“I need to OT tonight” is something we hear uttered a lot in offices in Singapore. And more often than not, the statement is said with more pride than dread.

There’s no denying that us Singaporeans strive to be recognised for our strong work ethic and covet promotions. But do we glorify overtime work? How many of us are truly working efficiently after office hours?

More importantly, do our bosses actually care that we put in extra hours? We speak to a few managers to find out their take on staffers putting in extra time after official working hours.

The focus should be on results, not time

Noorashikin M., a technology project manager at Accenture, says that the traditional nine-hour work day has never been established as a standard in her company.

“We promote flexible working hours due to the nature of our work and industry. I believe that long and extra hours at work do not equate to high performance or show commitment to the job. You could be fiddling your thumbs or surfing the web while clocking the hours at work, but still be productive,” she says.

“As long as the deliverables are met within or above expectations that are set beforehand, the hours do not and should not matter.”

That said, many supervisors don’t share that sentiment—which is why OT culture here was perpetuated here in the first place.

Vice president of marketing and commerce at Leisure Pass Group, Dawn Jeremiah, recalls a former superior who was notorious for measuring someone’s productivity according to the amount of overtime put in. But she thinks measuring commitment by hours alone is superficial and should be eliminated.

“Beyond the number of hours, I believe the measurement of performance and commitment is the will and determination to see things through no matter how difficult things get,” she says.

“From my experience, it means making 12 phone calls to a developer to ensure that they launch the correct currencies and user interface on new e-commerce websites. Or taking the effort to study the very complex travel ecosystem in China for many months before launching a brand in the country.”

It helps to do a productivity audit

Most of us tend to be nervous during appraisal season because we don’t know what kind of comments to expect. To ensure that we’re continually on the right track, it’s important that we have regular catch-ups with our superiors throughout the year.

“I gave my first boss a list of everything I worked on for the day at the end of every business day. That was how she could evaluate what I promised to do versus what was actually completed,” shares Dawn.

“This trained me to be accountable for my task list and priorities. And now, if an employee finds it difficult to manage their tasks, I would go through the list with them. There’s a chance the workload is too heavy or it could be they’re not approaching the tasks in a more efficient way. If so, I’d try to reallocate their tasks or help them prioritise.”

She adds that there might be a deeper problem that calls for a more serious chat, like if the employee is going through something in their personal life. This is why she finds it essential to have a chat with them.

Kristen Juliet Soh, the editorial director of an online platform, echoes the sentiment that the nine-hour work day isn’t relevant in today’s work context. She cites an example of how an employee was putting in a lot of hours but still didn’t seem to be able to meet her deadlines.

“I wanted to know if it was a productivity or workload issue so that I could address the problem effectively. I got her to chart out how she spent her time at work for a week and helped her identify where the problems were,” she says.

“She found that she was wasting time on unimportant tasks and had the tendency to jump from task to task before completing any of them. She was also easily distracted and could spend a very long time responding to texts or browsing social media.”

To help her overcome the problem, Kristen got the employee to put together a timetable based on her daily to-do list. She also made the effort to check in with her two to three times a day.

Avoid burnout by managing workload

If you’ve tried changing your habits and still don’t see much improvement in your productivity, you ought to re-evaluate your options and speak to your superior.

“If you regularly find yourself clocking longer work hours, you may want to talk to your manager to seek help,” says Noorashikin.

“Even if you don’t get any helpful advice, talking it out might help you unload some stress and declutter your mind.”

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Digital marketer Dawn Lee, 26, who works in the hospitality and F&B industries, thinks that the needs of today’s workplace may not be as relevant compared to previous generations.

“It’s increasingly common to not have a fixed time when it comes to leaving the office . Many of my peers and even family members prefer flexible work schedules, whereby we can work overtime if we need to or leave earlier if we really have nothing to do,” she says.

“Having the freedom of managing our time based on our tasks shows the trust that superiors have in us to deliver.”

MOM guidelines on overtime work

Under the Ministry of Manpower guidelines, employees who fit the following criteria are eligible for overtime pay:

  • A non-workman earning up to $2,600
  • A workman earning up to $4,500

Your employer can request for you to work overtime under the following circumstances:

  • An accident or threat of accident
  • Work that is essential to the life of the community
  • National defence or security
  • Urgent work to be done to machinery or plant
  • An interruption of work that was impossible to foresee

Employers need to apply for overtime exemption if they require employees to work for a maximum of 14 hours per day.

As of April 1, 2019, key changes to the Employment Act have taken effect, namely to cover all employees under the Employment Act, more non-workmen under Part IV of the Employment Act. Wrongful dismissal claims will be heard by the Employment Claims Tribunal.

This means that all employees in Singapore, with the exception of seafarers, domestic workers and public officers, will be covered for core provisions such as:

  • Minimum days of annual leave
  • Public holidays and sick leave
  • Timely payment of salary
  • Statutory protection against wrongful dismissal.

As an employee, the maximum hours of overtime you can do is 72 hours per month.

For more details, check out this page.

Text: Chia Sihan