Horrible Late Hours Work Culture

I will never understand why many bosses expect and demand that employees stay late at work. It doesn’t matter if you take home work to complete. They don’t care. They want to be able to actually see you at the office slogging it out beyond 7 pm at least. It’s infuriating to me. It also doesn’t make sense. I don’t think it’s productive. And I don’t think human beings can do this everyday without breaking down physically and emotionally after a while. There will always be more work. It’s never ending. It’s all about negotiating decent timelines and priorities. Most of the time I feel workers are being abused and made to do work meant for more than one individual.

I used to feel resentful staying in the office till 10 pm only to be handed more work by my boss at 8pm. Felt like I was being trained like a pet. Positive reinforcement and smiles when I stayed till late and scowls the next day or snide remarks when I didn’t. It was very obvious. What was worse is the stingy employers turned off the air-conditioning at 6pm which gave me such a migrane. I used to get home and feel so nauseous. I think it’s unfair to expect people to be seen at late hours and even worse to not provide them with decent conditions in which to work. And I used to feel so tired the next morning and lots of colleagues can be seen to be noticeably sluggish and lethargic after being in the routine for weeks. What was even sadder were those who took a break to have dinner and then to return and slog it out even more. And some did this on purpose because you could only claim taxi fare if you stayed till 9.30 pm at least. You needed to show the taxi receipt as proof.

Please, please Singapore. I’m begging the people in control. Can we have better work life balance. Not just in the form of empty slogans, but in reality. There is no way the birthrate is going to go up this way. Young people probably don’t even have the time to go out, socialize or date.

About bookjunkie

Blogging about life in Singapore helps me survive the mid-life crisis
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26 Responses to Horrible Late Hours Work Culture

  1. It’s the asian mentality really. I see so many people pretending to stay long past the official work hours in an effort to look hardworking and diligent. The fallacy is that these “hardworking” folks were actually chit-chatting during working hours, and then getting down to real work only after 5 pm. Another thing I see these “hardworking” folks do is to go to work whilst sick, in an effort to appear extra hardworking. To such folks, long hours equates to hard work and diligence. They forget that it could be a sign of counterproductive or unproductive work habits.

    • bookjunkie says:

      Yes I have seen that too. Are bosses blind? It’s really so obvious and frustrating to the rest of us….who have a life outside of work.

      This kind of thing never happened back in the early 90’s. These days people work in silos too. Back then we truly felt like a team and everyone pitched in so that everyone could go home by 5.30 pm. It was lovely.

      I feel like the work culture has become worse and worse with everyone at the top harping on productivity. It’s no wonder we have lost creativity. I don’t know why leaders can’t see that and be more progressive in their thinking. They need to let go more and trust the employees. Most of us come to work motivated to do our best. It’s poor managers who demotivate.

  2. Katrijn says:

    The most difficult thing about flex-work arrangements is actually not productivity, but the fact that management has to change their perspective as well! Although all research points towards the fact that people will be more productive if left alone with clear instructions and are given the freedom to the work when and where they see fit, managers and team leaders have a real problem dealing with people they can’t see.

    Other research has shown that if you sit quietly at your desk and work hard, you will be perceived to be less efficient and lazier than the scatter-brained person running around telling everybody how busy they are!

    So, the big thing is that we have to change our perspective from “face time” to “productivity” and “meeting goals”. Because when managers and team leaders relinquish control over your body, they set your mind free as well – and your free mind will then benefit the company.

    But a free mind is a scary thing. They prefer the mind chained to the desk, so they put your body there, not realizing that the mind is actually still free to wander off – and it will. I so agree with you!

    The working hours and expectation of staying late are the main reasons I have not looked very hard for a proper job in Singapore. I want to spend time with my daughter (and soon-to-be-born boy) while they’re awake and pleasant enough to be around 🙂 (Note: I am thoroughly spoiled because I am Dutch and part-time work is practically a given for mothers back home. And a second income is right now not financially necessary. Double spoiled!)

    • bookjunkie says:

      I wish employers in Asia would have a similar mentality. It’s just crazy here where people are expected to behave like machines and not ever break down. It’s so wonderful that part-time work is a given for mums in your homeland.

      Wish we could move towards a healthier work culture here where we are measured by actually output/quality rather than superficial face-time. Too many micro-managers here.

      Loved what you described about the quiet person working at their desk and the scatter brained one looking busy. So so true…I’ve seen that for myself….so unfair.

  3. I think it’s so pretentious and stupid really. And such people just “spoil the market” for the rest of us.

    • bookjunkie says:

      utterly sad and true. Sorry..but I just get so riled up about this issue and find myself getting so mad. Because work takes up so many hours of our life we end up spending more time with people we dislike (brown-nosers) than the really important people in our lives. It’s crazy.

  4. Mel says:

    Yup, been there and done all that for too many years already. That’s one of the things I don’t miss bout not working anymore. Bur then again, I was in the media industry and working till crazy late hours was the norm. One good thing is, it’s also normal for us to come in the office at 10am.

    • bookjunkie says:

      yeah in our case the boss could saunter in at 10 or 11 am..but the rest of us had to be there sharp before 8.30 so it was quite unfair. Can see how it would be ok in a media industry which is time driven. But I guess only ok if you’re compensated enough considering you’re giving up time with your loved ones.

  5. Xmen says:

    Compared to other developed countries, Singapore has the longest working hours and yet is among one of the lowest in productivity. No wonder its people are not producing and are not very happy.

    • bookjunkie says:

      so true and I wish something concrete could be done about it. A whole change in thinking is required….starting from the top.

