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Off the Record: Why are you so unhappy, Singapore?

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One thing I’ve noticed when I’ve visited offices is no matter how much personality someone exudes, their desks are often bare except for their PCs, a phone and a couple of documents.

This is a phenomenon I don’t get. My desk is an explosion of colours and can be considered a mini-museum of my life. There’s a tiny robot I nicked from a party at Zouk last year (thanks guys), a baby ukelele a colleague bought for me while in Cebu, several photos of parties and friends, packets of sugar (the pantry’s always running out) and even a world map detailing my domination plans.

Most days, I spend an excess of 10 hours at my desk, and I cannot begin imagining working in a space that was bland, boring and, well, neat.

It’s no wonder a recent Gallup survey found only 2% of local employees feel engaged at work. That is a ridiculous statistic. According to the Department of Statistics, there were 273,000 working professionals in Singapore last year, which means roughly 5,460 working adults were engaged in their jobs in 2011.

The fact that you can probably fit 5,460 people into one building and have them represent the number of people who are engaged at their jobs is heartbreaking.

I’m no expert but that worries me, and if you’re HR, it should definitely worry you.

The same survey also ranked Singapore as the most emotionless city in the world. (Frankly, it’s a sad shame we needed a courtesy campaign. Do we really need a national campaign to instill something that should be innate?)

I will admit, as a Singaporean, we are not the friendliest bunch. Back in August when the editorial team headed over to Bangkok for our annual conference, I remembered getting lost. A very kind young man not only helped us me the map, but also walked us to the right boat jetty.

I’ve asked for directions several times in Singapore and I’d be lucky to have someone even stop long enough to hear my plea for help.

But to read we are officially emotionless is something I will not stand for.

In HR’s defence, they are making a concerted effort at upping engagement levels in the workplace. Offices are starting to look more social, companies are implementing engagement surveys and work-life balance continues to be on the top of the agenda for many organisations I’ve spoken to.

That said, more can be done and I hate to break it to you, but the onus is on you. After all, the fish stinks from the head down, right?

Now, Christmas is right around the corner, so what better what to get in touch with your team than over a couple of beers? Actually, why wait until then? Take your team out for lunch, tell a joke, cut loose tomorrow on casual Friday.

I think it’s about time we loosen up, enjoy the work we do (ILO reported this year 456 million workers around the world living are living in extreme poverty – isn’t that reason enough to be grateful?) and have some fun while we can.

The next time I swing by your office for a meeting, I’m expecting a couple of photos, maybe the odd knick-knack and your own world domination plans on your desk.

It’s about time we showed the world we’re happy and we know it.

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Sabrina Zolkifi
Deputy editor
Human Resources Magazine Singapore

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