7 Survival Tips for Ex-Pats In a Singaporean Company

Singapore’s a great place to work, assuming you’re a workaholic in need of acceptance. To everyone else, it’s worse than joining an ass kicking contest with a case of haemorrhoids. We’re one of the toughest work environments in Asia: Come unprepared, and you’ll last as long as Ghost Rider 2 did in the cinemas. But even in the hell pits that pass for an office here, there are ways to come out on top. In this article, I look at how our ex-pats can adapt and even thrive:


Foreigner helping Singaporean with laptop

"So in Singapore, we have the death penalty for drug smuggling and…stopping work?"


1. Replace Criticism With Suggestion

Singaporeans are thin-skinned. Right from school, we’re trained to think of failure as more embarrassing than bed-wetting at 30. The only reason more of us aren’t leaping off buildings is the anti-killer litter campaign.

In the Singaporean workplace, there’s no faster way to acquire enemies than outright criticism. This goes for colleagues, bosses, and even the cleaning lady. You are advised to skirt the suggestion of failure, and posit alternative solutions instead.

For example, let’s say Harry the accountant is late with the budget. Again. Instead of saying:

“Hey, Harry, you ought to visit the garden. You’ll get a kick out of watching the slugs race past,” try something like:

“Hey Harry, have you tried using Excel instead of Notepad for the budget reports?”


Elbow to the face

Nonsense, we can take criticism. The question is, can you take an elbow to the face?


2. Explain Your Reasons

Singaporeans love to ask why, and woe to anyone who won’t explain. Blame it on our highly educated workforce: When we can’t see the point of doing something, the dark side takes over. We assume someone’s giving us work for the sake of, well, giving us work.

In the Singapore office, successful workers back their requests with the reasons. Even our bosses don’t give directions like a banana republic generalissimo; they describe the intended outcome. So if you have a marketing plan to boost sales, don’t just throw a “to-do” list at your team. Explain the overall plan, and show how each point fulfils one of those objectives.


Man giving a presentation

"Today's subject is why I will be in the loo at 4.30pm. Please look at the pictures."


3. Quality First, Speed Second

Singaporeans get annoyed at slow people. But “annoyed” is comparatively better than “artery-bursting furiousness”. So between speed and quality, always pick quality.

If your work is outstanding, you’ll be forgiven for being slow. If your work is on-time but it’s rubbish, you’ll soon be describing crucifixion as a pussy punishment. Also, Singaporean bosses are fond of having people redo things; to the point of getting it right, or getting committed to a local asylum. So there’s no point rushing, not when you’ll have to do it all over again. Just admit you’ll miss the deadline, and do the best work possible.


Wood carvings

"Sorry I'm late. I converted the sales report into a three part epic and hand-carved it on Canadian Timber."


4. Attend at All Costs

Singaporeans can tolerate lateness. In fact, we’re notorious for being late ourselves. Absence, however, is a different issue.

Even if you’d be an hour late for something, you should show up. Colleagues will be polite and say things like “Oh, it’s already so late, you shouldn’t bother.” But trust me, they’re about as sincere as a Sarong Party Girl’s affection for anyone Caucasian. Because if you don’t turn up, your colleagues and bosses will assume you’re lazy, or just couldn’t be bothered. Showing your face means you made an effort.


Leg in a cast

"That's why you're not attending? We don't understand. I mean, you have another leg right?"


5. Clarify the Terms

Singaporean companies, especially SMEs, are loose with language. We’re proficient with English, but”proficient” is not the same as “good”.

When your colleague says “annual”, it can mean anything from a pamphlet to a coffee-table book. We have engineers whose idea of a technical term is “that round thing”. Which isn’t to suggest they aren’t good at their jobs; just that their use of language is more referential than in, say, Britain or Germany.

To be safe, give an example of what you’re planning to do. For example, if you’re asked to compile a report, then do a few sample pages and run it by your colleagues. Make sure it’s what they have in mind before finishing the job.


Singapore engineers

"And the green metal thing goes here. If it falls off, you'll all be like 'Aaargh, oh my gawd.' And then…"


6. Offer to Help…More Than Once

If a Singaporean fell off a cliff and fractured every third bone in her body, she’d respond to the rescue call with “I’m fine, really.” It’s only on the second or third request that she’d admit, very discreetly, that she needs help finding her femur.

Singaporeans don’t like asking for help (for reasons described in point 1). But we’ll resent you for not offering it, despite refusing to actually ask you. Stay for a few years, it’ll start to make sense. To get in your colleague’s good books, you’ll have to take the initiative and offer aid. You’ll probably be turned down the first time, so ask again later. Two or three times should suffice.

On the other hand, when Singaporeans do ask for help, start worrying. Because few emergencies short of a thermonuclear meltdown will warrant this.


Man on fire

"What are you doing with that extinguisher? Ask if he needs help first. Manners!"


