Do Singaporeans work too hard?

Photo: ST FILE

Why does Singapore have one of the longest work hours in the world, and how are they spending these hours? Is Singapore sacrificing the wellbeing and health of its workers for wealth and prestige?

By Tan Zhi Xin

Singapore has one of the longest working hours in the world, clocking in 88 hours every two work weeks. At the same time, its people are unhappy, citing a lack of work-life balance and stress.


Source: Statista

Singapore has a legal standard of 44 hours per workweek. However, according to the Working Hours Survey of 2014, 82 per cent of Singaporeans work longer than their contractual hours, and many of them said they felt “culturally obliged”.

Why are Singaporeans working such long hours?

The garden city is known to have one of the best educational systems in the world, enticing numerous foreign parents to send their children to Singapore for schooling. Its “maths mastery” approach and math textbooks have also travelled to countries as far as Chile and the United Kingdom.

Just recently, Singapore topped the biggest global school rankings published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This analysis is more comprehensive than the OECD Pisa tests.

Singapore also boasts the reputation of being the second most competitive country in the world and the best investment destination in Asia.  Thus, the need to constantly maintain these achievements results in the work culture we see today in Singapore, were it is not an uncommon sight that office lights are still on at 10pm in the evening.

Nonetheless,  according to Mr V. S. Kumar, managing director of a local courier company Network Express Courier Services, Singaporeans are only motivated to do enough to get by; they have “no qualms about dropping everything and leaving on the dot at 5.30pm every day.”

If this is the case, then why are the working hours in Singapore recorded to be so long?

The answer is unproductivity during work.  In the 2014 global quarterly survey measuring job satisfaction, 75 per cent of the surveyed employees said that their job is only a means for living. Since they have little passion for their job, it makes sense that they also have little incentives to be productive at work.

Also, many Singaporeans feel obliged to stay in office for longer time due to the increase in “presenteeism”. Employees feel the need to “show their face” to their boss in order to present a diligent and passionate image of themselves, since most of the time they devote in the office is spent unproductively.  Long coffee and lunch breaks, and the increasing addiction to smartphones have also added on to the long work hours.

What impact are long work hours having?

The result of such long work hours is a poor work-life balance and high stress levels. According to a recent survey, 1 in 10 people admitted to spending six hours or fewer with their immediate families per week, and only half of the respondents say they spend over 36 hours a week.

Many Singaporeans also complained to be unhappy about their well-being. Out of 145 countries, Singapore scored 127th in social well-being and 137th in physical well-being. Mental health issues and burnout from stress has also become increasingly common.

Subsequently, Singapore seems to have become a victim of its own success, as its wealth and high ranking institutions are mired with unproductivity and a restless workforce. Thus, are Singapore’s international standings really worth the sacrifice of its population’s happiness and wellbeing?