  6. sos says:

    Two of us absolutely agree. I cannot understand how my colleagues manage to stay in till 9 PM/10 PM daily. It is just inhumane

    • bookjunkie says:

      inhumane is the word. I used to be so tired and frustrated (due to the lack of appreciation in spite of it all, plus the awful politics) that I would come home with only time to sleep….so depressed.

  7. violet says:

    exactly! I don’t get this whole staying-late thing. It doesn’t just happen in Singapore but in some other countries too. In Singapore I don’t usually need to stay late in the office but somehow other people doing it actually makes me feel guilty for leaving when I should. Yet there is no reason why I need to at all.

    When i work overseas I generally stay later than I would at home, but i would much prefer if i work alone so that i don’t have to wait for others to finish their work (or morally thinking that they should work later to show that they are doing work), before we can call it a day, and it’s always past 7pm. C’mon, having to deal with jetlag is bad enough, what more with these 10-12-hour work days…

    • bookjunkie says:

      yes other people doing it makes us feel guilty and they give us the look when we leave on time. It’s so infuriating. It doesn’t matter if I take home work to complete…if no one sees me physically, they assume I am lazy…it’s so unfair.

  8. Claire says:

    Wow. What you just described was also exactly my life when I was working full-time here in Singapore a couple of years ago. So yes, I also used to go home at 10 pm every night and felt uncomfortable/guilty leaving before 7. I finally quit and never looked back… totally no regrets! Congrats to us, and bravo to you for this post. Thank you!

  9. sos says:

    Agree with everything we said. It is appalling how they encourage this and you kind of feel forced into it if you see everyone of your colleagues doing the same. Absolutely no work life balnce

  10. sos says:

    After going through all the comments I can come up with a few ideas:

    1. First we must stop feeling guilty. Nobody is paying us for the extra work
    2. Stop comparing to others
    3. Decide – is my life more important? or my work? Am I working for the sake of work or to earn to live a good life. If it is a good life that I want, what is the point if I have no time for that life
    4. Be ready to give up a little luxury, in order to regain your time
    5. No regrets. No guilt. DO your work and leave on time.
    6. Ignore other people’s comments

    I agree it is often the mentality which is hard to change, i have often been compared to people who stayed late and you know what? I have stayed longer and longer and it does nothing except make me tired and angry. So, I decided and just go on my time. Was that work worth my mental physical emotional health? – Nope.

    I say my life is more important and then why should I spend all my time at work? Seems illogical.

    Reminding yourself constantly of why you took certain decisions and the logic behind them makes you stick to your decisions often even if others disagree with it.

  11. Claire says:

    In London my boss used to tell me that if I was working until 8pm every night then there was a problem. Either I wasn’t working efficiently, in which case he would support me with techniques to prioritise but also to learn when something was good enough, or I had too much work to do in which case they needed to look at their staffing levels. It was always seen as a symptom of a problem. I always said to the interns that I managed that if they had finished all their work by 4pm then they should go home and have some balance! No need staying in to keep me happy.

    I take the same view now. When I’ve finished my work I go home. I prioritise my tasks every day and if something can wait, I leave it and go home. I’d much rather come to work the next day feeling rested and having enjoyed my evening, that slaved away over something that wasn’t really that important. Obviously, I work late if I have an important deadline, but I try to preserve my leisure time as much as I can.

    • bookjunkie says:

      I used to have a very good boss (American company) and he too said the same thing. There is something wrong is everyone is constantly staying back after 5.30pm. He used to practically chase us home and said that tasks can be negotiated for priority. He’d rather we focus on what was important.

      I used to be fine with working late when there was an important event going on, cos it made sense. But the idea of having to stay late cos of the idea of being seen?? or because deadlines were just too crazy irked me. When I was younger I didn’t care (quite the workaholic) but later on I discovered what was truly important in life.

  12. notabilia says:

    This is going to be an unpopular comment… but, whatever. The work culture in NYC is even more intense. (We party hard, too.) We actually have a semblance of a work/life balance here in Singapore. That said, my partner works for an American co. and I’m self-employed. So, that may be part of it. I hear there is tons of ‘face time’ in offices here. That’s awful and stupid and unproductive.

    • bookjunkie says:

      Yeah heard about the intense work culture in NYC. But I guess it’s the ‘face time’ that’s the worse bit here.

  13. Tabea says:

    A friend of mine did a work secondment at Airbus in France, which of course is renowned for its 35-hour work week. There is a gallery above the factory floor for visitors to observe how the aircraft are constructed. When I visited, the pace seemed pretty relaxed and in fact, I noticed the staff had time to cluster by the vending machines. Yet, my friend confirmed that despite the seeming relaxed pace and 35 hour work week, all productivity targets were met. He didn’t understand quite how this win-win formula worked, but obviously something had gone right there. Whereas in Singapore we are cursed with low productivity and long hours, lose-lose situation!

    I wonder if one of the problems is Singaporean/Asian kiasu mentality. In jobs when I had to put up with this kind of lose-lose situation, very often work got flung on my desk at 5pm because ‘it’s very urgent’ i.e., someone higher up wanted something done. But very often, it was pointless, or the materials were not actually needed in the end (but someone kiasu-ly decided that, better be safe and gather all information, relevant or not), or the boss changed their mind. So to me it’s also an indicator of poor management skills.

    • bookjunkie says:

      What you described happened to me a countless number of time Tabea. The work flung at you past 5pm and then not needed at all in the end. A total waste of time. I agree that it’s poor management skills and very inconsiderate, selfish behaviour. It’s why employees don’t feel loyal with such employers. I’ve had employers who were the total opposite and I still feel admiration for them. They were a rare bunch sadly.

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