Dec 4, 2010

Work/Life Imbalance

The manpower jinx in my department continues.

A week ago, one of my colleagues suddenly fell very ill. He had to be sent to hospital. A CT scan revealed a serious problem. It was literally a life-&-death matter. He had to undergo emergency brain surgery. The surgery went well, and he is out of Intensive Care, but he is still in hospital. He won't be back at work for several weeks.

Meanwhile, yesterday, it was announced that another colleague had resigned. Not even bothering to stick around to collect the bonus for 2010. Mr Foreign Talent, who came to sunny little Singapore 4 years ago, with wife and kids in tow, is now packing up and going back to his home country. He hasn't found a new job. He just doesn't want to work here anymore.

Throughout 2010, people have been quitting and most of them have not been replaced. The office has so many empty desks now that it's depressing.

Last night was also my department's Christmas party. All these years, I've always made it a point to go to the Christmas party. This time, I didn't go. I would have liked to. But I had too much work. So instead I was in the office working till slightly past midnight. As I worked, new emails continued to arrive into my inbox - from London and New York. These are the perils of working in a global investment bank - the sun never sets, and the work never ends.

I've been told that I'm well on track for promotion. Barring any unexpected circumstances,m the promotion should happen in February next year. I suppose this is a good thing. I suppose that I should feel happy or excited. On the other hand, I cannot honestly say that I feel happy and excited. Right now, nothing about working here feels happy or exciting to me.

Part of me is angry with myself, because I know that I am responsible for maintaining my own work/life balance. I know that I am at liberty to just walk out at 6 or 7 pm and that no one would say anything about it. What compels me to stay later and later in the office - as the overall manpower shrinks and my own workload grows heavier and heavier - is my own sense of responsibility and professionalism. It's my own warped drive and determination to get my work done, with a certain degree of quality and care.

I was discussing this with another colleague yesterday - he consistently works late too, in fact, later than me. I know that like me, he still tries his best. What did I tell him yesterday? I said that one day, if he notices that I'm regularly leaving home at 6 pm, then this means I don't care anymore and I've given up on this place.

As of today, I haven't given up. Yet.


Trebuchet said...

I read your posts and realise that you have said a number of wise things over the years. Maybe you should re-read your posts and receive advice from yourself (I do it too, as a form of self-reflection).

Perhaps, you can then treat your work as your hobby and your poetry as your work. At least, in your mind. :)

Anonymous said...

Solace Wang. Many of us suffer from this. Employers it seems are consumed by themselves. Profits are more important than the humans the money serves.

I have given up. I go home when it hits 7.30pm, maximum. The work can never be done, deadlines are just what we humans want them to be.

Amazed said...

It's more important to spend time with your children now. Soon they will be out of the house, and may even migrate overseas. Money isn't everything. Personal (job) satisfaction isn't everything.


Anonymous said...

I can totally relate to how you are feeling. I'm burnt out at my job.
Certain things that were initially promised at the workplace are not kept. I'm truly sick and tired of people of higher rank bending the rules to their convenience.
Think I've had enough - 10 years!! It's time to slowly look for another job.

Anonymous said...

are you looking out for another job yet? what's holding you back?

Anonymous said...

Wang take solace that they are paying you much much more for this. Many people out there are working this kind of hours without your type of pay, nor secure promise, not even the slightest indication, of promotion.

I don't know if it is only Singapore, but employers nowadays are seriously bad.

Anonymous said...

ST reports - a happiness guide expert says any pay above $100k per annum will lead to a drop in quality of life.

Alvin said...

Hi Mr Wang,

I've been there myself, at a job working crazy hours, sleeping in the office, doing weekends etc.

It took me some time and distance, but after I left I realized that it wasn't a good use of my time, and it was neither wise nor sustainable to continue.

(That word 'responsible' was the same word my ex-boss used to commend me before I left.)

Looking back, I can see that it was ultimately more responsible to dedicate my skills and self-discipline elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Nowadays, working late into the night seems to be the norm rather than the exception.

The question I sometimes ask myself is, what kind of life are these people leading, waking up early in the morning, spending almost 18 hours in the office, and going home just to sleep for 6 hours, and again back to the office. I wouldn't be able to tolerate that.

Is life more satisfying compared to the 70s, 80s and 90s I wonder? Monetarily, most earn more than their parents, but factor in the long hours and you see the benefit isn't really that great, especially when you take into account the higher cost of everything today.

I retired ten years ago. During my working life, it was mostly eight-thirty to five, with some spare time for other things. Strangely, even then, I found it rather frustrating doing it, day in and day out. Oh yes, I do job hop, but dissatisfaction always seem to come back after a while and I have to do it all over again. That's life.

The other strange thing was that I never felt so relieved when I finally quit working.

And I also found out that you do not need millions to feel happy in retirement.

Anonymous said...