7. Do Not Lie To Cover Mistakes

This is true everywhere, short of the former Bush administration. But it’s amazing what Singaporeans will forgive, so long as you’re honest.

Singaporeans are sensitive about a specific type of lie: the sort used to cover up mistakes. Do it even once, and you’ll lose the trust of colleagues. Bosses will probably mount a campaign to get you fired. So just don’t. As for anything else, lie as needed. In fact, if a colleague asks if he put on weight, you’d better start role-playing Pinocchio.


Man pleading with a smiling guy

"A three year coma is NOT a lame excuse!"


Image Credits:
mbrochh, Raymond Brown, Lance Shields, pathlost, soccerkrys, CARAT, gordontarpley, mbrochh (last image), Mike Cogh

Are you an ex-pat joining our work force? Comment and tell us what you think!Digg Digg

Get more Personal Finance tips and tricks on www.MoneySmart.sg

Click to Compare Singapore Home Loans, Car Insurance and Credit Cards on our other sites.

More From MoneySmart

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Indonesia informs drug convicts of execution
    Indonesia informs drug convicts of execution

    Indonesia said Saturday it had officially notified eight foreign drug convicts that they will be executed, prompting an appeal from United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon to spare the prisoners and suspend the death penalty. A Frenchman also on death row for drug-related crimes was granted a temporary reprieve after Paris stepped up pressure on Jakarta. The eight -- from Australia, Brazil, Nigeria and the Philippines -- have been transported to the high-security prison island of Nusakambangan where …

  • UN chief urges Indonesia to spare drug convicts from execution
    UN chief urges Indonesia to spare drug convicts from execution

    United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon appealed to Indonesia on Saturday to spare from impending execution a group of 10 death-row drug convicts, most of them foreigners. "The Secretary General appeals to the government of Indonesia to refrain from carrying out the execution, as announced, of 10 prisoners on death row for alleged drug-related crimes," a spokesman for Ban said. Earlier Saturday, Indonesia said it had officially notified eight foreign nationals convicted of drug crimes -- from …

  • AFP monitoring deployment of Chinese seaplanes in Spratlys
    AFP monitoring deployment of Chinese seaplanes in Spratlys

    The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is adopting a wait and see approach amid reports that China will soon deploy seaplanes to further strengthen its maritime claims in the disputed Spratlys. Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala, spokesman for the military and commander of the AFP Civil Relations Service, said they have yet to ascertain the real purpose behind China’s continuing aggressive moves in the region. “We will wait and see before coming up with an official stand,” Kakilala said when …

  • US eyes access to Phl bases in 8 locations
    US eyes access to Phl bases in 8 locations

    The United States has asked for access to Philippine military bases in eight locations to rotate troops, aircraft and ships as Washington shifts its forces to Asia and as China expands its military presence in the South China Sea. US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in a speech in Arizona, has outlined Washington’s next phase in its Asia “pivot,” deploying its most sophisticated destroyers, bombers and fighters to the region. The Asia “pivot” has already seen US Marines rotating through the …

  • Washington bucks China’s aggressive actions
    Washington bucks China’s aggressive actions

    Short of condemning China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea, a senior US military official said Washington does not support any act of coercion and bullying. “We don’t stand for coercion, bullying and aggressiveness,” said Brig. Gen. Christopher Mahoney, assistant US military director for  Phl-US Joint Balikatan Exercises 2015. At the sidelines of this year’s joint military exercises’ static aircraft display held at Clark Air Base in Pampanga, Mahoney told a media briefing that …

  • ‘Giving Bangsamoro police control is constitutional’
    ‘Giving Bangsamoro police control is constitutional’

    The proposed grant to the chief minister of the envisioned Bangsamoro region of operational control over police forces in the area is consistent with the Constitution, a senior administration lawmaker said yesterday. Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Dasmariñas City in Cavite made the statement to allay the fears of his colleagues that the proposal, contained in the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), would violate the Charter. It is clear in the proposed BBL that the Bangsamoro police will be part …

  • Noy off to KL for Asean meet
    Noy off to KL for Asean meet

    President Aquino will arrive here this afternoon with Manila hopeful of support from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to achieve peace and stability in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) as well as economic prosperity and inclusive growth among the people in the region. Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Jose Eduardo Malaya III said that with respect to the dramatic developments in the South China Sea, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman had called for the early …

  • Madrid Fusion Manila reignites Pinoy appetite for great food
    Madrid Fusion Manila reignites Pinoy appetite for great food

    After months of preparation and hard work from both the government and private sectors, the future of food is finally here in the country’s capital. Madrid Fusión Manila opened its doors on Friday to an international delegation who eagerly awaited the discussions of some of the most renowned and revered names in the culinary world. Madrid Fusión Manila is a historic gastronomic event marked by talks and exhibitions that showcases Spain and the Philippines’ shared cultural heritage, as well as …


Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Poll Choice Options