Thursday, August 14, 2008

Society: The soul sucked out of Singaporeans?

A rather disturbing opinion piece on the Straits Times forum about benefits for pregnant women by Mr Yeh Siang Hui. It is just one person's opinion, but I wonder how prevalent this view is amongst employers.

"Maternity leave not a perk"

Here are some quotes (pretty sure it is not taken out of context):

The rationale is simple. The measure of reward and recognition an employee receives is commensurate with the level of her contribution. An employee who chooses to become pregnant and take maternity leave chooses to compromise her level of accountability to her employer.

A pregnant worker surely cannot expect her employer or colleagues to regard her pregnancy with the same joy and excitement as her family or friends - as, after all, a pregnancy in the workplace is nothing but bad news.

In respect of colleagues, their workload will increase (not necessarily with any assurance of extra reward). In respect of the employer, the pregnant worker not only does not contribute to the company during her maternity leave, but she actually causes loss to the company as she continues to draw pay for zero productivity during that period.

It is therefore perfectly understandable - and human - for an employer or a colleague to exhibit signs of dissatisfaction.

Mr Yeh is not wrong, of course. However, I wonder if his rationality is a symptom of our "souls" getting sucked out of us, leaving us as rational emotionless beings. The US, despite being demonized as "corporate", has a culture that is in general far more human-oriented. Not only will most reputable employers happily grant maternity leave, they congratulate their employees, share in their joy, actually spend the time to visit the family and take time at some meetings to enjoy baby pictures with the rest of the employees.

Humans are social creatures, it should be natural for us to share in the joys of other humans. In the case of employment, the people involved are not even total strangers ... even then, in many cases, I do not understand why one cannot share in the joy of a stranger. In general American culture has not lost this sense of social togetherness (there are exceptions, of course), however I wonder if Singapore culture is going to lose it.


Not a sycophant said...

I've emigrated to NZ. The latest news here mentioned that there were 35000 babies born last year. I don't know what the no. is like in Singapore. But I've noticed that NZ is a baby friendly society. The govt pays for hospital deliveries and stays for maternity cases. Even premature babies requiring longer term care receive free services. I believe the culture of a people is very much influenced by those of the ruling parties. If the PAP has this fear of people having a crutch mentality and finds it hard to increase the benefits for the aged/poor , why would employers be any different? They would similarly calculate the "losses" in productivity etc caused by a woman who decides that having a baby is more important than committing her life to the company. Really sad when I read that ST letter and even sadder when I saw the support given to his letter in the discussion forum.

Chee Wai Lee said...

Hi and welcome!

I think the number of babies born each year in Singapore is slightly smaller but on about the same scale (makes sense since SG and NZ has about the same population levels).

I agree with your analysis. On the whole, myself included, Singaporeans tend to be influenced by the PAP's "practical" approach (once, to the surprise of my Indian and American friends, I got critical of the University Department for not providing stricter governance over the use of the Departmental fridge. Their reply was "they provided the fridge for our benefit, we just have to use it responsibly as a community").

I do not think, however, that the PAP fears people having a crutch mentality. On the contrary, I think they want such a mentality in the population (selectively, of course). Almost everything seems to be managed for us ... how we install our window grills, how we save our money etc ...

I'm not saying all these are necessarily bad things, but it is my view that on the whole, Singaporeans have stopped thinking for themselves, working towards civilized social norms that people generally agree to (like the American "honor system" where you can pay a tip by leaving it on the table), and then expecting the Government to fill every single gap that we encounter in our society.

Last I checked, there was one note of support for him in the discussion forum, but that's one too many in my opinion. I can only hope the mentality is that of a very small minority. What I'm a little annoyed by is the lack of an outpouring of condemnation of his article.

心魔 said...

You say you are annoyed by the "lack of an outpouring of condemnation of his article."

So on your own part, what have you done to "outpour" condemnation of your own? Just this blog? Did you stop to think that since the Straits Times had decided that his article was worthy of publishing, then maybe, maybe it can't be all that ridiculous?

Try putting yourself in the shoes of an employer in an SME. One pregnant employee would be enough to cripple your business. "Give her benefits," you say. "Encourage her to put family first," you say. But will she pity you if your business collapses? No, she would just look for another job and leave you to your mess after parasiting off the resources of your SME.