A Guide to Singapore Work Culture
Updated 17 January 2023
If you're planning to start a career in Singapore, you need to understand the prevalent workplace culture. Knowing what's allowed or disallowed at work makes it easier to adjust to your new working environment. Even though the Singapore workplace culture has many intricacies, understanding the basics can help you have an enjoyable working experience. In this article, we explore important aspects of the Singapore work culture and outline rules you should follow.
What is the Singapore work culture like?
The Singapore work culture is notable for its multicultural influences and many rules and conventions that guide employee behaviour. As Singapore is home to both foreign and local organisations, the work culture varies across different companies. Multinational corporations with foreign interests often adopt a foreign style of work, while locally owned businesses adopt the traditional work culture. Even if you intend to work for a foreign-owned business, it's still advisable to learn more about cultural norms guiding work.
The workplace culture in private organisations and public sector institutions mostly value traditional local values. A company operating a traditional work environment in Singapore is likely to prioritise social status, the hierarchical flow of authority and obedience to instructions.
Related: The Essential Job Search Guide
Features of Singapore work culture
Before you work in Singapore, it's good to understand the work culture and its peculiarities. Below are the major elements of what the work environment is like in Singapore:
The common styles of dressing at work in Singapore are business casual, professional and, sometimes, casual wear. If you're male, you can wear button-down shirts, long-sleeved shirts, slacks, suits, shirt ties, leather shoes and cardigans. For ladies, appropriate dress items for work include skirts, pantsuits, classic button-up shirts, pumps and heeled shoes.
Singapore's work culture emphasises values of respect and respect for authority. Executives and high-level employees have immense power, and organisations have clear lines of authority. Organisations expect junior employees to accept their subordinate status and comply with all directions.
Multinational companies based in Singapore tend to have relaxed hierarchies, likely due to the influence of foreign ownership. In such organisations, managers and executives are closer to employees and there is room for healthy disagreement between superiors and juniors.
Strict workplace rules
Singapore's corporate culture is famous for having many rules guiding the actions of employees at work. There are rules for everything, from punctuality to interactions between top employees and subordinates. If you want a smooth work experience, learning these workplace rules and practising them is important.
Here are some common workplace rules in Singapore:
Show respect to superiors by avoiding calling their first names. Rather, address them by their title along with their last name, or just stick to Sir or Madam.
Treat supervisors, managers and other superiors with the utmost respect.
Some coworkers, especially Muslims, may not accept handshakes from the opposite sex. In such cases, you can bow slightly or move your head as a sign of acknowledgement.
Keep your emotions in check and refrain from untoward outbursts or raising of voices. Self-discipline, especially the ability to remain calm under pressure, is important in workplaces.
Emphasis on collaboration and teamwork
The working culture in Singapore organisations prioritises the group over the individual. Companies prefer to achieve results through the collective efforts of employees and emphasise collaboration and teamwork. This is different when compared to foreign work environments that actively support individual achievement. As an employee, you're expected to work with colleagues, agree with the group's decisions and put its needs ahead of yours. Instead of striving for self-autonomy, personal glory and individual recognition, the prevalent work culture requires sharing responsibilities and rewards and opportunities with other people.
How many hours a week do Singaporeans work?
Singaporean employees work between 40-45 hours on average per week, though this may differ according to the company and type of work. The daily breakdown of work hours is usually around eight to nine hours per day and up to 12 hours per day for special work arrangements. As with other countries, Singapore allows employees to work overtime, but requires that companies pay compensation. Labour authorities also require employers to set aside a day per week to allow employees to rest.
Is Singapore a good place to work?
Singapore is a good place to work, as seen in the continued entry of foreign expatriates who immigrate for work purposes. Singapore is renowned for its accepting nature, which makes it easy for foreigners to work here. Here are other reasons you might find Singapore a good place to work:
Due to Singapore's economic prosperity, many top companies pay attractive salaries, which is appealing to anyone planning to work in the country. According to Indeed's salary data, top-earning professionals like foreign exchange traders and CEOs earn six-figure salaries per year. This means that working in Singapore can be a good way to increase your personal wealth.
Related: Highest Paying Jobs In Singapore
Singapore has a reasonable personal tax system and requires foreigners to pay a flat fee of 15% of their income. Moreover, monies earned from your work abroad are exempt from taxation. This generous arrangement can allow you to gain some financial stability in your first months.
Opportunities for advancement
If you want to work in a country where opportunities for career advancement are plentiful, Singapore is a good option. The country has one of the best economies in the world and is home to global companies looking to expand their reach and need skilled talent. If you develop your skills, build your network and commit to self-improvement, you may reach your career goals or receive promotion opportunities quickly.
A major reason Singapore continues to rank as one of the best places to work, especially for foreigners, is how easy it is to adapt to the environment. This is a state renowned for being welcoming and diverse, so you may likely find it easy to get used to your new home.
The official language of Singapore is English, so your inability to speak certain languages, such as Mandarin, Malay or Tamil, may not affect workplace interaction. The multicultural nature of Singaporean society and the high number of foreign expatriates means you can connect with fellow foreigners, which can help you establish connections with the locals.
Tips to succeed in your first month on the job
Here are tips to remember to make the best of your first month on the job:
Have a good night's rest
It's important to get a restful night's sleep before heading to work for the first time, so you can deliver an impressive performance. Sleeping well can make you more alert and increase your energy levels throughout the day. By resting well and arriving at work fresh and energised, you can impress your employer by demonstrating your interest in the position from the start.
You want to prepare everything you need for your first day before going to bed. Pick your outfit, polish your shoes if they need polishing and get your notebook, money and identification in the bag. Making these preparations can prevent delays and ensure that you arrive on time to resume work.
You want to dress appropriately on your first day at work. Ask the human resources department or look up the company's preferred dress code, so you can choose the right outfits. If you don't know the specific dress code for the organisation, choose smart attire that allows you to look professional and impressive.
Set attainable goals
When you are starting a new job, it's good to set goals to help you achieve your ambitions for the position. You want to set goals that are realistic and attainable, considering the resources at your disposal and your position in the new organisation. Review your goals every few weeks to track how well you are moving towards achieving them and identify the things you need to do to make them a reality.
Regardless of the information you have about an organisation, you may have a different experience when you start working in the company. This makes it important to be flexible, so you can adapt easily to the cultures and practices that may be the norm in your new workplace. Being open-minded can make it easier to settle into the new role, regardless of your expectations.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
This article is based on information available at the time of writing, which may change at any time. Indeed does not guarantee that this information is always up-to-date. Please seek out local resources for the latest on this topic.
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