the fact that, so long as someone has higher qualifications, they’ll probably be your boss. Even if they can’t find their own backside with both hands.

It also means a ceiling exists for diploma or “O” level holders. In the corporate sector, your performance can override a lack of qualifications. But don’t count on it happening in Civil Service.

(Perceived) Lack of Creative Space

The Civil Service prefers established routines. Because the last thing you want is for the riot squad to get “creative” when dealing with a teen mob. If you want jobs that reward daring initiatives and lateral thinking, most civil service jobs aren’t for you.

Then again, there’s plenty of corporate jobs that are just as bad.



If you join, make sure you have a degree. Unless you’re on the MX track, there’s a risk that 10 or 20 years from now, you’ll be stuck in the same job. At the very least, join with the intent to get a degree; make full use of that subsidised education.


Man pelted by boxes and paperwork
“I’d open that cabinet slowly; your unfinished work really piled up during your exams.”


If you like stability and are risk averse, the Civil Service may be your thing. But if you’re the go-getter entrepreneurial type, there are less painful experiences out there.

Image Credits:

Kiwi NZ

Do you work for the Civil Service? Comment and share your thoughts!

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.