facebookSingaporeans Are Overworked AF: Is the Pursuit of Work-Life Balance Even Possible?



191120 - Work life balance Singapore

Singaporeans Are Overworked AF: Is the Pursuit of Work-Life Balance Even Possible?

profileXue Miao

I recently came across this YouTube video which featured this young lady staying in a rural cottage with her windows overlooking hills and endless grass plains.

Source: TheCottageFairy | YouTube

There’s just something extremely therapeutic about such videos, where they seem to offer us a sneak peek into the kind of world we office workers might only dream of – almost like an alternate dimension.

A recent Mothership article also showcased a 26-year-old who left her corporate job to farm in New Zealand, which garnered a lot of attention.

Most people applauded her for her bravery for doing something unconventional that some would only fantasise about.

In the current society where the boundaries of work and life seem to blur, it is no longer uncommon for people to fantasise about ditching their job responsibilities and pursue a life that is much simpler and slower.

The work culture in Singapore acknowledges burnout as a form of hard work, and long working hours have since been normalised.

Source: Tenor

Which was why it was not surprising when Singapore was ranked as the second-most overworked cities in 2020.

Singaporeans Do Not Have Good Work-Life Balance

Based on a recent study conducted by Kisi, Singapore ranks 41st out of 50 cities when it comes to work-life balance.

These were the factors that were evaluated for the study:

Factors: Work-Intensity Society & Institutions City Livability
Consists of: Hours Worked & Commute/Week Social Spending Affordability
Overworked Population (%) Healthcare Happiness, Culture & Leisure
Vacations Taken (Days) Access to Mental Healthcare City Safety & Stress
Latest Unemployment (%) Inclusivity & Tolerance Green Spaces and Weather
Multiple Jobholders (%) Air Quality
Paid Parental Leave (Days) Wellness and Fitness

The data collected from the 50 cities were analysed for each factor, and the final score for overall work-life balance was determined by calculating the sum of the weighted average score of all of the indicators.

From this study, Singaporeans are also second when it comes to the time taken for commuting and working.

At 51.1 hours per week, which is just one position behind Kuala Lumpur, who is topping the chart with 52 hours.

25.1% of the population are also overworked, just one position away from the top spot which is currently occupied by Hong Kong (at 29.9%).

Overwork here refers to full-time employees working more than 48 hours per working week.

As the International Labour Organisation (ILO) considers working over 48 hours ‘excessive’.

Why Are Singaporeans Working So Hard?

Source: Giphy

Here are the top cities with the highest number of overworked citizens:

  1. Hong Kong
  2. Singapore
  3. Seoul
  4. Kuala Lumpur
  5. Tokyo

Asians are typically stereotyped as being hard workers, and if the number of hours clocked at work is indicative of that, we are adhering to this stereotype with flying colours.

While the number of hours has been slowly declining over the years, it is still a stark contrast to our European counterparts, who generally enjoy shorter working weeks and longer holidays.

Why is this happening?

This workaholic culture is fueled by some commonly seen cultures we see on our tiny island.

We have long been associating longer working hours with competitiveness, and there is a notion where people have to work hard to keep up with the competition.

It is also a common argument where long hours are necessary to maintain our level of productivity and remain as a strong economy.

(According to the IMD World Competitiveness Ranking, Singapore has been the most competitive economy for two years straight, btw.)

Source: Gfycat

The obsession with the word ‘productivity‘ sometimes gets out of hand too.

There is always an urge to prove to others how much we are achieving in our lives, by mentioning how tired we constantly are or how many things we can accomplish in the short span of 24 hours.

Poor work-life balance is also sometimes disguised as dedication and hard work, which might potentially perpetuate an unhealthy mindset towards work.

It is common to hear competitive bragging of sleeping late or being the last to leave the office, or even not wanting to rest simply because #sleepisfortheweak.

Source: Tenor

In addition, there is another phenomenon known as ‘presenteeism’, where employees stay in the office even when they have completed their work, and leave only after their bosses leave.

There is an invisible pressure to work beyond hours because employees are worried about being ‘marked down’ by superiors because they are seen as leaving early (and therefore are working shorter hours).

It is a sad truth that some companies are still judging an employee’s diligence and efforts through the number of hours they spend in the office.

We Hear So Much About Work-Life Balance, but Is It Really Possible?

Source: Camille Medina

I have always been a huge advocate of work-life balance, where I strongly believe that our lives shouldn’t be solely dedicated to work.

(I can almost hear a couple of boomers calling me a weak millennial already.)

However, with the evolving nature of jobs and work, the concept of work-life balance seemed elusive.

For instance, technology has greatly transformed the way we work these days.

The advancement of technology has allowed us to work remotely at home without having to step out of the house.

Something that wasn’t even possible just a couple of years back.

However, technology has also greatly increased our level of connectivity, and this 24-hour connectivity also meant that we could be contactable at all times.

Which meant a higher level of difficulty of disconnecting from work after working hours, causing a blurred line between work and rest and thereby ultimately leading to burnout.

Source: Jean-Pierre Le Roux | Pinterest

Which is why we should work towards work-life harmony instead.

Most of us would love to be able to juggle both work and life perfectly, by having an extremely productive day at work, ending early and then spend the next half of the day with friends and family.

But that’s not always possible.

So a more achievable one would be to strive for achievable balance.

What this means is whenever possible, to follow the rhythms of your job role – by having days where more focus is required for work, while on other days there can be more time and energy allocated to your personal life.

So instead of having fixed schedules, work and play will exist in seasons.

The key is to remain fluid in the scheduling of your life and to continually assess your own goals and priorities.

Acknowledging your own goals and priorities is integral when it comes to choosing your job as well, as the type of industry can also be correlated to the number of working hours required.

Source: Tenor

In addition, employers play a big part in this as a company’s culture greatly affects an employee’s work behaviour.

It is difficult to have clear boundaries between work and life if bosses perpetuate unhealthy work cultures.

To help with this, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has introduced strategies that would provide a win-win situation for both employers and employees.

This includes having flexible work arrangements, leave schemes and employee support schemes which can be employed by companies.

These work-life strategies have been proven to increase productivity, employee engagement and also helped in the attraction and retention of talent!

Closing Thoughts

Source: Tenor

The pursuit of work-life balance is almost like searching for the one true love – you might find it if you’re incredibly lucky, but some of us don’t.

But that doesn’t mean we should just throw in the towel and assume that work should take over our lives.

In the pursuit of work excellence, remember to keep your own goals and priorities in check.

While having a job is now an expected societal norm, work shouldn’t be leaving you with zero energy to attend to things outside of work.

Most importantly, always prioritise your health above work – your physical, mental and emotional health should always be your top priority.

You don’t want to realise only after thirty years of chasing after what society deems as ‘right’, to find out that you have missed out the most important parts of your life.

About Xue Miao
A millennial who is learning to adult. She doesn't believe in the rat race and hopes to live on a farm someday.
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