Singapore: Prolonged pandemic tests trust between bosses and workers - and the picture isn't pretty for some

Published date26 September 2021
Publication titleMalay Mail Online

While working from home, Cheryl (not her real name) was not required, at least officially, to be at her desk all the time. Yet, she still felt pressured to give her then employers that very impression.

To prevent her status on communication platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business from turning 'inactive', the marketing professional would go back to her desk to move her mouse every 10 minutes or so even though she had to step away for a while.

In order for her managers to monitor what she was doing, she also had to make all her work calls, including to external parties, through Microsoft Teams. Such a practice, as well as her managers' throwaway remarks during virtual meetings, made her feel like she was being tracked.

'From the things that they said - like 'nowadays, we don't hear anything from this person, is she even working?' - it made me paranoid about myself, even though it was not directed to me,' said Cheryl, now 29, who left the company in November last year after about 12 months on the job.

Then, there was Ms Wong, who had to constantly update her employer on what she was working on via a designated group chat, after she requested to work from home when tighter Covid-19 restrictions were reimposed during a state of heightened alert in May.

The 31-year-old, who declined to give her full name, was part of the marketing team in a food and beverage company at the time. She said that her then supervisors would send her messages reminding her to report to them every day since she was being paid a salary.

Such negative work-from-home experiences - arising from either the workers' own insecurity or their bosses' penchant to micromanage, or both - have led some employees whom TODAY spoke to to quit their jobs despite the uncertain economic outlook.

For Michelle (not her real name), a graphic and web designer in her 30s, she actually changed jobs twice within the last 18 months as she felt that both of her former employers had little regard for staff well-being.

When work-from-home was first implemented at the company she worked at during the circuit breaker from April to June last year, Michelle said her supervisors would keep tabs on whether the staff were online or not through Microsoft Teams.

'They kept hyperfixating on the red dot (inactive) and green dot (online)... And they would use that later on during group meetings where they could verbally scold people: 'Your work is only this much because you haven't been online you know',' she said.

According to Michelle, during one virtual meeting, one senior manager said: 'I know you all at home actually have nothing to do. Very free.'

She resigned at the tail end of the circuit breaker - only to join another company that did not adhere to the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) advisory for work-from-home to be the default arrangement when the heightened alert was imposed.

The frustrations with the firm's disregard for Covid-19 rules built up to a point where Michelle had a mental breakdown one night and started crying non-stop. She later went to see a doctor to get anxiety medication.

'The doctor said to me: 'Is this medication going to help solve your problem or do you need to get to the root of the problem and think about leaving your job?' That night, I realised I couldn't keep doing this to myself.

'Honestly, there I was sobbing away. The company didn't have a single clue and probably wouldn't care even if I told them,' she said.

Nearly two years after work-from-home was foisted upon many organisations amid an unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, issues such as ensuring productivity and developing mutual trust from a distance continue to dog both employees and employers alike.

And it looks like something they will still be grappling with in the foreseeable future.

From tomorrow, work-from-home will once again be the default arrangement in Singapore until Oct 24, as the Government introduced new restrictions to halt a surge in Covid-19 infections, which have climbed to more than 1,000 cases on some days.

Human resource experts told TODAY that more than ever, it is important for employers to focus on 'trust' issues, such as incorporating building trust in their approach to leadership and management.

Ms Rachele Focardi, a future of work strategist, said: 'As far as Singapore organisations (are concerned), if the last 15 years have shown us anything, it is that they are not moving along with the times, creating the best possible environment for employees and adapting to the needs of the new generations is not an option.'

Dr Michael Heng, director of People Worldwide Consulting, said...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT