The biggest problem businesses in Singapore face is, well, having to hire Singaporeans themselves. Many SME bosses complain that Singaporeans are not only more expensive to hire than foreign employees willing to work for less, they’re also an entitled bunch who will quit at the drop of a hat.
In fact, job hopping is a pretty serious problem on our shores, and as hard as finding the right guy for the job is, it’s even harder convincing him to stay for more than two or three years.
It’s no secret that higher salaries and better work-life balance are key reasons Singaporeans jump ship. According to a recent survey, a whopping 60% of job hunters in Singapore view work-life balance as a key factor when deciding whether or not to stay in a job, which is no surprise when you consider the long hours worked here. Salary and benefits are the most important factor to 43% job hunters here.
But employers who are paying decent salaries and don’t expect their employees to kill themselves working for them might be interested to know that the following factors also rank highly on employees’ decisions to stay or go.
1. Work location
Singapore is a small country, so you would think you’d be able to hire someone from any part of the country, right?
While work location isn’t an immediate concern to employees taking up a new job, a crazy 37% of employees said it was a key retention factor for them.
Despite Singapore’s small size, commuting from one end of the island to another on public transport can take a very long time, especially if an employee does not live close to an MRT station or the workplace is inaccessible. If you live in Choa Chu Kang or Punggol and are not within walking distance of an MRT station, meaning you need to rely on a feeder bus service, it can easily take 1.5 to 2 hours to get to work. That’s 3 to 4 hours one way.
“But people in other countries can spend 3 to 4 hours per day commuting, too!” cry employers.
Well, overseas many people are willing to accept a long commute simply because living in the suburbs significantly lowers the cost of living, yet salaries in the city centre are high. Those are not going to be concerns that a Singaporean employee will take into account since it’s expensive pretty much everywhere.
Add to that the fact that local public transport is pretty much hated by anyone with a long commute and it’s easy to see why an inaccessible workplace makes it difficult to retain staff long-term. After a year or so chalking up experience, the minute your employees find a job that can save them an hour a day, they’ll jump ship.
Many businesses located in inaccessible areas like Tuas, Alexandra TechnoPark or Changi Business Park provide free shuttle bus services that can shorten employees’ commute, which is an option if you’re located in some hellishly ulu area.
2. Management style
If your employees are leaving in droves, guess what—it’s probably you, not them.
A 2015 study showed that as many as 50% of the people surveyed had quit a job to get away from their bosses, while 30% in the first study we discussed identified it as a key retention factor.
And the rather conservative, authoritarian, face-time heavy management style of SME bosses here is not sitting well with younger employees these days. There are countless reports trumpeting the unhappiness of Singapore workers, while a 2013 survey revealed that 61% of Singaporeans who weren’t happy with their bosses were also miserable at work.
If you’re guilty of not respecting your employees’ personal time and sending them emails at 3am, forcing them to work 80 hours a week, throwing unreasonable demands at them or not showing an ounce of appreciation, don’t be surprised if they leave.
3. Job security
What with all the doom and gloom about higher retrenchment figures this year and the fact that highly paid, middle aged employees can end up becoming taxi drivers after being retrenched, job security is high on Singaporeans’ list.
The aforementioned survey revealed that 26% considered job security a key retention factor.
Nobody wants to work in a company where they feel like any day could be their last. But just because an employer hasn’t been threatening to fire an employee doesn’t mean the latter will automatically have a higher sense of job security.
Not being given any training and development opportunities, news of layoffs in the industry, rumours that the company isn’t doing well and a job that’s slowly becoming obsolete are all causes for alarm.
If there are good employees you’d like to retain, it’d be a good idea to communicate with them and work to retrain them so they would be able to take on other positions if their area of work were to die off.
I had a friend who recently discovered through the grapevine that his entire department was going to be axed since the company wasn’t doing well. His boss didn’t say a word to him about it, and he hastily began applying aggressively for jobs, jumping on the next boat together with most of his colleagues.
It often seems like there’s not much employer-employee communication in Singapore outside of the usual instruction-giving and task-completing domain. If employers are serious about retaining their employees, they need to put in the effort to build a relationship with them, discuss possibilities for their career development and be honest with them about impending retrenchment or restructuring.
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