Why do Singaporeans not take pride in their work?

In a recent Facebook post, Michelle Chong lambasted Singaporeans for lacking pride in their work. And you've got to admit, she's got a point there.

Why do Singaporeans not take pride in their work?

PHOTO: The Straits Times

In  a recent Facebook post, Michelle Chong lambasted Singaporeans for lacking pride in their work. And you've got to admit, she's got a point there.

While the Republic is known for being filled with hard workers who consistently work more than their contracted hours, we're not exactly known for quality the way the Japanese are, or efficiency the way the Germans are. In fact, local businesses in certain sectors have gained a reputation for constantly cutting corners and providing substandard services.

Do Singaporeans really not take pride in doing a good job? Here are six factors that have given rise to this sad state of affairs:

A focus on financial rewards means most people are working only for the money

Singaporeans rank famously low in job satisfaction. A damning 2014 survey found that 75 per cent of Singaporean workers see their jobs as nothing more than a way to put food on the table.

The high cost of living pushes people to seek remuneration above all, to the detriment of other factors such as job satisfaction and personal interests.

It's thus no surprise that so many people just want to do the bare minimum, collect the steady paycheck and be done with it. Why bother going the extra mile when you get paid the same amount at the end of the day?

High cost of living

Following on from the previous point, the high cost of living is always at the back of the average Singaporean's mind.

Bread and butter issues are still a huge concern for most, and when you're worrying about whether your take-home pay is going to enable you to retire before you kick the bucket, it's hard to think of your job as anything loftier than a source of income.

Of course, it's important to consider that there is some significant level of lifestyle inflation here. Take away Singaporeans' ability to eat at nice restaurants or even drive a car and you're going to have some pretty angry people.

At the same time, try telling people who have become accustomed to living this lifestyle to cut back and save some money and you're also going to be extremely unpopular (trust me on this one). So people slog away at their jobs, just trying to get by so that they can feed their short-term wants and desires. This would explain the numerous that have uncovered just how unprepared people are for the long term.

Overly long working hours

Singaporean bosses have a bad reputation for being obsessed with face time, and caring more about how much time their employees spend warming their seats than how well or how efficiently they are completing their tasks. The result? Singaporeans work some of the longest hours in the world.

This no doubt acts as a disincentive for employees. Good, efficient work is often rewarded with more work, while loafing around at the office till late at night wins bosses' favour, since they equate long hours with hard work.

Depressed wages in some sectors

You pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Due to Singapore's liberal immigration policies, wages in certain sectors are greatly depressed. This includes not just menial jobs like cleaning and the service industry, but also affects certain PMET positions in industries such as engineering and IT.

When positions are undervalued and underpaid, the workers who fill them are likely to be either sub-par or completely unmotivated to do good work.

Culture of doing the bare minimum

Just as Japanese culture wires people to display a veneer of professionalism come what may, in Singapore we have arguably developed a culture of doing just what's good enough.

At school, students are encouraged not to love learning but to get a score that's good enough to qualify them for the best schools.

In the business world, SMEs have become famous for trying to squeeze as much as possible out of their employees at the lowest possible cost with an eye to obtaining short-term gains.

That explains why many businesses prefer to hire the cheapest staff possible, even if said staff do not speak English or are not trained to do the job demanded of them properly. Until we can snap out of survival mode and start focusing on creating things of value, this is not going to change.

Toxic work culture

Toxic workplaces abound in Singapore. Because employee rights tend to be very weak in our pro-business environment, there is little an employee can do to prevent his boss from overloading him with work or being borderline abusive. People aren't exactly free to go on strike if they feel they aren't being treated fairly.

In addition, the high-power distance between boss and employees which is a hallmark of local work culture gives employees less autonomy.

In a 2016 survey, 52 per cent of the Singapore workers surveyed said their stress levels had risen in the last 6 months, with 40 per cent citing office politics as a major stressor. 35 per cent cited workload and 35 per cent complained of a lack of support. Perhaps this is why psychologists are reporting higher rates of burnout amongst young professionals.

When employees are stressed out all the time and too busy fighting their own organisations, they are obviously not in the best place to concentrate on focusing on delivering quality to their clients.

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