Is work life balance in Singapore just impossible?
In the city that never sleeps, finding a job with work life balance seems impossible. Yet you’re trying. That’s good.
In this article, different from all the other job ads that try to sell you the next job, for your job recruiter’s commission, we share with you how you could possibly find the next job with better work life balance, or even create a better work life balance at the job you have now.
Now now, who are we to say this? After all, it looks like we are wet behind our years, with little more than 3 years of working experience.
I don’t deny that. If you’re looking for a PHD to advise you on how you should find the next job with work life balance, stop reading.
You’re wasting your time here.
But if you’re looking for practical advice that works, look no further. In this article, we share the jobs of people who we’ve found are well-balanced between their financial needs, and their personal needs for health and happiness. Without quitting.
Work-life balance, is possible. You simply have to try. But first you have to understand why that is difficult in Singapore.
Singapore, is still driven by Asian values
The Asian values of hard work, waking before the sun rises, and toiling the fields, still applies. Despite Singapore being a modern metropolis, a major part of our success has been because of how hard our predecessors worked.
And whilst the government is keen to nurture a more caring Singapore, it also recognises that there’s no exchange for grit and toil.
It’s partly why it has refused to subsidise greater welfare benefits for those who are unemployed.
As Senior Minister Tharman mentioned in 2013, after the debates around whether Singapore should have a poverty line, he observed that it was ‘not how much we redistribute, but how we do so.’ This was to:
“preserve a sense of pride that comes from standing on one’s own feet, the desire to improve and work hard for a better living”,
Knowing the context your work exists in, you now know why it can sometimes be hard to ask for work life balance.
Let’s start from first principles
We love first principles because whilst we can recommend you the jobs that people did, you might not necessarily be in the same field as them, nor would you be willing to drop everything you’ve trained in to join their field.
We add the replicable principles that others have used.
Do what you’re great at
For all the talk about how you should follow your passion, that doesn’t work in the long run.
Passion is based on emotion. Think back about the things you loved growing up. You may have liked Lego. Cars. Or singing. There’s a reason why you aren’t racing around like Lewis Hamilton in a F1 car.
You just aren’t that good.
Ouch. Sorry. I just had to say that.
But strengths stick. And over time, these strengths grow. What we often don’t realise is that strengths take time to grow. We quit fast, because initial skill progress is not as fast. But as Amy Chua, once told Angela Duckworth,
“Just because you love something doesn’t mean you’ll be great. Not if you don’t work. Most people stink at the things they love.”
That’s why you may now be searching for another job that gives you better work life balance, because you feel like you’re spending too much time now on your job, trying to grow your skill.
That initial growth is painful, and will take time.
And it’s true that in these early days of developing your skills, it’s nearly impossible to have balance. If you want balance, you have to recognise that your career progress may be hampered.
You can’t really have it all
For those who talk about how you can have work life balance, look at them. They are probably old people who have made it somewhere in their career.
They are looking back at what they would have rather done, rather than looking forward. But if they had some sort of balance, they probably wouldn’t have had that level of success.
Shane Melaugh, the entrepreneur behind WordPress plugin software Thrive Themes, argues that the conventional wisdom is that you have to hustle to make it. You hear founders yelling,
see how I work 18 hours a day and sleep under my table!
You need to hustle to make it!
I will share from my own experience of building a business from scratch.
Whilst I do admit to having much better work life balance than I did in my previous job as a social worker, I don’t think it’s necessarily easier.
For one, I find myself struggling to deal with the emotional fallout of sacking team members who are not performing.
Or struggling to sleep at night.
Here’s the thing.
Work life balance is not necessarily easier.
You may be looking to work life balance as the solution to what you’re experiencing now, but that may not be the way things improve.
You are not looking for balance, but control
The feeling of being out of sync between your work and your life is not because you’re spending too much time on your work.
It’s not because you’re spending too much time on your work.
It’s because you don’t feel a sense of control over your work and your life.
After all, if you’re working on something you’re great at and you love, work becomes your life. Of course, there may be other aspects of your life that you want to enjoy. Friends. Family. Hobbies.
But if you have control over how you’re working, and what you’re working on, you would find time to do those things you love.
I’ve seen high-powered product managers for tech companies have the flexibility to move abroad, work remotely, and be closer to their families. It has had no impact on the work.
Maximise for happiness in time on jobs
When I first started working, it amazed me that everyone was so excited when the clock struck 6pm. Everyone would quickly pack up with a rarely seen fervour, and then head for the lifts. It was amazing.
Later, I realised that it was because they hated their jobs, and wanted to get out ASAP, so that they could do the things they wanted.
As Ser Jing, one of the investors behind blog The Good Investors, once shared,
Just a few days ago, I was telling my wife that I came upon this realisation that a lot of people work to earn money to do things they like.
We work to earn money to do things we like.
How does that make sense? What if work could be something you loved?
What jobs offer this balance?
You shouldn’t see this as an exhaustive list about what are certain jobs with better work life balances.
Nor should you see this as a recommendation to quit your job. Please don’t throw your mouse at me when you end up quitting, and wondering why that work life balance didn’t come.
Jobs allowing growth in your skills
Think of jobs that allow you to grow in your strengths. You will find yourself slowly growing in your happiness when you find yourself steadily getting better in your skills, whatever they are.
Don’t be held back by the idea that you should find ‘what you love.’ That’s a fallacy.
Your passions will change. Chasing them is like chasing after pollen in the wind. You will find yourself like a headless chicken, running everywhere, but getting nowhere.
But your strengths will stick with you over the course of your life.
Jobs with flexibility in time and location
I cannot describe the immense freedom that’s come from untethering my work from my location. As a social worker, I had to sit in a counselling room to see my clients. But as a writer today, I can work from anywhere on the planet, and still find my income growing.
Freedom in time and location is underrated. Needing to be in an office from 9 to 6, Monday to Friday, can severely hamper your dreams of starting something.
Jobs that allow you to work from anywhere can allow you the opportunity to ‘cross-subsidise’ the cost of doing something you love.
Most knowledge economy jobs are like this. But there are many employers in Singapore that have insisted that employees return to the office, out of their insecurities that employees aren’t working when they aren’t seen.
If you want something, why not ask?
Rather than accepting that you have to return to the office, because the boss said so, why not ask if you can have a flexible arrangement? You will be surprised at how much your work life balance increases just by you asking.
Having the time to put your child in school, to have a leisurely run in the morning before starting work, the time to cook yourself a good breakfast, all these advantages are understated in the modern work economy.
But we tend to take instructions for truth. We assume that they can’t be discussed.
You never know though, until you try.
Why not knock on your boss’ door, and ask if you can work flexibly? And if you’re still scared, try the permission slip method, from Brene Brown. You can write yourself a permission slip saying,
Permission to have work life balance by asking for it from my boss.
This implicit permission gives you the explicit ability to ask for what you want.
You may be surprised. Just try.