Audit Your Conscience

From Mr Wallace Ng's facebook wall:

The story is that a Deloitte's partner put this on the front door of its office: "Our office hours starts at 8:30am, not 9am, not 9:30am, not 10am. Your longest serving partner. "

The notice at the bottom is the reply from an unnamed DTT colleague: "Our working hours end at 5:30pm, not 12:00am, not 3am, not 6am. Your humble servant "

Wow! Such a brave move! Unbelievable!

My wife showed this picture to me this morning with a keen face, expecting a reaction. Then her expression changed, because no reaction came. Still with a straight face, I asked her, "What's this?"

I didn't know what I was supposed to comment about. I had a lot of thoughts when I saw this picture and Mr Wallace Ng's own comments.

Some background

Jen was an external auditor in one of the so call "Big 4" auditing companies. "Big Deal" is what I think of them. For outsiders who are unaware of the employment structure of these companies, freshies join them as junior auditors. There are usually 2 ranks of junior auditors, just our corporals in our army - the lance corporals and corporals, still the same shitty low rank.

After a year or two , if everything goes well, junior auditors get promoted to senior and supervisor or assistant manager then the manager position, a pinnacle position everyone hopes to attain. From there, nobody cares. I doubt that many people aim to go all the way up to the partner position, where they have some kind of stake in the company, something like a shareholder.

That's all I know as an observer from the side.

Our story

Jen was 4 months pregnant when it happened. She didn't come home. It wasn't that unusual, given the nature of the job. But she didn't inform me like she normally would. Her mobile battery wasn't dead. She didn't switch off the phone either.

As a guy who didn't know a thing about pregnancy, I was struck with fear each time a family member or a friend warned me about how easy it was to get a miscarriage in the first trimester of pregnancy. Lack of proper sleep was one of the items. The purpose of that call was to remind her it was 23:30 hrs already and it was time to come home.

I must have called her at least 10 times. I did not do that kind of thing prior to this incident. The frantic built up exponentially with each missed call. Then I gave up. I didn't know what to do and went for a jog. I did jog routines of easily 10km each time around that period but that night I couldn't not concentrate on running at all. I stopped and walked after 2km, pondering what to do.

Jen called back

Then the phone rang. It was just one of those moments when you were so relieved that you could cry and tell the caller you loved her but you didn't. I didn't. I barked at Jen and questioned her. She told me she was in a meeting and it just ended. I looked at the time.


What company does meetings at 0000hrs? The Big fuck four, as well as many companies I guess. Including the last company I worked for in Singapore. But why? Does anyone question why does it have to be this way? Just because everyone complies?

Jen came back at 2am that night and as late the subsequent nights. But the last strand of rope was burnt that night. I told Jen to resign from her job and we were leaving Singapore earlier than we initially planned to.

I could not risk my baby's life for what pittance they paid an assistant manager, or any other amount.

Longest serving partner

Back to the picture. 3 possibilities came to my mind.

1) The longest serving partner does not know his staff works till the wee hours. That makes him a clueless incapable superior.

2) If the longest serving partner knows that and still insisted his staff to report to work at 0830 hrs the following day, obviously without adequate sleep that any human being requires, he is a scumbag.

3) If he was just potting an early April Fool joke, he's a clown.

He's either a clueless dumbass, a scumbag or a clown. Only he has the answer.

"Wow! Such a brave move! Unbelievable!"

Mr Ng's comment roused some thoughts in me. Was the anonymous staff brave by posting a response to the clueless dumbass/scumbag/leader of epic fail?

I really don't want to bring Australia up but I have to. Over here, subordinates have the absolute right to shove it up his superior's arse if he forced them to work over-time against their wills even with overtime penalties payable.

Even for a lowly trade assistant like me, my factory manager has to ask me personally if I can stay for an extra hour or two that night or that public holiday. Each time I am clearly told I have the choice not to stay back and I will be paid if I do. No forcing, no threatening, no emotional blackmail. For they know, every employee and employer in Australia knows, this is how work works.

