Working in Singapore—Apprehension over entering an unfamiliar workplace culture is common among visitors to Singapore on business. You’ll be able to adjust to your new work environment and coworkers more quickly if you have a general concept of what to expect.
Although a speck on the world’s map, Singapore’s economy is everything but small. A worldwide modern city-state and one of the world’s freest economies may be found in this tiny Southeast Asian country. Singapore was ranked third in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index 2017-2018.
Asian and Western cultural influences combine to create a distinct work culture in Singapore’s cosmopolitan melting pot of cultures. Unwritten cultural laws and regulations regulate how Singaporeans behave in a location, and this example, your workplace, due to these cultural themes. As a result of the Singaporean government’s non-interference policy, artistic inclinations can flourish.
The bulk of Singapore’s local government and private enterprises have a more significant influence on traditional Asian culture in their work environment than the country’s large western MNCs. Cultural traits such as high power distance, collectivism, high-uncertainty avoidance, and long-term orientation significantly influence local businesses.
Singaporeans have a largely conservative outlook on life, characterized by rigid authority structures and distinct social class distinctions.
Since 74.3 percent of Singaporeans are Chinese, it’s not unusual for most local businesses to be heavily impacted by Chinese cultural norms. People in the lower echelons of the hierarchy system would accept their subordinate status and respect formal hierarchical authority due to this culture of hierarchy. Chains of command are rarely broken or judgments by superiors openly questioned.
On the other hand, MNCs in Singapore have a smaller power disparity between each level. Managers in higher positions are more likely to share their authority with subordinates and allow for some degree of debate in the decision-making process.
Traditional western work cultures place a great deal of emphasis on a person’s accomplishments, innovation, autonomy, and the like. Anyone with the most talent can expect to make more money in a firm than those who lack it. Being forward-thinking and innovative will be highly valued in this society.
Contrary to popular belief, most Singaporeans and local businesses adhere to the traditional ideal of collaboration among group members to keep the group harmonious. Group efforts (cooperation) are the most important means of attaining company goals in the workplace (group harmony). It is discouraged to engage in anti-group-centered behavior, such as disagreeing with the group’s decisions, putting individual desires ahead of the group’s requirements, or boasting about personal achievements.
Collectivism prefers working together and sharing rewards rather than pursuing individual recognition, sharing responsibilities, supporting each other, and learning from one another. Compared to the older generation of Singaporeans, the younger generation is more self-confident.
Singaporean corporate culture prefers concrete, situation-specific regulations versus overarching, universal ones. Singapore is well-known for its stringent adherence to rules in many aspects of daily life. Most local businesses do not want an overabundance of staff bouncing around with a slew of wild ideas, nor do they want their core company fragmented under the leadership of overzealous entrepreneurs.
Many people in Singapore believe that the majority of the population cannot create since they have been socialized to be followers rather than creators of new ideas. Employees may be urged to be “as creative as possible” for the sake of creativity, yet this typically comes with a slew of limitations and boundaries.
This strategy for cultivating a select few “innovators” while keeping the rest of the population as “followers” worked well for Singapore’s initial success. Still, it has now realized that it must disseminate seeds of creativity more widely among its citizens to compete in the new global economy. It’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s more likely to be a long process than an overnight change.
Working in Singapore and Culture Shock
In her book Culture Shock? Singapore? (2001, second ed.), JoAnn Meriwether Craig correctly expressed the concept of face in the Singaporean context as “a measure of one’s an internal quality, prestige, good name, and excellent character.” As in many Asian societies, the “face” has a significant role. One’s personal and public integrity and that of others in social contact must be protected at all times. It “encompasses the entire group (family, school, neighborhood, workplace, city, and country).”
For example, when one member of a group loses their “face” (embarrassed), the entire group loses their “face” as well. Losing someone’s “face” in Singaporean parlance means publicly embarrassing him. “Face” preservation is particularly evident in hierarchical interactions such as children protecting their parents’ “face,” students covering their professors’ “face,” and employees covering their superiors’ and employers’ “face.”
When a Singaporean loses their “face,” it is as though the latter has been publicly humiliated. Loss of face has profound effects, such as distrust, contempt, and bitterness. The best way to handle disagreements and confrontations is to discuss them privately, softly, and indirectly. In other words, if you’d like a raise, make your case while putting on a good front for the company.
Consider the negotiation of a wage hike that took place behind closed doors. Keep a cool head and a grin on your face when speaking with your boss. Begin by slowly leading him toward your contributions to the firm after he appears receptive. But watch out for exaggerating your accomplishments. As a final step, give your boss some time to ponder it.
From six to five days a week, many businesses in Singapore have made the switch. MNCs and white-collar firms are particularly at risk in this regard. Working 40 to 45 hours a week is the norm. However, the amount of time you spend each week may increase if your workload is hefty. Lunch is usually a half-hour to an hour break. The majority of professional and managerial positions do not require overtime.
Overtime pay is one-and-a-half times the introductory hourly rate if it applies to your work. Two-and-a-half times the average pay rate is given for holidays and the regular day off work. Employees whose jobs are protected by the employment legislation are prohibited from being required to work more than 12 hours each day. The number of hours an employee can work overtime in a month is capped at 72.
Observing the unwritten procedures above (which are neither included in the Singapore Employment Act nor your Employment Contract) is critical to ensuring smooth working relations with your Singaporean colleagues and employers. Observing and making friends with your Chinese, Malay, and Indian coworkers will reveal many more cases like these. Friends from the area can help alleviate the symptoms of culture shock.
In general, avoid conflict and confrontation during conversations by maintaining a sense of unity. Smiling is a great way to cover up your frustrations. You must avoid making your host look bad (avoid, for example, contradicting your host in public). Don’t be aggressive or confrontational, and don’t argue with your coworkers in front of them.