We might have one of the world’s most famous infinity pools and more shopping malls than you could ever hope to visit in this lifetime. Salaries in many industries here are fairly high and opportunities abound in sectors like banking, finance and tech. But many Singaporeans who have gone abroad to work are still not returning. In a recent news report, the authorities expressed fear that overseas Singaporeans would never return.
Despite increased opportunities, all of us have friends who refused to come back after their overseas studies or sought a new life abroad, never to return, even though they might not have been short of opportunities here. Here’s an honest look at why some overseas Singaporeans choose not to return, and what can be done to stop the brain drain and get them back.
Work-life balance and pace of life
Singapore is not short of opportunities in many industries. The regional offices of many MNCs have set up shop here, and the employment market is robust. Salaries are generally competitive. Yet many Singaporeans who’ve found work elsewhere choose not to return because they’ve found better work-life balance and a slower pace of life in their adopted cities.
Karen, a 28-year-old lawyer, stayed on in Melbourne, Australia after completing her university studies there. She works about 50 hours a week, which is far less time than most of her legal peers in Singapore spend at work. She says, “I leave work at about 7 or 8pm on average and at times I when work is slower I get to leave around 5:30pm. This is considered extremely early in Singapore and almost unheard of in the legal profession.”
“I would probably earn more if I returned to Singapore and worked in a local firm due to the lower taxation rates, but my life here is more relaxed. I live in the city and can walk to work,” she says. “Most of my friends back in Singapore only leave the office late at night and then have to face a long commute home.”
Solution: A huge cause of the problems plaguing Singaporean employees who complain about poor work-life balance is outmoded management styles that give employees a low level of autonomy and place undue emphasis on face-time. While it will take some time for changes to occur, a future employment landscape with the possibility for flexible and alternative work arrangements, as well as a shift towards more collaborative rather than authoritarian management styles, will do a lot to woo Singaporeans who have sworn never to return.
Cost of living relative to salary
While Singaporean salaries in many industries are competitive, the cost of living relative to salary has prompted some Singaporeans to leave in favour of a city where they can get more bang for their buck, even if it means earning a lower salary. Most young Singaporeans can get by living with their parents here, but once they’ve gone abroad and had a taste of being able to afford to live on their own, many find it hard to readapt when they move back.
Veronica, a 30-year-old designer, returned to Singapore and moved back in with her parents after spending a few years working in Germany and now has plans to leave once again. “I really miss being able to rent my own place and buy a cheap car. My salary here isn’t that bad and I get along fine with my parents, but life was simpler and I felt like I was able to afford a lot more with what I earned back in Germany.”
Solution: When you’re used to the predictability of driving and the peace of living on your own, it can be disconcerting to return and realise you’re at the mercy of unreliable bus services, overcrowded MRTs and the stress of moving back into the family home. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like things are going to get cheaper in the near future. But better infrastructure for young, single people, such as the availability of affordable studio flats for rent or sale as well as improved public transport connections, would go a long way towards appeasing those who miss their homes and cars overseas.
Better opportunities in certain industries
While the Singapore job market is great for job seekers in many industries, some Singaporeans still find opportunities better elsewhere. For instance, 32-year-old Benjamin once considered migrating to Newcastle, Australia where he has close relatives. The engineering degree holder, whose first job as a civil engineer in Singapore had him working a 6 day week with a starting pay of $2,800, expected to be able to earn double the amount after taxes in Newcastle. The same is true for professionals such as psychologists, who stand to earn almost double the amount in major Australian and American cities.
Mark is a 33-year-old programmer now based in San Francisco. With 5 years of experience, he would be commanding about $5,000 in Singapore, less than half of what he currently earns. “Singapore isn’t a bad place, and I could see myself being very happy there. I would consider moving back if the opportunity arose, but for now I haven’t come across any that would be worth my while.”
Solution: Contact Singapore, which aims to alert overseas Singaporeans on job opportunities back home, is on the right track, but more needs to be done to reach out to those who haven’t been back in a while.
Would you prefer to work in Singapore or somewhere else? Tell us in the comments!