The last time I saw someone smile at Raffles Place was, uh, never. It’s no secret that Singaporeans are some of the region’s unhappiest workers, and this was confirmed once again in a recent survey.
And who’s surprised? To three-quarters of Singaporeans, work is nothing more than a necessary evil to keep themselves from starving. The fact that the hours worked here are some of the longest in the world must really, really suck, then.
But before you march into your boss’s office and “throw letter”, hold your horses. Just because you’re unhappy at work doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your job’s fault. You might be an unhappy employee right now, but being jobless might not make you any happier.
Don’t quit your job unless you’re sure your unhappiness isn’t due to the following three reasons.
1. You are generally unhappy with other aspects of your life
We all know people who are never happy with their lives, no matter what the circumstances. If they win $20 at Toto they’ll curse the guy who won $2 million in the same draw. They complain about their spouse, siblings or mother-in-law with the same fervour with which they condemn their boss and coworkers.
When they’re in Singapore they complain about how much it sucks, but when they’re on holiday they complain about how nowhere is as efficient as Singapore. Worst of all, despite the fact that they’re so darned miserable, they never take active steps to improve their lives.
If that sounds like you, you might want to refrain from quitting your job until you’ve taken stock of your life and figured out just why you always think the entire world’s against you. Granted, there are legitimate situations where quitting your job might make you happier.
For instance, if your boss is a pain to work with or abusive, if you have a dream career in mind and want to leave a mundane job in pursuit of it, or if you want to volunteer in the Himalayas for a year, leaving your job might bring your life satisfaction up a notch.
But if the reason you want to quit is because you’re buay song with everything in life, be aware that you might find yourself even crankier when you’re unemployed. By then, you’ll be complaining about how you have no money, how biased all these people who’ve rejected your job applications are, how you’re going nuts staying at home all day, how bad Channel 8’s afternoon programming is and so on. You’ve been warned.
There are also people who are generally unhappy with some aspect of their lives, and this spills over to become dissatisfaction at work. Maybe you’ve been single for the last 10 years, have no friends and are wondering why you even bother earning money when you’ve got no one to spend it on. Maybe your only hobby is watching Korean soap operas and you’re now disillusioned with the fact that real life can’t live up to those fantasy worlds.
In that case, it’s probably a good idea to work on improving these other areas in your life first, and then seeing if you find yourself more motivated at work when you’re feeling more positive overall.
2. You are not getting enough sleep or exercise
While other countries are fighting wars with terrorism, Singapore’s waging war on… diabetes. Yes, our poor diets and sedentary lifestyles are having some pretty serious repercussions on our health. We already have the dubious honour of being #2 in the world for diabetes.
We’re also some of the world’s most sleep deprived people. And while long working hours might be the direct cause for some people, for many it all boils down to a lack of discipline and an addiction to smart devices. If you’re not making the effort to get regular exercise and go to bed at a decent hour, your job isn’t entirely to blame if you feel miserable every day.
I don’t think I’m making an understatement when I say that daily exercise has a profound effect on your mood. It’s like a drug. So much so that psychologists always recommend that patients with depression exercise daily.
On the other hand, being sleep deprived is incredibly stressful. When the alarm rings each morning and you curse your mother for giving birth to you and your boss for making you go to work, know that it may be neither your mother nor your boss’s fault you hate your life—it’s your own for staying up till 2am watching Game of Thrones.
Before you leave your job, try getting your health in order first. Go to bed early enough to get the amount of sleep you need to function optimally, and exercise every single day—if you don’t have time before or after work, do so during lunchtime.
You might find that you suddenly enjoy the work day a lot more when you’re feeling alert and flushed with endorphins. At least don’t quit your job till you’ve tried.
3. Your finances are a mess
While nobody can deny that poverty is an intensely stressful situation, what nobody’s saying is that many affluent, well-paid Singaporeans are also stressed out about cash. Many Singaporeans neck-deep in credit card debt or banging on the doors of Credit Counselling are in fact in a jam not because they’re poor, but because they spend too much.
I know many single professionals in their 20s and 30s who are earning well above the median salary in Singapore, yet suffer from cash flow issues every month. When your finances are in bad shape, that paycheck you take home every month can start to seem inadequate. It’s all too easy to start feeling bitter and resentful that your boss isn’t paying you more, dammit.
It’s also tempting to think that if you could just quit your job and find another that pays you better, you’d finally be able to stop feeling so stressed out about money all the time. It’s time to take a good, hard look at your spending habits and ask yourself whether you’re underpaid, or just overspending. If it’s the latter, don’t make the excuse that your finances would improve if only you could find a new job.
They’ll improve when you get your act together and start spending within your means. Digging yourself out a financial hole is hard, especially if you’re carrying high interest credit card debt. But if you made it through the Singapore education system, you can do this.
Cut your spending, live very modestly for a few months so you can fast-track your debt repayment, and then start to build a more sustainable lifestyle. That might mean no more fancy gym membership and heading home on the last MRT on a Friday night, but so be it.
When you’re spending within your means, you can finally assess whether you’re satisfied with your job and what they’re paying you. Even if you choose to seek employment elsewhere, you’ll no longer be doing so out of desperation.
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