Image: Showbit

If there’s one thing I learnt during my time in the corporate world, it’s that many SMEs are pretty clueless in terms of HR and managing their staff. All too often, I found myself in a company where entire teams would leave en masse, and their bosses would be totally clueless as to why they’d been left in a lurch.

“It’s super hard to find good employees,” laments Benjamin, a 33-year-old entrepreneur who’s run several businesses over the years. “Some are just weirdoes, and the good ones all leave when they find something better.”

The curious thing is that while many employers have no idea why they can’t retain staff, to anyone working in the company, it’s clear as day why everyone’s jumping ship—and it’s not always because of the pay. Here are three big reasons Singaporean employees quit that their bosses just can’t seem to figure out.

1. The workplace is toxic

Seriously, employers. So, so many of my friends have left their workplaces because the environment was downright toxic.

Many of my friends have left jobs that paid them decently because they were miserable having to turn up at work for various reasons, whether it was having to listen to their bosses’ screams echo throughout a petrified office every day, a workplace culture where kissing ass and backstabbing were rewarded or being subtly sexually harassed.

Unfortunately, employees in Singapore receive little protection from abuse at the workplace. While anti-workplace harrassment guidelines were recently put in place, they deal mostly with sexual harassment and are too easy for companies to shirk anyway.

Just ask that guy in the news who accepted pay of $500 a month for years and was regularly physically assaulted and scolded with vulgarities by his boss.

Bosses often play a huge role in determining workplace culture. Being rude, abusive or unfair to employees creates an atmosphere of fear, which almost always results in a high turnover rate.

2. The pay isn’t sufficient to compensate for the poor work-life balance

Most Singaporean employers take it for granted that their employees will be working overtime almost every day. It’s a sad fact in the country where the people work the longest hours in the world.

Even in the realm of overtime work, there are huge differences. Some people work until 7 or 8pm every day, while others are stuck in the office till 2 or 3am.

But bosses should not overstep the bounds of human decency by expecting people to work crazy hours while still being underpaid.

Nigel, a 30-year-old lawyer, works until about 9 to 11pm every day. While he would of course prefer to go home at a decent hour, he agrees that the relatively high salary he brings home and the opportunities for career advancement are what keep him in the job.

By contrast, Adam, a 33-year-old tuition teacher, began his career as an engineer. “I was working about 70 hours a week for $2,800,” he says. “Every day I was onsite under the hot sun from 8am to around 9pm. I had a 6-day work week, yet my boss gave me the minimum amount of annual leave, only 7 days a year! At first I thought I could just bear with it for a few years. But after 6 months I realised my health was suffering and it really wasn’t worth it.”

While employers are quick to diss Gen Y workers for giving up too easily and being unwilling to put in hard work, they also need to take a look at their HR policies to see if they’re being fair to their employees.

3. If they’re still with the company in 10 years’ time, they’ll be in trouble

While Singaporean employees have gained a reputation as disloyal job hoppers, a recent survey revealed that they actually wish they could stay for five years or more—it’s just that circumstances often do not permit them to stay.

It’s safe to say that many Singaporeans leave an otherwise satisfactory job because they’d be screwed if they stayed too long.

A big culprit is low salary increments. With our high inflation rates at about 4% per annum over the last five years, and real inflation that is actually much higher, Singaporeans simply can’t afford to let their salaries stagnate. In fact, staffing professionals say that it’s a bad idea to remain in one job for more than three years because of this.

Then there’s the fact that career progression is limited in many companies. In family-run companies, the top positions are reserved for members of the clan and their friends, forcing employees who’ve reached the glass ceiling to look elsewhere.

Employers who are serious about keeping their staff should maintain an ongoing dialogue with them about their careers. It may not be practical to increase an employee’s pay if he keeps doing the same old thing year in, year out.

But if the employee has potential, training him well and encouraging him to upgrade his skills so he can take on a more senior position at the company is essential. Fail to do that and you’re going to lose the guy.


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