Gilbert, You have fallen into the work trap. The promise of a promotion is just what an experienced people manager learnt from his 101 motivation course. How to motivate the donkey to give his life to for the master. It is an unreacheable carrot as the faster the donkey runs, the faster will the carrot moves as it is dangled in front of the donkey. The dog will never catch its tail. Two decades ago, I was in your situation. My sense of responsibility and the determination to do the best kept me going until one day I suddenly lost partial sight in one eye.
We are often used as digits in this globalised world to keep churning profits for someone else. It is time we wake up to make up our own minds who is the superior mind and who is the inferior mind.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, I think you need to take a real hard look into the mirror. You say that you can just leave at 6pm. I find that hard to believe. When I was working in Singapore, there was no such thing as just leaving at 6pm. There was no such thing as taking a week of vacation. A day or 2 maybe, but not a week.

So you say that you could leave at 6 if you wanted. I think not!

hugewhaleshark said...

Read your own advice, Gilbert. You are responsible for your own work-life balance.

Very often, it is just NOT possible to give 100% at "work" and maintain a standard of "life" that you are happy with. We then have to make a choice. How many % "work" vs how many % "life". That's the way it is.

If you ask me, right now I am about 70-80% of perfect at work. And happy with life.

At least, you (and thankfully also I) have the luxury to not give 100% at work and still be able to provide comfortably for our families. And in many instances 70-80% is really good enough for the company.

Good luck, Gilbert.

Anonymous said...

mr wang work so late?! wah lao spoil market leh...

dr ozbloke said...

Often we don't realize that we have absolute freedom to do what we want or to choose not to do something we are supposed to do.

The only stumbling block is the price that goes with that decision.

Gilbert, are you so unwilling to pay the price?

PS I am no longer in Singapore but I am not in Oz. And I am no longer a doc. *wink*

Anonymous said...

I believe most are unwilling to pay the price to live the life that they actually desire. Peer pressure, new family commitments, keeping up appearances, maintaining egos etc.

As a single, you sometimes have the luxury of putting all your time into your work to advance your career.

As a family man, you have to find the best way to apportion that limited time between family and work.

That's the choice you have to make. No question about it that there have to be sacrifices.

Anonymous said...

Happiness is a journey, not a station to arrive at. Enjoy while the journey lasts. You make the tracks to lead you to where you want. Don't blame anyone else ;)
I know you know already...

Anonymous said...

Guess the trick is to know when to hop off one train and move to another, instead of staying on the same train wondering if it will lead to the happiness station.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, u r burning your candles at both ends. This is very dangerous. What is money compare to your happiness and health ? It is so obvious your company is screwing u and is tempting u to work harder by dangling the promotion infront of u.
I am amazed a smart guy like u has fallen into this trap. Have u not realise that your company has taken over your life. U r a slave.

Anonymous said...

you have a choice. always.

Anonymous said...

i too work long hours. 3 jobs wen i was younger, as much as i can get now i'm a badly paid contract worker. but becos i work from home, i can move the work periods around. i dun earn enuff now tho to explore places abroad like i used to. my personal life is perpetually on hold. filed away to be done later - dunno wen.

i'v found though that clients are happy with far less than what i provide. worse, my main "boss" is not aware of the sweat i put in.

in view of all this, i should not offer advice. nevertheless, may i suggest you consider if you are being responsible as a father and a husband, and to yourself.

at the end, responsibility is not something tt should be practised only in the office.

as for not having enuff money, i'v been quite taken by a phrase i read in an online comment. it was a response to pple working like the dickens to afford and acquire all kinds of things - live less.

Keith said...

Having read your blog on this topic, it strikes a chord to my thinking & current situation, though we're of a different trade (manufacturing).
Unearthly timing from conference calls with the other side of the world, Reports, Targets, KPIs, Quality issues, Quotations & etc.

Apart from the promotion factor, i'm rather concerned on the fact that there being limited manpower & yet a heavier responsibility to manage another dept. Some of my peers have pointed out the need to utilize more of my current manpower to multi-task. Sadly the team will be even stretched leaner & i'm assuming more office unrest, departure on the horizon & with a pricking conscience, i'll still have to manage & collaborate between the company & its employees for things to remain functional. (A military general only exists when he has a commanding battalion, else nothing.)

Making requests from corp HQ is an uphill task & it is bottomed to the fact why we're promoted in the first place.

Changing a job perhaps could be good for a short while, a change of environment but still personally felt that its the same eventually (aka "from one shit hole into another")

Self-reflection or sorting out our own priorities would be a more appropriate approach for now.

noname said...

Dear Gilbert,

Interesting post and this is reality Singapore. Unless you strike 4D or Toto, we all got to go through all these shits. Regardless, a line need to be drawn as work can never be really "done".

Anonymous said...

Different industry, same s**t. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt at 11pm - 1am all nighters because "I felt responsible" and wanted to do the best job I could for thankless twats of every ilk. Now I'm taking all my experience and blessings and spending them with my kids before they grow up remembering Daddy was some dude who was out the door before the sleep left their eyes in the morning; and someone who snuck in at night after their eyes were closed with sleep. Before it's too late. The only life not worth living is the life that is given, but unlived. Leave the zombie nation, bro!

Anonymous said...


my team lead from my GLC company also because of health reason, ie sleeping problem + others health issue..having working close to 18yrs in the company call it a day just 1 month before his approx 35k bonus payout(which he give it a go...)...