It is a different culture in Singapore of course. I was one of you back there. I didn't dare to question and I didn't dare not to oblige. No one spoke out. That was how we were brought up to work. My eyes were closed until I left Singapore.

I'm not bringing this up to raise another meaningless Singapore vs Australia debate. I hope to open more minds about recognising the unhealthy working culture in Singapore as the root of our abysmal birth-rate and possibly other social issues.

Who is interested in the problem?

As usual, no one wants to catch the hot brick in Singapore. It's hard to get problems solved when no one wants to admit there is a problem in the first place. Eg. "Ponding" remember? That's how things are nowadays.

MCYS: Yes we are in charge of birthrate issues but this is a manpower issue so please go to MOM ah.

MOM: [template] Our guidelines are such that __________ (fill in the blank) is not a statutory entitlement under the Employment Act.

It is a contractual obligation of the employer to _________ (fill in the blank) if this is provided for in the employment contract or employee handbook. Otherwise _______ (fill in the blank) is subject to negotiation and mutual agreement between the employer and employee.


If you want to put something like "you can choose to leave" as a comment, save it. We fucking left.


  1. As someone who emigrated from Sing to Mel. I can most certainly agree with your posting.

    Sadly, with the Sing gahmen intent on destroying Sing workers, the culture, management, conditions of Sing workers will never change. Why change when you have an abundance of Foreign workers to choose from? This kind of work culture, management, conditions will slowly but surely drive Sing to ruins.

    The silent protest has long started. Just look at all the SMRT, flood and various problems that surfaced. More problems will come.

    Jus one q, noticed any increase in Sing going over to Perth? There's certainly a noticeable increase in Mel.

  2. i had a fren who work in one of the big four, he worked til 6am!!

    it is maddening!!!

  3. I can only say things will never change on that island. And even if they do, it'll take a generation, most likely two.

    The question to be asked then is: "How much time in this world do you have left?"

    Everybody thinks they'll live to see their 60th, 70th, 80th. Truth is, you might not be here this time next week.

    We know, hence we left.

  4. hey,

    my wife used to work in a big 4 too in HK and the hours are ridiculous..i'm now in sydney and i have friends/colleagues who used to work in the big 4 here and i'd like to say, it's not really different. one of the reasons they leave is because the hours are just horrendously long. big 4s operate the same globally, just harsher in asia. ppl work til 1-2 here, and in asia, much later. it isn't any different in Europe, especially france where the law states only 35 hours a week MAX! they still work til 1-2am. the main difference will be in asia, auditors work til the wee hours for many more days than those in australia or europe. and the only good thing about big 4 in australia are the benefits they give. 100x better than what they get in asia.

    true story.


  5. My comments are on the other jobs on the island, not those with the small 4.

  6. @asingaporeanson, not all jobs are like that la.
    These are mostly the MNCs and such. Sure it's normal to work half hour or 1 hour extra, but I wouldn't say it was forced upon by the employers.
    I think sometimes it is the employees' own 'kiasu-ness' and 'kiasee-ness' too.. imagine your colleagues more 'on' than you, you also scared you'll be the first to go if times are bad..
    in my office, everyone works until the boss leaves, but when the boss is out of town, you see them packing at 10 to 5... hahah

  7. Actually it's not only Singapore.. But the entire Asia.. I think...?? I know how it feels like to work in such a long hours... As I have been doing auditing for the about 4 years in Malaysia. And I actually thinks that, I enjoy that kind of life in those days. o.O" I find it quite challenging.. lolx~ I love my job. it's not about promotion but it is just about the job scope. Totally different from account. Account is damn boring. Which is what I'm doing now.

    But... if you ask me whether I would continue to have that kind of working hours or not.. I would say NO... NO WAY...!!! Lolx~ it is a great experience but definitely the life that i wanted..

  8. at least partially due to the authoritarian culture here, i believe. we're essentially peons in the economic grind.

    if overtime could be converted to a financial number, i wonder what percentage of its benefit goes to the...

