Amanda (not her real name) arrived in Singapore weeks ago. She did not have it easy at the Immigration area. She was asked to proceed to a room where several other Filipinos were waiting to be interviewed by an officer. She was asked to produce proof of income and employment among others. She was already stressed as the plane was due to leave in about 30 minutes.
After what seemed like three grueling hours, she was released from the office with a reminder for her to email some documents the officer had asked for. Before the pandemic, the 30-year-old licensed civil engineer in the Philippines was working in the United Arab Emirates. Her monthly salary would be delayed for two, sometimes, four months, which prompted her to come home to her family in Mindoro. Then the pandemic happened. She became a mom. Determined to give her child and family a better life than what her home country can offer, she had asked for her partner’s and family’s blessing to try her luck abroad again. The immigration officer had an inkling that Amanda—who had a return ticket dated three days after her arrival in SG—will be one of the countless others who travel abroad as a tourist, yet with the intention to seek a job. This is old news after all.
The unemployment rate in the Philippines sits at 6 percent in May 2022, according to a report released by the Philippine Statistics Authority on July 7. Nearly three million Filipinos in the labor force were unemployed in June 2022, the same as that in May. In June, the number of jobless Filipinos increased to 2.99 million from 2.93 million in May as more people joined the labor force. In May, the employment rate was estimated at 94.0 percent or 94 in every 100 persons in the labor force were either employed or had a business.
The Great Resignation
On the other side of this spectrum is “The Great Resignation” movement among employed people all over the world. What drives them to do so even without a fallback or safety net? There are several factors. In the article published on BBC’s website on August 19, the author noted that “even with COVID restrictions mostly lifted and the pandemic waning in many countries, the resignation letters are still piling up. Despite widespread predictions of a slowdown, data shows not only are people still leaving positions in spades, but many workers who haven’t resigned yet plan to do so in the coming months.”
Two factors could be fueling this trend, it stated. In her words: “While the pandemic served as the trigger, the seeds of the Great Resignation were sown well before—and until the deep-rooted factors causing workers to quit are addressed, resignations are unlikely to subside. People are also now looking at work and the role they want it to play in their lives in a different way, and switching to jobs that better align with their new values. And, say the experts, the extent to which the looming slowdown will affect these quit rates remains to be seen.”
And then there is also this new work/life trend called “Quiet Quitting,” which to be honest, has many definitions. Essentially, people are saying “it’s about stopping doing work that you think is beyond what you were hired to do and not getting compensated for.” In other words, employees still excel at their jobs but they are not going above and beyond.
The catchphrase can be quite misleading. And I think we have to be careful in defining it. The context has to be explicitly stated. This trend is obviously a result of an illness in the workforce. People who used to go the extra mile at work got fed up. Hardworking and dedicated individuals who asked for some time off work were denied. There are many other reasons.
Cecilia (not her real name), has been working at a top 500 company in the Philippines for more than five years now. In the few times we had interacted, she had mentioned to me her dream to visit Seoul with the hope that she will chance upon one of her favorite Hallyu stars. But her work schedule will not allow it. There’s always an urgent task. She’s always needed. They haven’t hired someone who can be her counterpart. In other words, it’s simply not in the work culture; perhaps the leader of the department has to do with this kind of culture, too. Either you put up with it, or you leave. The management perhaps isn’t blind, but they probably turn a blind eye. If you want to stay, this is the life here, if you can’t take it, by all means, leave. The Human Resources Department can find your replacement in no time… or not.
The generational thing
The New York Times article “Working Relationships Across Generations” published on September 24, 2021 perfectly summed up the behaviors among workers from different generations.
“People are defined by the social and historical events they experienced growing up and that shaped them as young adults,” I quote from the article by Jean M Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of “Generation Me.”
“To some degree, what a baby boomer (born 1946-1964) or a member of Generation X (born 1965-1981) expected when entering the workforce is very different from what the people in Generation Y, also known as millennials (roughly 1982- 1996), now expect,” she says. And now we have Gen Z (1997-2012).
In the article, the author pointed out the simple fact that people in the workplace are at different stages of their lives. Many millennials grew up in a collaborative family, academic, and sports settings thus, they are accustomed to being included, having their input valued, and working together as equals. Baby Boomers, though many also like to work in teams, seek unanimity, and are more accustomed to a top-down structure where seniority is earned. Some Gen X workers may be more of an “individual role player” than a “team- player” and this may be viewed differently by those from different generations. Some may see this as being selfish or uncaring. Not everyone fits these molds, however, these are tales as old as time, and a lot of people still do this and that creates challenges.
If only we can all try to understand the different mindsets, but then again, even if we do so, people have different attitudes and behaviors. But understanding is a good starting point.
The availability of jobs that can be done wherever you are in the world depending on your skillset (i.e. digital marketing, virtual assistants) has given rise to digital nomads, and it gives assurance and a bit of courage to young professionals to just go for it — surf in the morning, have coffee, then work.
The ever-elusive balance
In my humble opinion, which you did not ask for, striking a balance is the key, whatever balance is to you or whatever kind of setup works for you. It can be work-life integration or a clear delineation between work and personal life. You will be the one to decide on this. Sometimes, you will have to fight for this, and it can be the hardest thing. But at the end of the day, it is your life, and you will have to be the one to set clear boundaries because if you don’t, other people will do it for you.
There is nothing wrong with working hard, but there is something wrong with working too much. There are people who find joy and meaning in being of service to others. There are people whose job is their life. And some of them will be the ones who will say “What is wrong with these entitled young people?” There is nothing wrong with being dedicated to your work. There are people who love working for 12 to 14 hours a day, give them a glass of wine or an hour to watch an episode of K-Drama at night and they are renewed the following day.
But you draw the line when it’s too much. And you don’t expect people to have the same stress threshold. Even COVID effects are different from person to person. Different people of different ages and backgrounds, who have different talents and skill-set, have different ways of resting and unwinding and re-setting. Different strokes for different folks, they say.
The work culture plays an important role. It will also help if the employers and employees will banish the mindset of “you need me more than I need you.” You both need each other. We all lean on each other. This ever-elusive balance we all try to strike in our lives looks different from person to person. But the most important thing is that you are able to identify yours, and from there you can begin to richly fill all other areas of your life which also need your attention.
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