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Younger Singaporeans are demanding more from work, and employers must handle them with new ways

Covid-19 has struck a chord with the younger generation, and they’re leaving behind the “live to work” mindset – re-evaluating the place that work has in their lives. While this might seem like they’re downplaying the value of hard work, I don’t believe that is the case.

The author believes that the younger generation’s belief in wellness, and their search for meaningful careers, is exactly how Singapore will remain a prosperous, thriving country.
The author believes that the younger generation’s belief in wellness, and their search for meaningful careers, is exactly how Singapore will remain a prosperous, thriving country.

On July 10, TODAY published an article on youth being unwilling to hustle. The conversation was sparked by Ms Tjin Lee – the founder and managing director of Mercury Marketing & Communications in Singapore.

She shared her honest thoughts on the current working landscape: How she felt challenged with candidates immediately posing questions on work-life balance and flexible work during interviews; and how the value of hard work appears to be diminishing among the younger generation.

I understand her perspective, but I think this topic is more nuanced than it might appear to be at first glance.

For 13 years, I’ve been operating Honeycombers, a Singapore-based publication house, as its founder and chief executive officer. While the demands of a public relations practitioner and the head of a lifestyle publication differ, I have had my fair share of difficulties finding the right match for my team in terms of passion and commitment.

Talent retention is a challenge. Despite this, I’m convinced that the younger generation’s belief in wellness, and their search for meaningful careers, is exactly how Singapore will remain a prosperous, thriving country. Change is always intimidating, but we need it to progress.

PRIORITISING WELLNESS

In the last two years since Covid-19, there’s been more emphasis on mental health in Singapore.

It’s been great to see the stigma decreasing around mental health. It’s become less of a taboo topic, and there are more conversations on preventing burnout. Several business leaders in local organisations have stepped up to say they’re advocates for the cause.

I'm still learning as well. Within Honeycombers, we've rolled out "doona day" initiatives, half-day Fridays, and "work from anywhere in the world" policies.

The idea behind all these is to help our employees manage their mental health and feel more motivated about work.

Just by doing so, we’ve found that our year-on-year retention rate has increased by 20 per cent between 2021 and 2022 while maintaining the same levels of productivity. In fact my business has never been healthier.

The success of my business is wholly determined by the talent in my team.  Our team consists of 25 full time or part time staff based in Singapore, of whom 84 per cent are Millennials or Gen Z.

I firmly believe that if employers stand for mental health, they should always welcome enquiries from candidates about work-life balance or flexible working conditions at any stage in the interview process.

I think we should always be keen to share how we’re providing the best work environment, especially if we believe employee well-being is a priority. It’s important to remember that an interview is very much a two-way conversation.

This means, as much as we’re looking at potential candidates, they’re looking to see if they should invest potentially years of their lives with us.

YOUTH SEARCHING FOR PURPOSE

A recent survey by SAP SE found that 62 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises in Singapore have more staff resigning now than they did a year ago.

And in my own experience, it’s true that staff retention is challenging. Covid-19 has struck a chord with the younger generation, and they’re leaving behind the “live to work” mindset – re-evaluating the place that work has in their lives.

While this might seem like they’re downplaying the value of hard work, I don’t believe that is the case.

They’re not lazy. It’s not that they want less work or are unwilling to hustle. In conversations with my own employees, I’ve found they’re always willing to put in the extra time and effort for the things that matter to them.

What they’re looking for extends beyond clocking out on the dot and enjoying satisfactory monetary compensation (although both are important to provide). What really keeps them around is a shared purpose and opportunities to pursue a meaningful career.

In fact, Deloitte’s latest Gen Z and Millennial survey finds individuals are more keen to stay with an employer for more than five years if their values align with the organisation.

It may be the time of "the great resignation", but for employers, it’s our time of "the great reflection". If we’re being overlooked by jobseekers and our own people are leaving us, we need to dig deep and ask why this is happening. What aren’t we offering them that they need?

SO MUCH MORE TO LEARN

If you say: “The young are too idealistic. What they’re suggesting won’t work in the real world”, I’d say that I’m half with you.

The younger generation are bright, but most may not yet have the experience to understand commercial realities. That’s where we play our role as mentors, guiding them as they exact the change they want to see in the world.

Oftentimes, we allow ourselves to disparage the young. It’s the “kids these days” effect that’s been taking place for centuries. But all we’re doing is becoming what we resent from the generations before us. Those who also believed we were lacking in character because we differed in values and way of work.

It’s time to break the cycle. Shake off the belief that the wealth of experience we’ve accumulated makes us immune to learning more. At times, the young are the best kind of dreamers we can ask for.

Like Tjin, I’ve hustled hard to get to where I am now. I observe that what’s expected out of work is changing, and it’s jarring.

But perhaps it’s time to step back from comparisons and saying “I’m just old fashioned”, and realise there are perspectives the younger generation can offer that we’ve never considered before.

It’s a new world, and we’ll never be content if we’re measuring the young with old ways.

Covid-19 has been a massive accelerator to the changes we’ve seen in the workplace. It’s normal to be thrown off guard when the young are now so overt with what their needs are – even so early on in interviews.

My dedicated HR manager and I regularly work to understand what it is they really want, and open up the necessary conversations to create a better work experience for my team. After all, I’d like to continue evolving and building the working environment I would have wanted in my time.

Leaders need to make space for those who are challenging the status quo. This is how we drive our businesses and economy forward – through listening, leaning in, and gradually making the change to policies and expectations.

We have the power to pave the way toward a healthier, happier workforce.

 

About the author:

Chris Edwards, 44, is the CEO and founder of Honeycombers and Launchpad, an entrepreneurial community network. She lived in Singapore for over a decade and now runs her Singapore businesses remotely from Australia.

Related topics

live to work work culture employers employees wellness Work life balance Covid-19

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