Alan Soh

I am my own columnist, sharing my own thoughts and experiences!

An foreigner’s view on Singaporeans’ attitude towards jobs

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During a recent dialogue held at Singapore Polytechnic Graduates’ Guild, one participant asked Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong about his own views on the perception of Singaporeans being “soft”, compared to counterparts in other regions such as China.

SM Goh responded, saying that a more appropriate description for the current younger generations is perhaps that they are “not hungry enough” and that is due, in part, stems from the fact that our nation has been successful over the years.

Yes, that could be one of the possible valid reasons behind the kind of  “can’t-take-the-heat” attitude which some Singaporeans among us may have towards their jobs at the workplace today. Erm..are you one of them?

Here is a commentary article written by Mr Chris Reed (Director, Regional Partnerships) of Partnership Marketing, a creative agency which specialises in partnership marketing. Read on..and then decide whether you agree or disagree with what the author says. 🙂

The full employment in Singapore is a source of pride for the country which places much emphasis on human capital, but it is also the source of many of the problems employers have today.

Singaporean employees have all the power and they know it. There is a lack of commitment which has a negative effect on a company’s long term planning. For some Singaporeans, the length of employment period is short and a promiscuous attitude from these employees pervades. This comes through in the big number of sick days taken (almost to the degree that it is an unwritten rule that sick days are really like holidays with an MC), lack of drive/responsibility taking/lateral thinking and desire to go above and beyond the call of duty. Some think: Why do so much when I anyway won’t be in the job that long?

I’ve had heard many examples of Singaporeans accepting a job and then either taking another better-paying  job even after signing a contract for the first job offer or just deciding simply not to turn up to the new job or worse still, accepting several job offers all at the same time, thus letting down several expectant employers. To these people, it is their playground and they’re going to play in it.

Many Singaporeans generally live in homes in HDB flats, into their thirties or even forties. This allows them to have no financial concerns when it comes to a job. If they somehow lose one job or decide to resign in order to pursue another one (without having another job to fall back on while on the job-search), they know that they will not lose their homes because they are aware that all their bills will be covered by their parents. Money is then less of a motivating factor to committing to a job. Hunger is lacking.

Once, a Managing Director of a MNC told me that in interviews, he would always ask how much debt the job applicant had as he believed that it would made him/her more focused, committed and hard working. Such debt-ridden people will have to worry about paying it off or keeping up prepayments on a house mortgage and therefore, they would be serious about delivering; going above and beyond what was needed and would do everything they could to achieve goals in order to generate an increase in salary and bonuses. However this doesn’t seem to be a factor amongst Singaporeans and that comes through in a lack of ambitions to succeed within their roles at the workplace.

When they are in the job, there is a lack of responsibility-taking and a lack of creative thinking. Is this the result of the Singapore education system or just the attitude? Is this because there is a lack of risk-taking in case anything goes wrong and it’s better to play safe? Ironically you would expect Singaporeans to actually be braver and to take greater risks and think more laterally. They have the safety net of knowing that if all goes wrong and should they lose their jobs,  they still have their homes living with their parents and minimal debts. However this is not the case for many other people around the world, because they don’t have that plan B. If they take a risk and it doesn’t work out well,  they may get fired or the company goes under, they know that it will have a detrimental effect on their homes, lifestyles and personal well-being. Yet they still take the risks. Why don’t Singaporeans do the same?

Singapore’s country football team is facing calls from inside and outside of the game to be taken apart and abandoned. Such is the state of the national team but does it have to do more with the same risk-free, safety net thus the lack of commitment factor? Contrast that with Barcelona.

Barcelona is no bigger than Singapore with an immediate population of 1.4 million and even in Greater Barcelona it is only 4 million, less than Singapore’s 5 million. The bedrock of its success has been its ability to produce top soccer players through La Masía, its in-house training academy. All three finalists in FIFA’s Player of the Year 2010 Awards are graduates of the academy and the winner, Lionel Messi, has won for the second consecutive year. Barcelona takes a holistic approach.

La Masía has been home to more than 500 players over 30 years, as both a training academy and boarding house. The original aim of the school was to develop successful football players. It sought out players who were talented but also had the personal drive to win and the ability to work as part of a team. That is the key. Personal development and athletic performance are made inseparable in the lives of young players.

Contrast that with the Singaporean players where instead of going to a boarding house at the age of 12, (as many current Barcelona players did), they are still living at home with mum and dad in their late 20’s and thirties. Instead of coming from relative poor homes in Argentina in Messi’s case or Catalan in most other cases, the Singaporean players have the comfort of knowing that if it doesn’t work out as a professional footballer, they will always be able to find a job easily in the full employment scene in Singapore.

This fall-back plan B psychologically tempers desire, determination and ambition. It’s not all or nothing. It also means that such Singaporeans will always look after themselves rather than think of the team. Spain has unemployment rate at 20%. If Singapore had that kind of unemployment rate, perhaps then Singaporeans would go that extra mile, take that risk that would lead to greater security and rewards, remain in their jobs for longer periods and thus, succeed scaling greater heights? Of course the society wouldn’t be as content and happy…you can’t have it all!

A recent survey done in Singapore shown that 40% of the respondents would change job this year, thanks to the upswing in employment outlook due to strong economic growth. They will do so because they know that they can. From an employer’s point of view, this attitude limits creativity, lateral thinking and drive which in turn limit a company’s ability to compete. It is one of the many reasons why one million foreigners have been employed in Singapore in the past decade, and also one of the reasons that holds back Singapore from realizing the amazing potential that the country has in its human capital.


Author: alansoh79

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