Considering Singapore is a country that’s very proud of its highly-skilled workforce, you rarely hear nice things about local employees in the media.
Employers never seem to stop jawing about how Singaporean workers are more entitled, more expensive to hire and less ‘hungry’ than foreign hires from developing countries, and poorer communicators than those from developed countries.
Is all the hate deserved? Well, all we can say is, Singapore employees are a product of the system and the environment, so if all this criticism is true, that signals a need for change on a societal level.
Let’s take a look at the top four complaints of Singapore employers:
No commitment to quality
Japanese employees have the reputation of being committed to quality, while German employees are stereotyped as ruthlessly efficient.
Singaporean employees are known for being neither. That could have prompted Chan Chun Sing to urge students to “do justice” to their jobs instead of searching for their ideal jobs.
Anyone who’s worked in a typical local SME knows that employees committed to delivering work of a high quality are a rare bunch. More energy goes into sitting at the office for long hours, dodging arrows, covering one’s ass and wayanging.
This lack of commitment to quality can perhaps be traced to society’s obsession with money and grades.
Students receive the implicit message that it’s how well you score, not how curious you are about the subject, that matters. Questions aren’t encouraged in the traditional classroom setting, only the right answers.
Adults are obsessed with how much they’re being paid, and how much earning potential a certain career has. Why bother to do a better job or go the extra mile if you’re going to get paid the same amount? It would be much more pragmatic to do the bare minimum, something that’s simply “good enough”.
No job loyalty
Singaporean millennials’ penchant for job hopping is something most employers are familiar with. In a 2015 survey, it was found that 34% of finance and accounting employees will leave new jobs in two years or less. A whopping 65% will leave in 3 years or less.
Millennials, especially, are infamous for coming up with the wackiest (at least, according to their older colleagues) reasons for quitting their jobs, from disliking the company culture to wanting to take a year off to travel.
This disloyal attitude could be linked to the fact that job security is a major concern in Singapore.
Employees tend to take the view that their employers will retrench them without a second thought once they’ve outlived their usefulness, so what’s the point in being loyal? The spate of retrenchments in 2016 and 2017 have only served to strengthen this attitude.
What employers can do is to focus on giving employees a sense of security and the feeling that the company cares about them and their career progression.
Low engagement and low morale
If you’ve ever wondered why 90% of the people at Raffles Place look like zombies (the remaining 10% being tourists) you’ve got your answer, apparently—a 2016 survey found that 57% of Singaporean businesses have employees who are plagued by “inner resignation”. These people, termed the “working dead”, go through the motions but are miles away mentally, sleepwalking through the work day.
There are countless other surveys which consistently paint a dismal picture of employee engagement in Singapore, like this one, conducted in 2013, which found that 3 in 4 workers, almost 2 million, are unmotivated and sleepwalking through their work day, while 1 in 7 are so miserable they are “more or less out to damage their company”.
Low employee engagement and morale can often directly be linked to poor management.
Bad bosses abound, and while Singapore has advanced by leaps and bounds in terms of technology and infrastructure, the same can’t be said about people’s mentalities.
Workplaces continue to be top-down, hierarchical and very insistent on face time, and work-life balance seems to be getting worse. Until this changes, expect employees to continue pulling long faces.
Singaporean employees have built a reputation for being good at following instructions, but not so good when it comes to being creative or thinking out of the box.
It might seem a little unfair that, after being put through the wringer of an education system that prizes rote memorisation and playing by the rules, Singaporeans find fingers being pointed at them for not being creative enough.
This is not something that can be fixed overnight, and definitely not by some government campaign.
To cultivate citizens who aren’t too scared to take chances and dare to use their imaginations, the education system and society at large need to change, become less conservative and less stifling.
What is your opinion of Singapore employees? Tell us in the comments!