Opinion: ‘Quiet Quitting’ Isn’t Possible In S’pore Where Hustle Culture Is Normalised

This piece is part of MS Speaks, a segment in which MS News reporters share their honest views on current affairs and trending topics.

Quiet Quitting Won’t Happen In Singapore As Long As Hustling Is Prized By Employers

Leaving work on time, doing only the work required of your job scope, not going out of your way to accept more tasks, and not answering messages after work hours.

‘Quiet quitting’, a term popularised on TikTok recently, has seemingly taken the Internet by storm.

But not everyone is quite in agreement that the trend is realistic, specifically in Singapore.

We work the most hours in Asia, after all. Will we continue hustling in the future, or will ‘quiet quitting’ win out?

As much as more employees would like to prevent burnout, achieving work-life balance remains an elusive goal.

In a fast-paced city like Singapore, the hustle culture stands strong, and ‘quiet quitting’ seems far from being able to overpower it.

Performance appraisals rely on employees going above & beyond

In Singapore, where nearly everyone is fighting to climb the ladder, progression usually depends on performance reviews, which in turn tend to focus on what you’ve done beyond your job scope.

Doing exactly what you were hired for doesn’t cut it anymore.

Often, an employee who’s up for promotion would have provided solutions to not just their own department’s issues, but also others. Of course, this isn’t inherently wrong as managers eventually have to oversee several departments.

But what happens to others competing for the same spot? They may go out of their way to help other departments too, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll get an incentive for doing so — especially if they lose the rat race.

The more reserved employees would also struggle with the concept of having to gaining recognition for their contributions. Otherwise, they risk losing out to more forthcoming peers.

What such dynamics create is a system that incentivises going out of your way to do work that may not belong to you or fall within your comfort level — all for the sake of survival in the workforce.

Little wonder why LinkedIn is full of posts like this:

Source: Fishbowl

If that sounds like hustling, you’d be right. Unfortunately, that appears to be the common work environment for companies here.

Juggling multiple tasks with synthetic enthusiasm is not at all what ‘quiet quitting’ entails.

Rigid work arrangements reflect emphasis on productivity

And then there’s the idea that ‘quiet quitting’ is just ‘slacking’. A commentary on Channel NewsAsia (CNA) likened doing the bare minimum at work to being “entitled”.

Meanwhile, an article by The Straits Times (ST) quoted a survey which found that only 52% of respondents have remote working options. Employers of the remaining group apparently cited their distrust in workers’ productivity at home as a pain point in flexible arrangements.

For older executives, working in the office was the status quo for a long time. They thus wish to maintain that even after the easing of restrictions.

To them, hybrid working has the following impacts:

  • hinders productivity
  • increases unproductive virtual meetings
  • prompts a lack of visibility on what teams are doing

It’s interesting to note that all their concerns surround workers’ productivity, which hammers home the point that if they don’t see you doing the work or don’t see the results, they won’t be happy.

The chance of ‘quiet quitting’ ever sitting well with such employers is thus unlikely. If they’re not comfortable letting you work remotely, how would doing the bare minimum be good enough?

What we can infer from this conundrum is that hustling seems to resonate more with many Singaporean employers, which may have contributed to our current workplace practices.

The recent viral post of an employer cancelling an interview because the candidate asked for a virtual meeting is Exhibit A of this mentality.

Boss Cancels Interview After Applicant Asks For Virtual Meeting, Sparks Debate On Young Jobseekers

Finding a convenient method of doing something becomes an example of not showing interest or effort, which older workers disapprove of.

As long as the mindset of having to go above and beyond persists, a shift to ‘quiet quitting’ is unlikely.

Lack of trust & normalised hustle culture make ‘quiet quitting’ difficult

Already, from the flexible work arrangement survey above, one can tell that most employers have high expectations. They get insecure when they can’t see what their staff are doing, worry about lower productivity at home, and want employees to be contactable at all times.

Considering these factors, there’s no chance for a ‘quiet quitter’ to excel in their workspace. Such a person would probably receive a lower performance grade and lose out on promotions.

While we can criticise employers, it’s worth taking a step back to consider what cultivated such expectations too.

In our bid to outperform each other at work, we’ve inevitably normalised going above and beyond our job scopes.

Once doing more becomes the norm, there’s less reason to reward employees who do that, even if the effort takes a toll on them.

The key problem here is that staff shouldn’t have to OT or work beyond their remit if they don’t receive adequate compensation. And perhaps younger workers are beginning to realise that, awakening from the unhealthy norm and popularising the ‘quiet quitting’ trend on TikTok.

Sadly for them, breaking out of an age-old work system and habit will take a really long time. If they want to see ‘quiet quitting’ trending in Singapore too, they might have to wait it out.

Hustling is likely to remain the norm

There are only two possibilities for ‘quiet quitting’ to become the norm in Singapore.

One is that the employer actively discourages overworking and imposes strict work boundaries to ensure greater balance in employees’ lives.

The other is for the employee to ‘quiet quit’ anyway and risk the consequences — potentially losing out on bonuses, promotions, or even their job.

But the good news for unhappy employees is that if one employer isn’t working for you, there are others out there who’ll accept more flexible work arrangements or even let you leave your job on time as long as you complete your work.

For now, those options may not be aplenty, but we wish you the best in finding the right fit.

Note: The views expressed within this article are the author’s own.

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