4G leaders must take care of health

The recent changes in the Cabinet saw fourth-generation (4G) leaders promoted and given extra portfolios and responsibilities to prepare them for future roles in leadership (4G leaders to helm 10 of 16 ministries in major reshuffle; April 25).

These changes are welcomed by many, but as a doctor, I am concerned about the health risks that can arise if these ministers are not careful.

The memory of Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat's collapse during a Cabinet meeting, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's brief fainting spell during a National Day Rally is still vivid in the minds of many (Heng Swee Keat undergoes surgery after stroke, May 13, 2016; and PM Lee gets all-clear from docs, on one week's medical leave, Aug 23, 2016).

We know that leadership roles require the ability to work diligently for long hours and the resilience to handle pressure from various fronts.

Do we need to add to all these by topping up our leaders' responsibilities?

A recent study in the Singapore Medical Journal revealed that residents in Singapore had lower empathy and higher rates of burn-out compared with their American counterparts.

The factors behind this are thought to be long hours in a high-pressure environment, a high-expectation culture, determination and dedication to meet the demands.

These can lead individuals into an unhealthy relationship with work that spills over into family life and their personal health.

Long-term drowning in high levels of adrenaline and cortisol eventually makes you ill.

This also describes situation of our young lawyers as well as accountants, bankers and other professionals in high-pressure jobs.

Let us not forget the trickle-down effects too.

Those working under these ministers, permanent secretaries and those in supporting roles will invariably be inundated with similar stress and pressure.

The "no new recruitment" policy in many ministries and private companies means those who remain take on the responsibilities of those who leave, without extra manpower or even remuneration.

Surely, we do not want numerous burn-out scenarios all in the name of pursuing excellence and resilience.

Quek Koh Choon (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2018, with the headline '4G leaders must take care of health'. Print Edition | Subscribe