    1) customer
    2) boss
    3) u

  9. in singapore is work till you die....... long hrs little pay...muti task...up to 13 hr a day...

    ah pooh

  10. From another friend who works in the big 4, this photo seemed to have originated from the HK branch, not Singapore.. but I agree they do work crazy hours!

    but apparently if you can tolerate it for a decade or more, you probably get to senior management and even partner. pay package is pretty good too. better than engingeer, long hours, after ten years the pay still like that..

  11. @E: I am only 3 months in Perth. Can't answer this question. Perhaps the lao jiao Singaporeans living in Perth can help.

    @Anonymous: Your friend could be my wife. She worked till 6am before too.

    @CK: You're right. I can't disagree.

    @Linkumpoot: I'll like to hear about your JB plans, if you are free, email me.

    @Peck: I'm talking about bad working culture in Singapore in general. Even outside Big -f- four, there are plenty of companies who expect you to work as and when you want. You don't have a choice. Some may pay you back in cash or time-off and most Singaporeans think that is a fair trade-off.

    Not me. I work OVERTIME only when I want it. If I am forced to, I don't care what compensation they offer. To make it worse, I am offered nothing by my ex-company but empty promises.

    @Memories: wa, another eligible auditor. work like that, how to find boyfriend? Go home on time lah

    @disorder: Obviously you know what you are talking about...

    @pooh: Save more money, don't anyhow indulge. We exchange our life for that money. Use it to buy your freedom one day.

    @Anonymous2: I am not surprised if it was. It's more probably a gutsy HongKonger did that than a Singaporean, come to think of it.

  12. The question is not about short or long hours but lack of choice. The oz and the west respect individual (one basis of democracy) whereas there is absolute abuse of human rights in Asia, especially Singapore. Look at the dirty office politics in Singapore and you know it is extremely dirty because there is no respect of individual in the first place. The west has office politics too but at the same time there is respect of individual and laws to enforce so it is not as dirty as in Singapore.

  13. Hi, I don't believe you have all the statistic to say that all Singaporean work until 12am. In my company, after 7pm you can hardly find anyone. In HP, 6pm and no one is there. Another friend of mine said they "ciao" from their office at 5.30pm. In Microsoft when I was there for some training, 6pm and they start to off the light and if you want to stay you need to fill in form to state why do you need to do that. Every weekday at 6.30pm, you see the road jam pack with cars and people going home. Doesn't this shows that most people go back on time?

  14. Further, contrary to what you've said, the Government did at least do something. They meet up with Employer to tell them about the benefit of Work-Life balance and I think throughout the years, you can see that more and more company change their mindset. Singapore is in a unique position, if we have law to force company to don't do something that they can easily do in other countries, the company will pick up and leave, and we don't have much natural resources to fall back on. In this case the companies can easily move to places like HK. So in the end it is a lose-lose situation. Through dialog to let companies know that Work-Life balance can create loyal and dedicated employee with more zest to increase productivity, company will understand that it is a win-win situation in the long run and they will change.

  15. @Anonymous: Jan 12: Congratulations for working in an MNC where people knock off on time. That's your world, not mine. I don't supposed you really think the majority of Singaporeans really knock off on the dot just because of you do?

    For a start, read my post again and tell me where I mentioned all Singaporeans work till 12am. I didn't.

    The point of my post is questioning why are there people forced to work overtime without choice and sometimes even without compensation despite their work contract stating clearly 5.30pm or 6pm is their official knock off time.

    If you think MOST people go back on time due to the jam pack cars during 6.30pm, go have a look at the MRT trains during 10am. They're packed with people. Can I conclude MOST people are unemployed or go to work late then?

    If the Government did at least do something, (which I don't doubt), they failed miserably. Work conditions have not improved over the last decade but worsen.

    If I may further illustrate my point, there are laws regulating companies from hiring a certain number of foreign workers on S-pass or work permit. Go to any massage parlour - the clean ones - and see how any of these companies meet this Manpower law, fulfilling the local: foreigner quota. They don't and they are still operating, year in year out. No enforcements carried out to stop them.

