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What Singaporeans want
Publication Date : 29-08-2013
A key finding that emerged from a survey of 4,000 Singaporean citizens, conducted as part of the Our Singapore Conversation exercise, suggests that the majority of Singaporeans want a slower-paced life (relative to career pursuits), a less competitive education system, and fewer foreigners.
Indeed, they are willing to trade off economic growth for these ends. Given the primacy accorded to growth, such sentiments might be seen as going against the grain of the Singapore story.
Certainly, some will inevitably wonder if this is a sign of Singaporeans "going soft", which would be a concern particularly as 2.5 billion people in China and India hungry for growth were willing to work for it even if it meant a hectic pace in schools and the workplace.
Economic pragmatism is an important part of the Singapore DNA. Losing it could have troubling consequences down the road.
Given its significance, the changing values and expectations of Singaporeans call for serious consideration. Job security remains a top priority but clearly people want a better work-life balance.
Yet, it would be misleading to frame the argument as a stark choice between pace and growth. It is really a question of Singaporeans allocating time well for what matters most to them, rather than being resigned to a relentless treadmill of economic competition.
Surely, both work and home life can be managed better to make more space for intangibles, like compassion for others and social bonding.
Rather than stick to notions of hard work that were important in their time but can become self-limiting notions today, a new paradigm is necessary that enhances the quality of everyday life without sacrificing those economic fundamentals that make it possible to realise a good, well-rounded life.
Put another way, working more or longer does not always translate to higher growth or productivity. Rather, it is about working smart. Companies must remain performance-driven, but they should explore creative ways of organising work such that employees have sufficient time for their families, recreation and favourite causes.
A market economy will determine how far this rebalancing can go, but even that economy must recognise and respect workers as social beings and not merely as a factor of production. Pragmatism would not be sacrificed because citizens would decide how to weigh the costs and benefits of this new way of life.
Hardly any Singaporean would accept lower standards at the workplace or deteriorating public services. But new work arrangements that do not lower productivity should be very much a part of the much touted new way forward.