Work burnout in Singapore
A couple of weeks ago, headlines were dominated by a study revealing that Singapore is the most fatigued country in the world. I found myself feeling a curious mix of empathy and apathy. On one hand, I’ve been through the throes of work burnout myself and am able to relate to those with the same struggles. And on the other, I couldn’t help but think, “What else is new?”.
With World Mental Health Day taking place this month, I figured that I’d share a little about the ordeals I’ve gone through, warning signs of burnout which I shouldn’t have ignored, and how I managed to pull myself out of a desolate state without suffering too much damage.
Note: All images used for illustration purposes only.
Destined for burnout since academic days
It’s no secret that Singapore’s education system is one of the most competitive in the world. Kids start feeling the pressure to excel from the age of primary school, a time where they’re supposed to frolic on the playground and enjoy a carefree childhood.
Image credit: Print Spot
I was your typical giant-backpack-carrying, multi-subject tuition-going kid. I used to think my days of academic stress would be over – or at least lightened – when I grew up and started attending poly and uni. A big kid, who doesn’t need a parent’s signature on the report card.
That brought along its own set of challenges. Tertiary education was a time where I could focus only on the course and specialties I had an interest in, and bid farewell to dreaded subjects pulling down my aggregate. Little did I know, this passion was the very thing that had the potential to do me in.
I poured so much of my heart and soul into my projects that they, although able to rake in good grades, took an indelible toll on my mental health by the time graduation rolled around. A frequent praise-slash-criticism I received from lecturers and professors was that I am a perfectionist – to a rather worrying degree, some might add.
Being extraordinarily conscientious and having sky-high standards for your own work sounds like an employer’s dream come true. It starts to border on dangerous, however, if you’re not that great at drawing the line.
Work From Home burnout thanks to blurred lines
Pre-pandemic, I considered myself a highly productive employee within the familiar office environment. Something about the rhythmic tip-tapping of keyboards abound and occasional murmurs from gossiping colleagues worked like white noise for me.
Image credit: Ivan Samkov via Pexels
When Work From Home (WFH) arrangements kicked in, I found it hard to relate to most of my coworkers’ joy of not having to wake up extra early and get preened for public appearance. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I felt like I was thrown into deep waters and left to fend for myself for an undetermined period of time.
Sure, getting to sleep in till 8.59AM was great. As was skipping the crowded commutes and being able to lounge around in my pyjamas in between video conferences. But in hindsight, I should’ve known when to pull the brakes when it came to managing my own working hours.
OT culture is strong in many Singapore corporations, but my extra hours spent clocked in were less due to my boss’ orders and more because of my inability to let go.
I found myself not budging from my work desk even hours past six, my laptop’s screen display getting increasingly glaring as the sun set and darkness fell upon the room. Even during my downtime, I would compulsively refresh Gmail on my phone and anxiously await responses on client emails – as if it were normal for people to crank out replies beyond office hours.
Restrictions taking away sources of joy and stress relief
I’ve painted myself to be quite the workaholic robot up to this point, but hey. I know how to have fun too! Or at least, I’m typically able to, until the Covid-19 restrictions come a-knocking once more.
Circuit Breaker, Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 2 Heightened Alert. These terms invoke a sense of dread and borderline PTSD from Singaporeans, as we recall how our favourite activities had to cease in order to curb the rise in community cases.
During my worst periods of work burnout, I couldn’t even partake in the activities I used to look forward to for some much-needed joy and stress relief. Heading to the bar for some post-work drinks? No can do. Having a meal with a large group of mates? The pax restrictions say wait long long. Going for a spin class to boost your endorphins? Boom, nationwide gym closure.
To add insult to injury, we didn’t only have to deal with the disappointment of new restriction announcements, but the uncertainty of when the impending flip-flopping of national guidelines would be.
After repeated rounds of hurriedly securing plans in your various group chats only to have restrictions heightened a matter of weeks later, it was hard not to feel jaded.
Recognising the signs of burnout, and what you can do to prevent it
One fateful day, I was scrolling social media when I saw a post with the quote “every day is the same”. I couldn’t believe the number of likes and shares it had, garnering a flood of comments in resounding agreement.
In a way, it gave me comfort to know that I was not the only one feeling such despondence. At the same time, it kind of served as a wake-up call that this is not the way to live.
If you can identify with some of these tell-tale signs, you might be feeling as crummy as I did, and on the brink of a burnout:
- Constantly battling with anxiety and experiencing ill feelings associated with work
- Being filled with dread when you think about the impending work to tackle
- Going through the motions with no purpose or end goal to look forward to
- No longer finding joy in things you used to enjoy
Of course, I’m no certified expert on the matter. If you feel that you’re at risk of suffering from burnout, I highly suggest you conduct extra research and seek professional advice.
The way I turned it around was to reframe my mindset and see my life as more than just work. It sounds silly when you first hear it, ‘cause you’d think it’d be obvious. We’re not born in this world to become worker bees!
Alas, that fact can seem forgotten when you’re struggling to stay afloat and on top of financial obligations, family pressure, hitting company KPIs, making steady progress in your career, and the icing on the cake – staying healthy and keeping your loved ones safe from this dastardly pandemic.
Small ways to take better care of your mental health
One of the things about the new normal which affected me the most was the inability to travel. In years past, I kept burnouts at bay with modest annual or semi-annual vacations. There’s just something so freeing about saying bye-bye to all things work-related, even if it’s just for a week at a time.
Thankfully, flying overseas may not be a thing for now but our annual leave days are still waiting to be utilised. Over the past year or so, there has been a marked rise in the number of things to do in Singapore, from going on staycations to visiting attractions to channel that “tourist in your own country” vibe.
Although I can be quite the penny pincher at times, I treated myself to a staycay recently and it did wonders to lift my spirits. I forced myself to disconnect from work emails and caught myself when my mind began to wander, rewiring my thoughts and remembering my new mantra: “there is more to life than work”.
If you’re racking your brains on ways to use up your remaining days off, DBS has a slew of promotions for attractions that are suitable across different age groups and outing types. For example, you can snuggle up to bae and destress with panoramic aerial views in a cable car ride – 40% off round-trip tickets, no less.
With better time management and work-life balance on my hands, I realised that good mental health and preventing burnout can boil down to three main things:
- Staying socially connected so you don’t feel isolated and alone with your negative thoughts.
- Maintaining a physically active lifestyle so you can get the blood flowing.
- Making time for regular exposure to fresh air and vitamin D.
In the spirit of staying active and getting a healthy surge of endorphins, grab a cycling buddy or two and head on some bike outings. Going for a breezy ride lets you take in fresh air and get closer to nature. DBS has a week-long ride pass promo with SG Bike where the first 30 minutes are free, so you and your pals can zip around and enjoy savings while you’re at it.
Take advantage of DBS promotions to destress and save money
Truth be told, everyone has different go-tos when it comes to taking a breather from the daily grind. The important thing is to know your limits and recognise when it’s time to phone it in. Hustle culture has become so toxic that some take pride in having a “rest is for the weak” mindset.
If you ask me, there’s a Chinese proverb that couldn’t have summed it up better: 休息是为了走更长的路. It means “we rest, so that we can advance even further”.
The next time you’re in need of some solid R&R, make sure to do a quick check of whether there are DBS/POSB Card promos to take advantage of. After all, they have Simmons mattress deals to give you top-notch shut-eye, storewide discounts and free delivery for HipVan furniture so you can kick back in style, and free month-long BlueSG subscriptions so you can have islandwide adventures.
Basically, your DBS/POSB Card is able to score lots of dining, shopping, activity, as well as health and wellness deals for you. So work a little less, and work your card a little more. Your mental health will appreciate the extra TLC, and your bank account won’t be mad about it either.
This post was brought to you by DBS.
Cover image adapted from: TheSmartLocal & Pavel Danilyuk via Pexels