Why It’s Not Feasible For S’pore To Ban After-Hours Work Emails

In 2019, a study by tech company Kisi showed Singapore ranked 32nd out of 40 cities on the list for work-life balance.

Singapore was also the second most overworked city out of the 40 on the list.

Another study showed that nearly 92 percent of the 502 respondents surveyed were stressed at work, with 13 percent saying the stress was “unmanageable.”

The problem could become even more prevalent for some during the Covid-19 pandemic, as working from home has become the norm for almost six months now.

Work days turn into dinner hours and nights, and it can be hard to log out of work when the chime of a new email continues to hold your attention.

The issue of working after stipulated hours was made mainstream by a high-profile incident involving former actress Sharon Au who had moved from Singapore to Paris two years ago.

Her colleagues in France had reported her to the human resources department for contacting them about work-related issues after office hours.

In France, laws are in place to give employees the right to disconnect from work – this includes not receiving emails or texts after office hours.

This begs the question – can Singapore also implement such laws to protect the time of our stressed workers?

Maintain a competitive economy

Singaporeans work long hours
Image Credit: Bloomberg

Last week, Zaqy Mohamad, state prime minister responsible for manpower, said passing laws to protect workers’ time could be “too rigid”.

Many workers in Singapore are employed in companies spanning different time zones, which could make it difficult to enact such laws.

Many global companies have their regional headquarters in Singapore, sometimes it is necessary for employees to respond to emails or business calls after working hours due to jet lag.

– Linda Teo, Country Manager at recruitment firm ManpowerGroup Singapore, in an interview with TodayOnline

A 2019 survey by recruitment agency Michael Page found that 70% of Singaporeans answered business calls and emails outside of office hours.

The majority of them did so because they have responsibilities that require them to be reachable.

It is also directly linked to the competitive nature of Singapore’s economy.

Last June, it was reported that Singapore retains its top spot as the world’s most competitive economy in the IMD Global Competitiveness Rankings.

The ranking “analyzes the capacity of countries to generate prosperity” and notes that Singapore’s strong position is due to “strong measures of international trade and investment, employment and the labor market”.

With Singapore being such a competitive economy, “bosses often expect an immediate response from their staff when they want something done,” said Linda Teo, Country Director of Manpower Group.

The workforce is one of Singapore’s core competencies, and putting in place regulations such as the “right to disconnect” could potentially erode the country’s competitive advantage.

Singapore’s workaholic culture

workaholic singapore
Image Credit: ASEAN Today

In addition to working long hours, Singaporeans also have fewer days off than countries like Germany, which have an average of 30 days off.

But why do Singaporeans work so hard?

Erman Tan, former president of the Singapore Institute of Human Resources, told the South China Morning Post that this falls under “culture and behavior at work.”

Singaporeans have long championed diligence, hard work and resilience as a sure-fire way to be successful.

This rhetoric remains the same in most workplaces and workers, where cultures largely revolve around performance.

Some Singaporeans may think they lose out to their colleagues in terms of advancement opportunities if they work less.

Achieve a work-life balance

Singaporean overworked
Image Credit: Gov.sg

In every society, the balance between work and private life is important.

Enforcement of the “right to disconnect” laws could also prevent Singaporeans who prefer flexibility and do not want to work during standard hours from 9 am to 6 pm.

Instead of implementing laws right away, the government has put in place a mental health advisory that is expected in the coming months.

Singaporean employers are currently advised to make efforts to ensure the mental well-being of staff and refer them to outside help if needed.

The Singapore government is unlikely to implement “right to disconnect” laws in the near future.

Therefore, at the end of the day, it’s up to employers to create a culture that doesn’t require employees to be available at all times of the day.

Featured Image Credit: HealthHub

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Jothi Venkat

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