According to a Channel News Asia article titled “Breaking Singapore’s Workaholic Culture”, Singaporeans are still clocking in some of the longest working hours in the world. At 45.6 hours per week on average, Singapore ranks second only to Hong Kong’s 50.1 hours.

Long office hours have been proven to have detrimental effects on productivity and the overall well-being of workers in general. For a small state like Singapore, such effects could ripple out and negatively affect issues of national interest, such as national health indicators, population growth and over quality of life.

What’s Causing Long Work Hours?

The causes are varied, complex, interlinked and we at PEPWorlwide Asia often encounter them in the course of working with other organizations and companies to boost their productivity. The article brings attention to some of these causes:

Technology

Rapid digitization, emails, smartphones, and the instantaneous manner in which employees can be contacted (and are expected to reply) means that work is no longer physically restricted to the office. Workers often cope by working outside office hours at home and on weekends.

Low Productivity

Workers generally do not have the incentive to ration their time judiciously when they feel like they have more of it. Long working hours thus encourage procrastination, poor time management, and time-wasting activities. Over time, health problems related to burn-out, fatigue, and sedentary office lifestyles begin to sap both energy and time, leading employees to become even less productive.

Working Culture

The nature (or perceived nature) of some sectors seem to perpetuate long hours, even when they are unnecessary. Many who are practicing lawyers, for example, often find themselves staying late in their offices even during the off-season, when they have few actual work-related reasons to stay. Some stay out of habit while others stay to maintain the appearance of being productive and hardworking in front of their colleagues and bosses. Afraid of being deemed replaceable, some employees (and bosses!) put more stock in presenteeism rather than actual work done.

Inaction Has Consequences

The article goes on to explore the many negative effects experienced by workers and employees, whether it be on their personal lives, their relationships, their health, and their careers. While each is detrimental in their own ways, the article also examines the consequences of long, unproductive hours on Singaporean society at large.

These consequences appear to be keenly felt especially by young employees and their families. Adult children taking care of aging parents find their time and finances being stretched, often only finding themselves in a position to start their own families later in life. Women who bear the brunt of the pressure to juggle both work and family commitments find themselves marrying later in life or remaining single. Young parents starting their families are settling for just one or two children, specifically citing “long work hours” as being among the chief reasons why.

In a Singapore that is already bracing itself for an aging population as a result of low birth-rates, such issues exacerbate what are essentially issues of national importance.

Individual Action

The article does a great job of revealing the social pressures at work within industries and the workplace and how they perpetuate longer work hours and contribute to Singapore’s workaholic culture. The article also briefly describes how long working hours are inimical to productivity levels. As the article concludes, it puts forth the notion that it is up to individuals and individual action to mitigate the problem; whether they are managers, bosses, or employees, every person has the ability to best decide for themselves how to re-conceptualize the working culture they are a part of.

This aligns with our own findings and experience here at PEPWorldwide Asia. While individuals can’t change workplace cultures and socio-economic forces by themselves, they can individually choose how to respond to these external pressures and cultivate habits that enable them to maintain a high level of productivity, which would enable them to cut down the actual amount of time they spend working.

It is ultimately up to individuals to plan and manage the use of their time productively.

This is why PEPWorldwide Asia’s solutions focus on individual working habits and personal efficiency. If the individuals that make up a team, a department, or an organization are able to maximize their time spent at work by excising unproductive habits and eliminating low-impact activities from their daily schedules, this will result in a productivity boost not just for the individual workers but for the larger organization they’re a part of.

Many companies make the mistake of assuming that their executives, managers, and trainees enter their payroll knowing how to be productive. Many assume that educational qualifications and work experience are a good measure of productive work habits and self-discipline. Our experience shows otherwise; just like with any other set of skills, people need to be empowered, trained, and developed to become productive employees.

Conclusion

Singapore’s working culture will take time to evolve. There are already some indicators that show how some aspects are improving for Singaporean workers. Statistics from the Ministry of Manpower show that working hours in Singapore are on a declining trend. Figures put forth in the 2018 edition of the Singapore Public Sector Outcomes Review shows a general increase in productivity, though productivity growth is uneven across sectors.

However, there remains more that needs to be done. Long hours still persist and its effects on the wider society could potentially counteract or even undo whatever progress that Singapore has made so far. At PEPWorldwide Asia, we’ve been helping more and more people find an average of two hours out of their daily schedules by increasing their personal effectiveness and efficiency, helping to combat the need for longer work hours. The article is thus a timely reminder for us that our mission isn’t just to help everyone become better workers, it is also to help them find the time they need to spend on the things in life that are irreplaceable.

References:
The Big Read: Breaking Singapore’s workaholic culture: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/breaking-singapore-workaholic-culture-long-working-hours-always–11058104?cid=fbcna
Singapore Public Sector Outcomes Review:
https://www.mof.gov.sg/Resources/Singapore-Public-Sector-Outcomes-Review-SPOR

About the Contributor:

Hidhir Razak is a Master of Arts graduate from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, where he specialised in English and Creative Writing. A reader, writer, and researcher by training, his creative works have appeared in numerous anthologies and collections in Singapore while his articles have appeared on The Middle Ground, Yahoo Singapore, and Poetry.sg. Currently the Corporate Relations Manager of PEPWorldwide Asia, Hidhir is an ardent believer of the power of storytelling and its unique ability to bring people and communities together.

Executive Editor:

Angeline V. Teo is the President and Chief Consultant of PEPWorldwide (Asia) Pte. Ltd. She is also an International Speaker, certified Master PEP Consultant, Executive Coach and Author. Above all, she is a caring Mother of two, a loving Wife, filial Daughter and avid Spa and Vacation addict!