When WFH = Work from hell for some employees in Singapore

At some firms, bosses send non-urgent work messages late at night, and expect a prompt response.
At some firms, bosses send non-urgent work messages late at night, and expect a prompt response.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Working from home might sound like a dream come true. But for many workers here, that arrangement during the ongoing pandemic has been a nightmare.

At one content marketing firm, employees on work-from-home arrangements are forced to fill out detailed time sheets on what they do every hour.

The firm went as far as to warn its staff not to use the time to run personal errands or meet with friends, and justified the time sheets as an extra tool for supervisors to manage their departments remotely.

"It is quite disruptive, as we have to find time outside our usual tasks to complete the list," said a junior manager at the firm.

"Sometimes, I would have to backtrack through my e-mails and call logs to remember exactly what I did at each hour."

At some firms, bosses send non-urgent work messages late at night, and expect a prompt response.

Others, knowing that their workers were stuck at home during the circuit breaker period, frequently dragged virtual meetings past work hours, said employees on telecommuting arrangements.

One employee at a consultancy firm said she often received non-urgent messages from her supervisor after dinner time.

On some occasions, her superior would text the team's group chat past midnight seeking suggestions for projects.

"Such messages were more frequent during the circuit breaker, because she knew we couldn't really be anywhere else but home," said the employee.

"I would often go to sleep thinking about work."

Observers said such practices can bring greater stress.

But they pointed out that the conditions might have existed long before the pandemic, such as in legal, advertising and auditing firms where working overtime is a norm.

A former account manager at an advertising firm recalled her management imposing a fine of $2 for every minute someone showed up late after the 10am reporting time, even though the staff usually worked past 10pm daily.

"My team had to work overtime almost every day, sometimes as late as 4am. But no matter how late we worked, we had to report to the office every morning," she said, adding that she does not know if the agency still uses the system of fines.

PeopleWorldwide Consulting managing director David Leong said many Asian countries, including Singapore, value hard work and diligence.

However, he added: "Employers must be cognisant that when workers break down as a result of pressure and an oppressive environment, their work performance will be impacted."