It wasn’t too long ago that keeping a nine-to-five work schedule was the norm. But lately, people have been working longer hours than ever—sometimes even to death, with some cases involving young women. It’s a sign of the times when Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma recently extolled the “996” work ethic (9am to 9pm, six days a week) and declared working overtime “a huge blessing”. Which raises the question: at what point does clocking overtime at work mean trouble for us? And most importantly, what are your rights, considering Singapore’s manpower laws regarding overtime work?
When commitment takes a toll
The Japanese have a term for literally working to death: karoshi. It was only in 2017 that their government passed a legislation to limit overtime to 60 hours per month.
In Singapore, those who work five days a week typically work nine hours a day or 44 hours per week. While overtime is allowed according to the guidelines set by the Ministry of Manpower, employees are not allowed to work for more than 12 hours in a day.
In any case, KJ Green, senior consultant at recruitment agency 33Talent, says the tipping point is when overtime has an impact on one’s physical and mental health.
“For most people, there are times when you do go the extra mile at work. However, it’s unrealistic to set the expectation of working 12-hour days, six days a week, while maintaining a happy and healthy workforce. Not to mention the fact that the ‘996’ culture is impossible for workers with commitments such as family care or education,“ she says.
Breaking the cycle
Marketing communications manager Bonnie A., who leads a small team, thinks that while putting in occasional overtime may be necessary depending on the situation, it’s not an ideal solution.
“I’m not a believer in frequent or regular overtime, as I feel it doesn’t contribute to productivity, leads to burnout, and affects employee well-being and loyalty,” she says.
“If someone clocks in regular overtime, it shows they’re not managing their workload well—it’s either too much for the person to handle and the company isn’t providing enough resources for the work to be completed, or they’ve stopped becoming productive and are taking a lot of time to complete a task because they’re not in top form. It’s a vicious cycle, and it definitely affects personal time, which then leads to resentment and disloyalty.”
Before your workload gets out of hand, KJ suggests coming up with a plan and sharing it with your boss to manage the situation.
“Firstly, it’s OK to admit that you’re feeling a little overwhelmed. Chances are, you’re doing a great job! If your current workload is affecting the quality of your work or health, book some time with your boss and prepare for the conversation. You could also ask for help from your colleagues.”
Setting overtime boundaries
KJ says it’s important to remember that work-life balance is subjective. “What feels manageable to some people may be overwhelming to others. Ultimately, if you feel that work is affecting your physical or mental health, it’s time to take action.”
Bonnie points out that ironically, technological improvements have contributed to a leaner workforce and the belief among some employers that they can achieve more with a lot less human resources.
“At the end of the day, a person isn’t defined by work responsibilities and contributions alone. To be human is to also form meaningful relationships with others around them, be it family, friends or the community. A healthy life is about balance, and moderation—as we’re always told by our doctors!”
Are you OT-ing too much?
If you answer “yes” to three or more questions below, you’re probably spending too much time at the office.
- You find yourself making more careless mistakes than usual
- You find yourself unable to focus at meetings due to exhaustion
- You’ve been forgetting important dates or appointments with your family and friends
- You’re a familiar face to the security guards, who see you regularly on late nights and even weekends
- You’ve not met your close friends in months
What does the law say?
- Minimum days of annual leave (7 to 14 days)
- Paid sick leave (14 days per year)
- Timely payment of salary (within 7 days after end of salary period)
- Recourse for wrongful dismissals
- A non-workman (white-collar employee) earning up to $2,600
- A workman (manual labourer) earning up to $4,500