Michelle Chong is right: There is no more pride in our work and this is why


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You must have read her post, but in case you haven’t here’s the link. Read it, but quickly come back here.

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Michelle Chong has correctly identified the disease that is plaguing Singapore. What is lacking now is to know why.

I’d like to take a stab at diagnosing the cause of the disease. Here we go:

a.) We’re obsessed with chasing money
b.) We have unhealthy ambitions to be managers
c.) We cheapen skills

I’d like to start with the first, because its the one that pisses me off the most.

How many times have you heard someone say “Money is not important, it is more important to be happy in your career”.

Here’s a big fat, middle finger of a “NO” to this overused quote.

Money is important. It feeds the family, it pays the bills and it gives us hope of a better future. Those with not enough of it knows what this means. Those who have lots of this spout idiot things like “Don’t work for the money, work for passion”. Unless you’re a sex worker, passion doesn’t keep the repo man away better than cash does.

It is precisely because money is so important that we are constantly on the search to fill this massive void. As we grow older, we don’t need less money… we need more. There are social needs to fill, family needs to appease, emergencies to see to and we need to save for investment, otherwise us and our children will be entangled in a net of financial inadequacy for generations to come.

Like a bath that is not plugged, fee hikes, inflation and family responsibilities drain away the money that trickles to us each month. Most of us are busy finding new taps to turn on, frantically keeping up with the rate of drainage.

We’re so obsessed with the need to turn on as many taps as we can, we neglect attention to the quality of our work. We can’t tell the difference between important and urgent. Clients want everything done yesterday. It is little wonder that we no longer care about the details, the important stuff that distinguish professionals from amateurs.

Next, I’d like to point out the fact that this country has an unhealthy obsession with becoming managers and leaders.

Everyone wants to lead, nobody wants to do. Everyone wants to build skills in managing, nobody wants to be the one being managed.

But management is a very unique skill. It requires empathy, salesmanship, vision, ability and the talent to solve conflicts, not create them (which many an inapt manager is inclined to do, in an eagerness to flaunt their new found title).

So what happens when everyone chases the managerial title? Well, they try their best to pave their careers that way and neglect to build the skills that they’re really and actually good at.

If you’ve been a salesman, you’re good at selling. If you’re a designer, you’re good at designing. If you’re a pilot, you’re good at flying. If you neglect these things and force yourself to be a manager, of which requires a very specific set of skills… then you lose focus, you try to be something you’re not and you lose the respect of the people who paid you for what you were good at doing.

(Editor: In an older article, we raised the sorry fact that Singaporean children have only weak ambitions to be “managers”)

Which brings me to my last point.

We are cheapening skills. We reward the lowest bidder, we don’t respect the designers, the craftsman, the plumber, the driver, the shop floor worker. We pay them the lowest possible rates, we ask for free services where we can and disguise our disrespect dressing them in this word called “collaboration”.

The consequence to this is the one with cheap skills will answer your call. With cheap skills come cheap responsibility – and that, is the answer to why this country is losing its pride for our work.

No one cares if you do good work, they only care if you can do it at a good price and do it fast. Some clients even think they can do your job better by dictating your work. “Make my logo bigger” is the designer’s joke on clients who think they have got better artistic sense than someone whom has been living and breathing art for a lifetime.

So you’re right Michelle, this is a country that has lost their appreciation for skills. Because of the reasons discussed above, we have come to accept the “pass up homework” heck care attitude.

It is quite sad really. Even sadder when you realise all of society is like this and there really isn’t anything we can do about it.



  1. For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work:

    Lawlessness starts from the TOP. Followers or subjects consume its lawlessness or the spirit of lawlessness dissipated or dispense.

    The people under a regime with no integrity shall also have no integrity in everything they do or in being.

    70% consented or approved a no integrity/”non corrupt” government because they are who they voted or approved.

    1. “a no integrity/”non corrupt” government”

      What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

  2. If each one of us can do our tiny bit to improve on our core strengths, collectively it can make a positive impact. Even a small improvement is a step forward.

  3. Thanks for sharing. Very true. I have a conclusion why we have no passion in our work. It all starts in secondary school. Let me relate a familiar incident. I saw my nephew doing an interesting project. And I said wow this project is interesting , let’s go do more research for it. He replied, nowadays nobody cares about learning. Just meet the deadline and find a short cut to get a good grade that’s what we care about! It sounded familiar because I was the same when I was schooling too! Is that why we have no pride in our work? It started from school.

  4. “Next, I’d like to point out the fact that this country has an unhealthy obsession with becoming managers and leaders.

    Everyone wants to lead, nobody wants to do. Everyone wants to build skills in managing, nobody wants to be the one being managed.”

    Very simple… Because in Singapore, management is where the money’s at. Doing feeds, but doesn’t feed as well as talking (or, “managing”, if you would). So why be a do-er when you work like mad, rush like mad, when you can be the one just saying things and planning things, and not care about the feasibility of a project? After all, managers are the well-paid ones, who don’t have to do the dirty work.

    1. We don’t need managers if everyone just does his work excellently with joy and pride.. Our salary system isn’t putting value where it should, and instead driving ppl to forgo their own passions to pursue the same few jobs! Singaporeans have lost our creativity, our sense of ownership because we have a culture/system that rewards the wrong values! Tbh, this kind of system that encourages ppl to work in jobs which the country needs will still run well if ppl have a sense of belonging to the nation.. Maybe thats true in the LKY era but not anymore! We need to feel like Singapore belongs to us and our work belongs to us, if we want to have this sense of pride once more.. Sadly, many of us are just too comfortable for change

  5. Which is why I always thought “cheaper better faster” was a retarded strategy. Yet we paid an obscene amount of salary for a someone to come out with a third world economy strategy

  6. Its also about pride and ownership.
    There is an obvious lack of it here and probably
    not enough encouragement or acknowledgment
    of work done

    We are ever so critical about anything and everything.
    It will take a huge effort to change all this… perhaps decades.

  7. I have this observation for a long long time. No pride in work and people that delivered the best quality work are rewarded with more work and little other monetary reward. The best that talk the talk only reward with more time and more money. So naturally after a while nobody really care to do best in their work. Just deliver sufficient, meet the dateline and hand-up the work.

    Guess what? who start these ball rolling? The biggest employer in Singapore award to cheapest bidder, always asked for free services, dont appreciate good services and always claims there are cheaper services than yours? The people that evaluating the solution are clueless and do not respect the work of the designer. Take other people work and award to the cheapest vendor. All these will just translate down the chain … and over the time create a culture. Worst … no accountability, no responsibility and always other people fault.

    Higher Productivity? Automation? Cheapest and Fastest?

    To change this culture, it will need to start from the biggest employer in Singapore and it will perhaps take more than a generation to change things around. It also started in at least the secondary school level … if in our education system only chase for grade and not good quality. People will just learn the bad habits.

  8. Do you remember how our folks used to tell us, “If you don’t study/work hard, next time you are going to sweep the floor when you grow up!” I certainly remember being told about that when I was a still a boy.

    I’m not sure if this phrase is passed down to the next generation and the next after. But just as grades become a streaming excercise when you are Primary 6 (PSLE), Primary 8 (there used to be such during my time), higher earning power dictates the “class” of the citizen.

    It’s become the unspoken understanding within our society.

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