In Singapore, we all play a game. This “game” is what we in Singapore call “chiak zhua”, or “eating snake”.
It is the art of avoiding work as much as possible.
The act of “eating snake” can, for instance, simply refer to the daily strategies we all put into place to relax and/or feel more at home in the office. Some people take long lunch breaks and say they were at a meeting. Some people spend more time than they should on social media sites. Others check their personal emails and even call their friends from their work lines. Others still may help themselves to some of the office supplies for personal usage (paper, pens, stamps, etc.).
Most HR professionals will tell you that these are reprehensible acts and as such are grounds for termination. Admittedly, such practices extrapolated across many employees and over a long period of time eat into a company’s finances. So much so that they are almost always mentioned in company policies and employee handbooks.
But as most HR practitioners will also tell you, such behaviours are natural and, to some extent, necessary. Most often these acts are harmless and go unnoticed, and in most cases a simple admonition is enough to put an end to such “victimless crimes”. Strict enforcement of such broad policies only lowers morale and can even deter people from wanting to join the company!
Another form of “eating snake” is the one personified by extremely lazy workers. You know it when: he’s always too busy to take on more tasks, he always has a good excuse, he’s always away on MC, and he discreetly accepts praise for successes he wasn’t really a part of.
Such non-productive behaviour can go unnoticed by management – especially if the said employee is adept at covering his or her tracks by being extremely likeable – but can create unnecessary drama within teams and negatively affect productivity and atmosphere.
It’s not uncommon for such behaviours to result in petty arguments, envious attitudes, or even vengeful tactics that all contribute to a counter-productive environment. That’s why HR professionals are always on the lookout for such events and swiftly deal with the “snake eater”.
The last form of “eating snake” is much more documented. Workplace sabotage, as it’s referred to by social psychologists and historians, refers to the voluntary act of disrupting projects, derailing strategies, or even compromising the stability of the company.
Ranging from intentionally doing the opposite of what the job entails to divulging corporate secrets to competitors and anything in between, workplace sabotage can have grave and long-lasting effects on an employer.
So much so that the CIA even has a manual showing agents how to identify saboteurs and/or how to conduct effective infiltrated missions. It’s no wonder then, that many unions and labour organisations around the world have advocated some form or other of such practices as a last resort to fight desperate or unsolvable labour disputes.
Of course, such practices are generally considered illegal and would carry very heavy penalties in Singapore, which is why unions here work hard to avoid disputes from ever reaching such radical and extreme levels.
So, fellow employees, this Chinese New Year I urge you all to enjoy the time away from work we take for granted and make our workplaces as harmonious as possible during this coming year of the snake!