The motivational issue of Singaporeans at work

Each individual has their own unique blend of reasons that motivates them to go to work.  Classically speaking, motivation is the processes that account for an individual’s intensity, direction and persistence of effort toward attaining a goal. In this case, towards achieving the organisational goals that have been set based on one’s job role.

In the past, Singaporeans have received the dubious honour of being “emotionless” and amongst the unhappiest in the world. Now, it has claimed another title as revealed in a recent Gallup poll, three in four Singaporean are “not engaged” in their work – meaning that they lack motivation to invest effort in organisational goals. This incidence rate is one of the highest in the world; far surpassing countries such as the United States (52 per cent) and Britain (57 per cent).

The Three Types of Employees

These findings brought to mind a recent dinner conversation I had with my friend, Jane, currently working as an analyst for a Swiss bank. Jane describes her current role as incredibly stressful as she needs do a timely and accurate reconciliation of trade transactions before 10 am every day. Failure to do so will lead to fines being imposed on the bank. This had caused her numerous sleepless nights with a recurring nightmare that she was late for work. In the end, she revealed that she was actively looking for another job. This might not raise any eyebrows but within the past three years, Jane has switched jobs three times – all of which are in the Financial Industry. And she is not the exception, but the norm especially for the millennial generation.

The Gallup findings portent a troubling future for Singapore. With a workforce that is unhappy, emotionless and “not engaged”, how could Singapore continue to sustainably compete on an international stage without leaving its citizens permanent emotional scars , constantly job-hopping or losing billions in lost productivity?

A storm is brewingAt a more severe level, a workforce that is “actively disengaged” not only spells doom in terms of productivity but carries more sinister undercurrents. From a productivity viewpoint, Gallup estimates that “actively disengaged” employees cost the Singapore economy about $6 billion in lost productivity. What is more troubling is in the survey findings, it was revealed that one in seven are so unhappy that they are “more or less out to damage their company” through acts like malingering or even stealing.

This is a serious problem. If nothing is done to address the issue that is facing the populace, this trend could be incredibly damaging to Singapore’s reputation of a multitude of hubs.

My personal take on this issue is for every individual, in particular, the Millennial to find a job that suits their passion and personality. It is important to not subscribe to society’s stereotypical notions of a successful career which is to be a doctor, lawyer, banker and so forth.

 “Don’t be trapped by dogma- which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary” – Steve Jobs

If one finds a job that is aligned with their interests, then the job would transcend beyond just ordinary work and has the potential to be truly transformative. For example, if someone is interested in Finance; he is more likely to put in the longer hours because he does not mind taking the extra time to pursue his passion which coincidentally coincides with the organisational goals. Such a worker is less likely to be “not engaged” or “actively disengaged”.

On the other hand ,if you are currently in a role that you do not have a passion for, you should take the leap of fate towards one which you will enjoy.  Take for instance, Cheng Hsin Yao, who throughout his life was a high-achieving Singaporean. He eventually landed a job as an investment banker working insufferable long hours which he was handsomely compensated for. Despite the prestige and monetary motivations, he left his plushy job and five-figure salary behind to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams of starting his own designer burger chain called Omasake burger.Cheng Hsin Yao

There are many Cheng Hsin Yao out there who took the leap of faith to pursue their dream. Iskandar Asmon, an engineer left his job to become a teacher because he loves working with children and has their welfare at heart. Hence, I believe finding a job that one derives pleasure from is the first step to be emotionally engaged. All that is needed is to identify what it is and to take that one leap of faith.


References :

  1. Robbins, S., & Judge, T. (2012). Organizational Behavior. Prentice Hall.
  2. Singapore Unhappiest:
  3. Singaporeans second most unhappy employees worldwide :
  4. Singaporeans “emotionless”:
  5. “Not engaged” Singaporeans:
  6. Emotionally Stressed Singaporeans:
  7. Cost of Worker’s Disengagement:
  8. Millennial Job-Hoppers:
  9. Cheng Hsin Yao – Investment Banker to Burger Entrepreneur:
  10. Switch Career – Teacher:

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