    Back to government promoting work-life balance, as with the above example companies defy even when law exists as a deterrent. How much do you honestly feel these work/life balance dialogs work?

  16. "They meet up with Employer to tell them about the benefit of Work-Life balance"

    i couldn't help but think of one word.


  17. @asingaporeanson: It's not only my world, my friend's world, my friend's friend's world as well, a world in Singapore where people seldom work pass 7pm.

    "What company does meetings at 0000hrs? The Big fuck four, as well as many companies I guess. Including the last company I worked for in Singapore." There you go, you suggested that many company had meetings at 0000hrs. Thus implying that many Singaporean work till after 12am.

    My point is that you don't have any statistic to show that Singaporean's work condition is very bad or that they work till very late. It's the same thing as me, in my world everyone don't work pass 7pm, so I can't extrapolate that most Singaporean don't work pass 7pm. Thus in your world, everyone work pass 12am, but you also can't extrapolate that most Singaporean work pass 9pm, 10pm, or even 12am.

    10am MRT might be pack, but is it as pack as the peak hour from 7am to 9am? Are they filled with working adult? You can't deny that evening peak hour consist of mostly working adult and hundred of thousands of working adult pass by the gantry of our MRT during evening peak hour. That's why we need the train to come at 2min interval, that's why on the fateful night so many Singaporean are affected by the MRT breakdown at around 7pm. Singapore only has about 3 million working adult, so if so many people are out there after 6.30pm, then who are working pass 9pm?

  18. i was ask to work ot but i refuse cause i going to die le...

    ah pooh

  19. In my world, I actually see both. People who leave almost on the dot, and people who work late. The difference is whether they want that promotion or not. Some are happy to get a sufficient wage and go home to the family. Others (usually those without children or singles) are happy to stay in the office because it's a social thing for them (ie other colleagues also stay back to work), and they go home to an empty nest anyway.

    That is a very sad culture, that we are promoted based on how many hours we spend in the office with our boss seeing us at work (which is why 'work from home never really took off), regardless of whether that necessarily is productive or not. Even if we are briliant and can get all our work done in half the time and thus go home on time, then we're considered 'lazy' for not achieving even more or asking for even more work.

  20. @Anonymous Jan 13, 2012 01:43 AM: Well if you, your family and your friends never worked a minute of OT in your lives. Good for you. I believe I've congratulated you already.

    You can write a post in your blog that nobody works OT in Singapore because you don't know anyone who does citing the SMRT trains and traffic jams as your statistical proof.

    If you care to read my post (once again if you had already), I did not suggest all Singaporeans work till 12am ("Hi, I don't believe you have all the statistic to say that all Singaporean work until 12am.").

    I have no idea why you keep harping I did.

    @ah pooh: take care. You don't want to be pneumonia again due to over-work. this time, i can't visit you in hospital anymore..

    @Anonymous Jan 13, 2012 04:47 AM: After you are promoted, you worked 12 hrs a day again to climb the next step. The grind continues...

  21. In my office (better restrict to my office and not generalize or anonymous will ask me for statistical proof!), people start leaving the office around 4pm (official hrs 8 to 5). I found that some come in earlier in the morning, have quick lunch and then leave at 4pm having worked 8 hours. I tried it recently (when in Rome...) and found myself in a unusual situation of being at home before 5pm!

    I don't think ASingaporean need to prove with statistics (they are often not easily available, if at all). Such work-life issues have been widely discussed for the longest time in the public domain and the SG media.

    Question is when employers will really walk the talk. Some already do, of course.

