PM Lee Does Not Understand Work-Life Balance

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has sought to inject some balance in the national preoccupation with work-life balance, warning Singaporeans that competitors are out to steal their lunch.
At a televised forum last Tuesday night, he said the idea of work-life balance has become so popular it is now a tag phrase.
"They call it a meme on the Internet," he said, adding that people who used the phrase did not seem quite sure what they meant by it except that they would like more free time and less stress.
It was also not clear if people knew the trade-offs, he said.
"If you look at other countries: Vietnam, China, even in India, they're not talking about work-life balance; they are hungry, anxious, about to steal your lunch. So I think I'd better guard my lunch."


PM Lee called work-life balance a tagline.

Do you know what are bigger tag phrases than work-life balance in Singapore? I can name you same. How about, "More good years ahead", "Always here for you." or "Confidence for the future"? These taglines are probably as meaningless to Singaporeans as "Work-life balance" is to PM Lee. 

Perhaps this hermit of Perth has been isolated from civilization for too long not to notice "Work-life balance" has became an Internet meme. Is it not clear if Singaporeans really understand work-life balance? Not sure but it is evident that PM Lee does not. Do you agree with the PM that work-life balance is an unrealistic goal for Singaporeans? If you do, let me explain offer you a fair definition of work-life balance and we'll take it from there. I pity folks who landed on this website regularly. Here asingaporeanson goes again, like a broken record, the pseudo-advocate for work-life balance. [Delete! Exterminate! Evacuate!] I'll spare you the ramblings. If you like to go through it again, read this [link]. 

PM Lee knows that Singaporeans want more free time and less stress and he was quoted saying so. But he does not believe Singaporeans should have more free time, citing the competition from Vietnam, China and India will "steal our lunches" if we let up. At the moment, if you have work for 8 hours, play for 8 hours and sleep for 8 hours, congratulate yourself because you are achieving work-life balance though strictly speaking, you don't actually play for 8 hours. Unless commuting to work for 1-2 hours a day is your kind of fun. I'll leave it as that, for the benefit of some people who love driving a lot or enjoying rubbing at the bums of office ladies in a jam-packed MRT train.

What about the people who consistently work beyond 8 hours on average working day? The question is are these the majority or minority. We can look at statistics and trends for the answer. Singapore consistently top global charts for the highest number of working hours. We are arguably the biggest domestic maid employing nation in the world. We are likely to have the highest population ratio which dine out, most evident by the number of eateries per person in the country.

Perhaps PM Lee had equated Singaporeans asking for "less stress" to Singaporeans getting lazy. We have to understand less stress can come from different sources other than having a easier time at work. It is less stressful when one lives in a less crowded environment or being governed by a capable government under a decent leader for example. Singaporeans may not be necessarily be looking out to be passengers at their offices if the PM is wise enough to understand. As for more free time, overworked Singaporeans are merely wishing that they can only work 8 hours and not more than that. Is it unreasonable to ask for enough time to cook, look after and play with our children? I don't think Singaporeans are even asking for a 38 hrs work-week like many Aussies enjoy.

Instead of looking at the real concerns of the people, PM Lee as usual applies the same fear tactics that his father used to do effectively in his ruling days. The bogeyman will always exist. It used to be Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong. Today, it is China, India and Vietnam. It could be anyone tomorrow, applicable to your children who may be working 50 hours or more a week by then, just to keep up with their affordable HDB flats. The PM has no solutions, other than applying more pressure on a never-ending grind. 


  1. As you wrote, "It used to be Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong. Today, it is China, India and Vietnam."

    It seems that being "cheaper, faster, better" did not help Singapore move up the value-add chain. We are now lagging behind "Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong" and have to be compared with "China, India and Vietnam" instead.

  2. Ask any worker. If they could earn extra money from working overtime, would they want to do it? Many would and many would even do it with a smile. I know I would. I know of a man who loved to work overtime because he got paid 1.5x his regular rate. It was worth it. Now ask any worker if they would do overtime without overtime pay. What do you think they'd say?

    Probably, "Damn, I need more work-life balance."

  3. Many Prime Ministers and Presidents in other more advanced countries run their countries and economies without the assistance of multiple deputies and/or ministers -without- portfolio. But the PM of Singapore runs one of the smallest countries in the world with numerous deputies and ministerial assistants. Surely his workload cannot be more abundant or complex compared to PM's in the other more advanced countries. And yet he pays himself the world's highest salary for politicians. Surely he knows about work-life balance more than anyone in the world!

  4. Strange he's talking about work-life balance as having a negative effect on the Singapore economy.
    Does he not know that there's a Work-Life balance champion in every ministry. (At least a DS level person). A eat with your family day every year to encourage staff to head home early? (although only once a year.)
    Why promote those Work-Life balance with a Champion in each ministry if that's what he's really thinking. Will those 'champions' who promoted it a tad too enthusiastically now have 'black marks' for going against the secret wishes of the man?

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. In Singapore, there is no such thing as a balance. It's all work. And work, and work and work.

    Movers Singapore

  7. Hi there

    You know for old timers like me, whenever someone says PM Lee, my instinctive image is of LKY not LSL since the latter was never my PM before I left Singapore...

    I always wondered if LKY ever asked LSL to justify his $2.2M pa salary (previously $3.8M) since his father must have been paid much less...

    1. Sorry

      I meant LHL (see what I mean?)

      BTW someone has been posting interesting answers on the wiki answers about LKY