HR & EDUCATION | Staff Reporter, Singapore
Chris Reed

Why are Singaporeans so unhappy at work?


45% of Singaporeans are unhappy at work JobStreet recently revealed in a survey.
What are the main reasons for this and what can be done about it? Apparently “their boss” was first reason as to why people were unhappy at work. It’s true that people work for people and walk away from people in Singapore as elsewhere. Steve Jobs and Elon Musk being two who people hated and loved in equal measure. It’s one of the reasons that I’m an entrepreneur. I am the boss. People work for me or walk away from me because of my personal branding and my leadership and management style. I have done the same, loved or hated roles because of the boss in Singapore and previously in the UK. 
However how much of this is the employee not wishing to work hard and the boss being more displeased with their performance? As an entrepreneur I can testify to this. I have had both loyal hard working employees and employees that wish to get away with the bare minimum or have let down our clients and I have had to terminate them in Singapore. Now is that me or them? Are they part of the 45%? Sure, they’re going to be unhappy if they’re made to work hard and they don’t wish to.
Lack of training and career development were factors apparently too. This again is a two-way street. I have invested in training with my team in Singapore and each one has left for bigger and better things. As an SME it’s hard to justify outside training when the employee will probably leave and go elsewhere and therefore giving those companies the benefit of my investment. I will happily invest in on the job training as it directly benefits our clients and our business and the employee too.
Happier employees are apparently found in larger companies in Singapore. Is this because there is less accountability and more hiding places? It’s a cynical view but nevertheless true I feel. I love empowering my team and my team love taking on more responsibility and being proactive. They are rewarded for this with happier clients and higher remuneration as it leads to us retaining more clients. In multinationals, it’s easier to both claim the credit and escape the criticism should things go wrong. Easy to blame others in a larger place. Hence why there is more politics at larger companies too. Is that why people say that they are happier there? I think that this very much depends upon the personality of the Singaporean being asked. I am lucky with my proactive responsibility seeking team.
Happier employees also like working near where they live in Singapore. If anyone read this from Sydney, London, New York or in fact anywhere else they would not understand why. But basically the maximum commute in Singapore is around 90 minutes and that is from one side of the Little Red Dot to the other and no one does that! Most people live 20-30 minutes max from work if not less. Compare this to London for example and I know people who commute 2-3 hours each way or live 400 miles away and fly or train on a Monday and back on a Thursday/Friday! However Singaporeans are spoilt in this regard and it’s all relative. The fact that public transport is very cheap and you can actually cycle to work (as I do) or run every day as there are no seasons really should negate this reason.
The survey also revealed that Singaporean employees love it when they get on with their employees. Well that’s not rocket science. I am very focused when I meet a potential employee about not just can they do the job but whether they will fit into the team. If I feel the latter is not true I won’t employ them not matter how great they are. It’s not worth it. My culture and team morale is too important. It’s also good to hear that workplace flexibility and perks like team outings are important. I stress that I offer both flexible working and co-working in interviews. This basically means that the team can work any hours they want and wherever they want as long as they hit the client’s KPI’s and retain the client. Everything we do is measurable so they can see how well they have performed, as can I in our weekly reviews and so can the client. There is no hiding place.
Therefore it’s not about the counting the hours or forcing them to work when they don’t feel like it or ask them to be creative in the morning when they are evening people. It’s about empowering and trusting the team until they abuse the trust and screw up and even then if they learn from that it’s fine, if they repeat it it’s not. As long as every employee knows that, and they do in my companies, then it’s up to them how happy they are in their work as they can determine where and when they do the work. They are effectively determining their own happiness. Interestingly the survey also found that Millennials are happier than non-Millennials. I would agree with that. My entire team are Millennials and are the happiest I have ever had and the most loyal. I couldn’t build my brands without a happy team.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed has 25 years of senior marketing experience on both the client and agency side in the UK and now in Asia Pacific. He is the CEO and founder of Black Marketing.

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