  22. @pat : do you have statistical proof that employers have already walk the talk? :P

  23. the crazy working hours or ridiculous working culture takes place here in malaysia too.

    i'm also an external auditor. >_<"

    1. tough luck sister. you guys have to travel even further than external auditors in singapore. i know that because i have friends doing that in m'sia like you

  24. @asingaporeanson:
    I agree with you on the article and disagree with the views expressed by @Anonymous Jan 13, 2012 01:43 AM: If @Anonymous thinks that by leaving work at 6:30pm or 07:00pm is great work/life balance, than he/she should really try to work in Oz. I reach the office by 07:30am and leave at 03:30pm. (Sorry @Pat Jan 13, 2012 08:02 PM: I reach home by 04:00pm. The first few weeks was really strange, I didn't know what to do with so much free time!)
    My performance review is top this year and last year. here, they don't measure you by the hours worked, but by the quality of work produced. (unlike in Sing where they explicitly told me to work more hours to gain a higher performance appraisal. No OT payment)
    I've worked in the private and govt service in Sing and yes that includes working at hp. I have nvr known hp staff to leave at 06:00pm. I was even working on weekends. When a round of retrenchments is rumored, you will see them working till 10:00pm at least. (ps - I'm not a auditor or accountant)

    In the govt service, there is a work/life balance champion in every ministry. (usually a permanent secretary) I can tell that apart from a token e-mail about work/life balance once per year, there is zlich action/concern from them.

    if you are looking from the outside, of course Sing is a gd work/life balance environment. (there's even a work/life champion!) Try really working in Sing and tell me it's not toxic to your health.

    Actually, there isn't any work/life balance labour laws in Sing. The official work hours are limited to 44 hour per week by law. Inclusive of OT, the total working hours per day must not exceed 12 hours. (ref:

    But here's the escape clause.

    These laws are only applicable to:

    1. Workmen earning not more than $4,500 basic monthly salaries; and

    2. Other employees earning not more than $2,000 basic monthly salaries (excluding, overtime, bonus, Annual Wage Supplement, productivity incentives and allowances).

    and any employer that requires their employees to work more than 12 hours (max 14hrs), just download the form and send it back to MOM. Note that the laws do not discriminate between weekdays and weekends. (in theory, the employer can fill in the form and make the workers work every day for 14 hours.

    Also the said act DO NOT apply to all civil servants and any industry/company listed as exempted by the govt. (includes SBS Transit, SMRT, Generating Cos..etc)

    1. Thank you. My personal friend for more than 2 decades had a rather long stint in HP as well. Worked like a horse, hardly left home on the dot ever. Well one friend isn't a good statistic unless of course, i wasn't the one citing that claim.

      I remember an 'eat with family day' once a year in one of my ex companies. They complied with whatever campaign whatever ministry was trying to do. We went home on the dot that night.

      After that, life went on and it was back to OT days.

  25. Hi, was surfing on Singapore Daily and chanced upon this blog. I find your posts interesting and a pleasure to read.

    Just my two cents worth though, I find that smaller agencies tend to label "OT" as the norm as well. When I was a copywriter on contract with a small design company, leaving the office at 7 had to be negotiated. 8 was usually the earliest.

    Funny thing was that I actually managed to finish my work by 4. However, the boss wanted me to stay behind just in case clients emailed us and I had to follow up for the designers (who ended up telling me that if I had nothing, I shouldn't stay behind with them).

    Many times, the bosses will tell you, "No choice, got work to do." But after realising that you're not staying behind because you've done your work within work hours, they say that you should practice more teamwork and stay with the team or that it's advertising culture to go home late.

    I am grateful, however, that none of my bosses so far have asked me if I have "insufficient work" to do.

    I'm a great believer in leaving on time. It makes one more efficient when you push yourself to complete your work for the day within the prescribed work hours.

    1. Hi sister, Thanks for reading the blog. I'm glad it provide some form of entertainment.

      i know what you mean. my ideal situation is that the bosses trust us to leave on time or even - dare i say - earlier if we finish our work. and in return we'll do extra hours when the situation requires of it.

      in singapore it's v difficult to find such a working culture. there is a stigma in leaving work on time. everyone just stay an hour or 2 extra without really working. it's pretty stupid imho

      your blog is interesting. one quick look i know you're the cultured one and i'm the boarish blogger :)

    2. Thanks for reading! I usually just blog about what I want to blog about lah. Hee. Anyway, looking forward to more interesting posts!

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