3 Things Singaporeans Should Do to Stop Work From Getting in the Way of Family Time

Joanne Poh



While foreigners are often flabbergasted when they learn about the kinds of hours many Singaporeans work here, locals remain unfazed, since we’re pretty much used to the attitude that working till the sun sets is normal.

And so the recent news article which revealed that long working hours are an obstacle to family time was met with, “You dunno meh?”

This is a sad state of affairs that nobody knows how to handle. Despite the Baby Bonus, the birth rate remains dismal, and it is clear the country is going to have to rely on immigration to rescue rapidly the aging population.

That’s cold comfort for those Singaporeans who are now struggling to raise families while juggling punishing work schedules. An entire generation of children is being raised by maids and childcare centres, and as they move on to school-going age they see more of their tuition teachers than their own parents. Which is really really sad.

While there is no clear-cut solution to this barring radical changes to employers’ attitudes, here are three things parents can do to spend more times with their families.


Don’t be afraid to take advantage of flexible arrangements at work

While 47% of employers in a 2014 survey claimed they were offering employees flexi-work options, the take up rate is still low.

Many Singaporeans are just too paranoid to take them for fear that they’ll be viewed as unmotivated. And the sad thing is that, from experience, some bosses will be annoyed if you don’t show your face in the office even if you’re doing good work.

Parents need to ask themselves: in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter that much? Most Singaporeans don’t even stay in the same company for long anyway. Would you rather curry favour with your boss by putting in ridiculous amounts of face-time, or spend more time with the people that matter?

Even if there aren’t existing flexi-work arrangements at work, if you’ve been performing well or been with your company for a while, you might want to try asking for a more flexible arrangement, such as staggered hours. If you don’t ask, you don’t receive, and I know more than one person who’s managed to wrangle a few work-from-home days per month or the right to come in and leave earlier.

Actionable step: Find out from HR what flexible options there are in your company and commit to taking up at least one of them. If there are no flexible work options in your company, ask your boss if you may make one small change, such as staggering your work by an hour or two. Only when the above avenues have been exhausted should you consider moving on to a new job if everything else is satisfactory.


Cut down on the amount of time you waste

No matter how busy we are, let’s be honest about the fact that most of us let a lot of time pass unproductively, especially with the huge distractions presented by social media, the Internet and mobile devices.

When you work long hours and are tired out all the time, it’s all too easy to be passive about planning your time. After all, it’s harder to think of a meaningful way to spend your time than it is to kill an hour or two looking at other people’s vacation photos on Facebook.

You might complain that you have no time to spend with your kid, yet once you get home you zone out in front of the TV or start playing Candy Crush on the couch. All this wasted time is eating into the amount of quality time you have left to spend with your family.

Actionable step: Identify the times in the day when you are idle or wasting time on the internet—this could be when you’re standing on the MRT on your way to work, waiting for your maid or spouse to prepare dinner or while waiting to pick your kids up from their various activities.

Come up with things you can do during these pockets of time so you can free your time up elsewhere. One example would be doing groceries during lunchtime at work so you can free up time after work.


Organise family activities deliberately

While you might take pains to organise elaborate activities with your friends, the same can often not be said of family—after all, you technically see them every day at home, so it’s easy to assume that you “can” do something anytime everyone “happens” to be around.

Except that Singaporeans are very busy people. Heck, even kids spend most of their time in school, tuition, and ballet/horse riding/sword fighting/baby genius classes. And when everyone is at home, they’re glued to their mobile devices.

When you have a demanding work schedule, it’s important to be deliberate about organising family activities so what little time you have is well-spent.

Take the kids to the zoo on the weekends, spend a day splashing around at your neighbourhood swimming complex or have steamboat together at home. Even on days when you’re not doing something special, be deliberate about how you spend your time, such as having everyone sit down together for dinner, no smartphones allowed.

Actionable step: On Sunday evening, plan at least two activities in the coming week with your family. They can be as elaborate as a weekend trip to Malaysia or as simple as dinner together at home. Inform every member of the family so you’re committed to spending this time together.

How do you adjust your work to get more family time? 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.