Entrepreneur Tjin Lee defends post on youth being unwilling to hustle, saying she's 'glad to start a conversation'
- Ms Tjin Lee put up remarks on her Instagram last week about an increasing number of young Singaporeans who seem to be unmotivated to work hard
- She had received some flak for the post, which she felt was 'greatly misunderstood'
- Some had accused her of promoting hard work at the expense of work-life balance, which she said is by no means mutually exclusive
- She also said that her message had been simple: That one had to work hard to achieve their dreams
SINGAPORE — After receiving flak for stating that it is "increasingly hard to find motivated young people to work”, entrepreneur Tjin Lee said she has learnt to "see both sides" of the issue and was glad to have sparked a conversation about work ethic.
She also felt that her post had been "greatly misunderstood" to mean that she was promoting hard work at the expense of work-life balance, though she said she could have been clearer about her intentions and meaning behind the post, the 48-year-old told TODAY on Friday (July 8).
Posting on her Instagram last week, Ms Lee mused that there is a “worrying” trend of people expressing on social media that they would “rather be on holiday than in the office” or that they just want to “lie on a bed of moss with my lover and read art and poetry, and not hustle nor work hard”.
Then, noting that potential hires in their 20s had asked about “work-life balance” and “flexi-working options” as their first question during their job interviews, Ms Lee said that it is increasingly hard to find motivated young people to work.
The post ended with Ms Lee, who founded public relations agency Mercury Marketing and Communications, stating: “Our dreams don’t work unless we do”.
Her remarks drew the ire of netizens, who felt that she had wrongly equated better work-life balance to an unwillingness to work hard.
Clarifying her post, Ms Lee told TODAY in a phone interview that her post did not claim that work-life balance and hard work are incompatible, adding that her own employees are encouraged to work from anywhere "as long as the work gets done".
"If you truly believe that hard work and work-life balance are mutually exclusive, then we are in trouble, aren't we?"
She said that she decided to write the post because she had noticed that many young people felt a sense of "hopelessness" given the current challenges they face, and in that process many may have "undervalued" hard work.
She said that the comments on her post and conversations with her younger staff over the last week had also put into perspective the kind of future challenges these young workers face.
"The young people today, they do have a tough life, their goals are hard to achieve... they graduate into a world where cost of living is high, property is expensive," she said.
Despite these challenges, she said the message of her post in valuing hard work still stands.
"But to undervalue hard work, and say that it doesn’t matter how hard I work because it’s hopeless anyway, then we will never succeed."
While she admitted that she might have overgeneralised youth as preferring vacationing over work, Ms Lee said her message would remain the same if she had worded it differently.
"What I really meant was that if you really want to live the life of your dreams, then you have to work hard, it's actually a very simple message," she reiterated.
REACTIONS TO HER POST
Following her original post on Instagram, several netizens reacted by strongly disagreeing to Ms Lee's remarks, with many criticising her view of work as old-fashioned and outdated.
"Based on her tone, it’s not difficult to understand why people working under her may feel unmotivated," commented Facebook user Ruth Loke in TODAY's story about Ms Lee's viral post.
"No boss is entitled to employees who ‘hustle’ 24/7," said the user.
Facebook user Jayina Chan added: "If hard work makes you rich, all the cleaners would be millionaires."
Several commented that if employers adopt such an attitude, their employees can leave the job at any time if they do not feel like the working environment or compensation is fair. It is up to employers to attract and retain talent, several said.
Others said that Ms Lee was not in the position to make comments about hard work, noting that she had come from a privileged background.
One of the comments on Ms Lee's post compared her to American billionaire socialite Kim Kardashian, who had courted controversy earlier this year by saying that women in business should work harder.
The commentator noted that Kardashian did not acknowledge “her privilege from growing up in a wealthy well-connected family”.
Responding to this, Ms Lee said that while she does have certain privileges, that it would be unfair to owe her business success purely to it.
"Simply to say that I owe my business success to privilege, it's not fair to the hard working team that I've worked with the build a company," she said. "It's not the right statement to make that a company can only succeed if we have privilege, that simply isn't true, it's hard work."
Nevertheless, some netizens said Ms Lee's post resonated with them.
"Don’t agree, don’t work for her... She will eventually find someone that is willing to work for her, while those that don’t agree with her will find work elsewhere," said user Min Yah. "But if she hires foreign talent, don’t complain."
Agreeing, another user Kelvin Seet said that young workers who do not expect to work hard and think that they "should be treated like royalty because they are doing a favour to the company to do their work" would inadvertently lose out in the workplace compared to those who are "truly hungry and willing to work hard".
Over the past week since her post generated controversy, Ms Lee said she sat down with her younger employees to "understand their point of view". Some of them were concerned about Ms Lee given the negative responses she received.
"I do understand how tough things can be for this generation, and (my younger staff members) have been a pillar of support," she said.
"But rather than escalate into hopelessness, what I can do... as an employer is to work together with them to attain their goals."
Ultimately, Ms Lee said that she does not regret making the post despite the flak it has gotten. The polarising comments and intense conversations generated from the posts are a step in the right direction, she said.
"Clearly there is a great divide, and it is good that we are having this conversation and it is good that we see both sides," she said.
"I am always open to learning and hearing... it's a two-way conversation and I'm just really glad we got the ball rolling."