Whatever goes up must come down

Among all the haze commotion last week it seems this important piece of news went largely unnoticed. Apparently the latest forecasts show that pay increases and bonuses are set to fall for the rest of the year.

My instinctive response to this was, “It’s not fair! After all our hard work!”

I mean, how else is someone supposed to feel after reading that salary increases are expected to fall to 4.6% and 3.8% including and excluding promotion respectively? Especially when this marks a decrease from the first quarter’s 4.7% and 4.1% and when pay variable bonuses are expected to dip from 2.4 to 2.1 months of base pay!

Then I looked a little bit more into the results of the 2013 Singapore HR Trends Survey and found a more encouraging analysis.

According to the report, “In 2014, salary increases are projected to improve to 4.9% (including promotions) and 4.3% (excluding promotions), with variable bonus at 2.5 months of base pay”.

Meaning that salaries and bonuses will without a doubt be negatively affected from now until the rest of the year, but then things will definitely improve. Especially for government employees, who “are expected to have the highest projected pay rise, including promotion, at 7.9%”.

Sounds like much better news, right?

I wonder why both good and bad news weren’t included in the same article to paint a less grim picture than necessary. Why did I have to scour the internet to find that while things will be tough for some time they will get better later on?

I can’t help but find this all too confusing for readers. Another example is this story on last month’s surprise GDP performance and this other article on our doomed economy.

How is anyone supposed to make any sense of all these contradicting analyses?

I think the first step would be to make concepts and jargon much more approachable to readers who don’t necessarily hold a PhD in finance or economics or who don’t necessarily have time to scour article after article to get the big picture.

In the case of the above articles on GDP, would it have killed the writers to include a sentence or two saying that “GDP is the broadest measure of economic activity, capturing the total monetary value of all goods and services produced in a country over a period. As such, it is the simplest and most important economic indication of growth or contraction, and it trickles all the way down to wages as well”?

I think this would help people make sense of the negative or positive projections for wages and bonuses.

I notice that many of the alternative news websites do this very well. This thought-provoking piece on good GDP growth and peanuts pay increase, for instance, clearly states that “it’s the distribution of GDP growth that matters, not GDP growth by itself”.

Whether you agree with the author or not, he has made a very clear and interesting point that anyone can immediately start thinking about. If you want a more thorough statistical breakdown, you can always read further into the article. If you don’t have time to read more, then at least you walk away with the notion that analysing GDP figures and projections is not as easy as saying “it’s going up” or “it’s going down”.

As someone whose passion is to read and write about Singapore, I really wish all media (mainstream and alternative) would implement such simple best practices.

Sure, we all want our catchy headlines to generate clicks, but we also want to inform readers and get them to discuss about complicated issues, don’t we?

Here’s to a more balanced approach in the way we create – and react to – the news.

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Lavinia Lim

Yoga, writing, dancing, reading....

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