Below is a meter that represents the 24 hours in an average Singaporean’s day.
It can be filled with orange bars, which denote work-related time, or blue bars, which indicate leisure-related time.
The average Singaporean spends 1hr 14min a day commuting to work and back. She then spends 6hr 6min working – a substantial chunk of her day
After work, she spends 1hr 27min doing housework.
She also partakes in 1hr 16min* of unpaid work which can include volunteering or caretaking.
She then unwinds by watching TV and videos on the internet for about 2hr 5min.
This leaves her with 24min to enjoy leisure activities with her friends and family.
Another 1hr 34min is used on sport, events, and other leisure activities*.
Throughout the day, she also spends 59min on personal care* and 95min eating and drinking*.
Taking away the 6hr 48min spent sleeping, and the other unaccountable 34min, our model suggests that Singaporeans only spend about 40% of their time on leisure activities.
If we consider sleep and the unaccountable hours, only 27% of a Singaporean’s day is spent on leisure activities.
The remaining 60% is spent working or engaged in work-related activities.
Comparing with other countries
Our process isn’t flawless. We’ve had to create estimates (based on 23 other countries) for the time expanded on certain tasks (marked with asterisks) due to a lack of data on the time spent on them. Also, 6 different surveys and studies were used to piece together an average Singaporeans’ day. This means that each survey or study could have different participants and sample sizes.
Nonetheless, the approach provides us with a rough, visual estimation of work-life balance in a country. Thus, we decided to try and replicate this process for 7 other countries using over 20 different surveys, research papers and estimates.
Work-life Imbalance in Singapore
According to Sirgey and Lee (2017), individuals need to be significantly engaged in both their work and non-work lives in order to experience a work-life balance. This entails effectively distributing time and effort to both the work and life domains.
As seen in our model, Singaporeans seem to be spending significantly more time on work-related activities as compared to leisure activities.
They seem to recognise this too.
A survey by the National Trade Unions Congress found that only 54% of Singaporeans were satisfied with their work-life balance. 78% of employees also felt burnt out at work, with Gen X employees (83%) and women and caregivers (80%) more likely to experience burnout.
Why is this the case?
A major reason for this imbalance is the high number of hours that Singaporeans allocate to paid work. In 2017, for example, an average Singaporean worker spent over 2,238hr working – the fifth most in the entire world.
Partially, this is due to Singapore’s shift from an industrial economy to a knowledge-based economy. Scholars argue that this shift corresponds to a change in focus from the quantity of labour to the quality of labour, with the nature of work morphing from one that is task-oriented, to another which is time-oriented. This perpetuates a ‘work can never be finished’ mindset.
In addition to this, there is also some evidence that Singaporeans view long working hours as the norm and that they feel personally responsible for their work-life balance themselves.
What can be done to improve work-life balance?
Over the years, the government has implemented policies such as the paid paternity leave and has offered developmental grants for companies to implement work-life strategies. The Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Practices (TAFEP) has also launched the Tripartite Standard on Work-Life Harmony. Some of these recommendations involve employers adopting employee support schemes and appointing a member of the senior management to “champion work-life harmony”.
To some extent, these policies seem to have worked, with the usual hours worked per week (full-time employees) dropping from 48.6hr in 2011 to 45hr in 2021.
However, more can definitely be done.
On the first level, it is important to reduce the orange bars in our day and increase the blue bars. This means that there is a need to create an environment where workers don’t feel obliged to work late or work much harder than they are required to.
Secondly, the orange and blue bars need to be further segmented. Researchers argue that work-life balance can only be achieved when an individual’s work and non-work roles are compatible with each other or in minimal conflict. In other words, the time spent on one’s personal life shouldn’t be hindered by work and vice versa.
Considering remote work and increased interconnectedness, many employees find it harder to create this segmentation. Flexible work arrangements, a right-to-disconnect and enhanced childcare arrangements could all potentially decrease a potential conflict in roles.
The NTUC Youth Taskforce
Studies have shown that a work-life imbalance is associated with anxiety and stress. This is especially true for employees who aren’t satisfied with or enriched by the work they’re doing.
Since young workers in Singapore are less likely to know their employment rights, and since they might not be completely settled in their careers, youth workers are particularly susceptible to this stress.
NTUC recognises this. At Young NTUC’s annual career symposium, LIT DISCOvery, DPM Lawrence Wong officiated the launch of the NTUC Youth Taskforce with NTUC President Mary Liew, Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng, Assistant Secretary-General Desmond Choo and Young NTUC Executive Secretary Wendy Tan.
Through this Youth Taskforce, they aim to share insights and publish recommendations on how to better support our youths in their work-life aspirations.