In the midst of all the economic turmoil in the aftermath of the pandemic, coupled with the ongoing war in Ukraine, it was pretty sober reading to learn that a survey by human resources agency Randstad showed 35% of Singaporean workers are “quiet quitting” their jobs.
Unfamiliar with the term? It went viral on TikTok in 2022, and it describes workers who are only looking to do the bare minimum on their job, putting no further time, effort or enthusiasm than absolutely necessary.
Other similar terms that have popped up in recent times include “lazy girl jobs”, referring to roles with minimal stress and decent pay, but little to no emotional and time investment. These can certainly be ideal, but ultimately they are more prone to automation or outsourcing.
Given that Singapore had to downgrade its economic growth forecast for the year to between 0.5% and 1.5%, narrowly avoiding a technical recession, it’s certainly a concern that some local workers aren’t quite feeling gung-ho at their jobs.
It certainly isn’t helping that Singapore is showing signs of cooling labour demand, according to the Minister of Manpower’s (MOM) labour market report for the first quarter of 2023, which showed retrenchments rose for the third consecutive quarter to 3,820, from 2,990 in the fourth quarter of 2022.
Total employment also expanded at a slower pace, and while job vacancies are still healthy, momentum has slowed, with figures dropping a fourth straight quarter.
This economic climate exacerbates the appeal of quiet quitting for those feeling poorly about their current roles, with more being stuck in jobs they don’t like and simply disengaging.
Realistically speaking, such sentiments in the workforce have always existed on some level, just perhaps using more localised terminology.
On popular forum sites such as HardwareZone, terms such as “farming” have been used for some time, which describes the gulf between those who think they’ve reached the limits of their potential at the workplace, and are simply grinding it out without enthusiasm.
Used for both roles in the public and private sector, it tends to refer to the gap between those that come from academic backgrounds, and those who don’t, and the perception of career advancement between the two groups at the workplace.
Terence Ho, an associate professor in practice at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, explained to the Straits Times: “‘Scholars’ and ‘farmers’ are terms borrowed from Imperial China, where magistrates were scholars who ruled over farmers.
“It’s important to ensure that the so-called ‘farmers’, will also have sufficient opportunity to learn, grow on the job, demonstrate their potential and eventually also rise to the top.”
Of course, this piece isn’t meant to shame workers who’ve checked out at their workplaces. After all, it takes two hands to clap, and ultimately checking out of your work is usually a sign that something is very wrong.
If you’re feeling unengaged with your work, or don’t see a future with your company, it might be a sign that it’s time to move on.
Think like a boss, not like a worker
But there’s a right way and wrong way to approach this, at the very least, for your own career prospects and goals.
Luis Lee, a regional HR Director, shared his personal perspective to Workipedia by MyCareersFuture: “It’s important to think about yourself as the chief executive of yourself, not just as a mere worker.
He elaborated: “If I think of myself as ‘Luis Lee Private Limited”, then my brand matters a lot.
“It’s not just about me in my current company, it is my brand that I carry with me wherever I work at.
“So if I see things from that perspective, it doesn’t make sense for me to be a quiet quitter.
“How can we challenge ourselves to think in a way that shows ownership of our own careers?”
Here are some steps to start feeling less sian about your current job, and move towards long-term career success:
1. Don’t wait for the perfect manager
If you’re unhappy with your boss or manager, the first thing to do is to let go of the notion someone will come and save you from your career misery.
Yes, we all know of colleagues or friends with perfect bosses who are great mentors. But the fact is, if you’re waiting for the right manager, you’re putting your career fate in someone else’s hands.
So many things could go wrong with that mindset- you might not get the promotion you’re working for, or you might get laid off, and it’s all THEIR fault.
Here’s an alternative- define what career success at your current job is for YOU, not just your bosses or company’s KPIs. Remember that work is meant to serve your life goals, not the other way around.
Look towards your bigger life goals and consider where you want to be in your industry. Once you have a clear idea of where you want to be, it becomes easier to take ownership of your day-to-day work that leads towards your career goals.
2. Ask for constructive feedback
Sometimes, there are blind spots we might have about our own career strengths and weaknesses. We might think we’re great communicators, but not realize our emails are coming across as blunt and rude.
Don’t wait for performance and peer reviews- start reaching out to bosses and colleagues to better understand how you can do better at your job and as a teammate and employee.
Ultimately, by having a better understanding of yourself at the workplace, you can set goals for improvement, and adjust the way you work to fit your strengths and weaknesses.
3. Don’t look at just problems, offer solutions
Yes, when you’re disgruntled or unhappy at work, there usually seems like plenty of problems at the workplace at you’re keen to gripe about. You might even be right!
But instead of just going to your boss with the problems, take a few moments to consider how you’d resolve them as well. This way, it shows initiative on your part, or at the very least, improves and increases your ability at professional problem-solving.
4. Learn to look at the big picture
Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist who developed a hierarchy of needs to explain human motivation, once said: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”
This basically refers to an over-reliance on a familiar or favourite tool, or in psychological terms, to be replying on the same solutions when facing problems, rather than using new solutions.
At the workplace, it’s important to learn different and new ways of thinking and behaving when facing various challenges.
Ultimately, being able to think broadly at the workplace will help you consider how your current actions and behaviours will influence your co-workers, employers and future career goals. And the main winner of being able to do that: yourself.