TL;DR: Your workplace misconceptions debunked!
From lucky pennies and lucky clovers to black cats and broken mirrors, myths and superstitions are almost as old as humanity has been around. Even though most of us now regard these ancient beliefs as make-believe, certain myths still persist — even in the workplace.
Like ancient myths, modern workplace myths are often perpetuated via word of mouth, outdated ideals, bad science or even rumours on the internet. However, if the COVID-19 has taught us anything about the future of work, it is that workplace dynamics have changed dramatically. Conventions that held true months or even years ago are now outdated or, worse, harmful.
In this article, we explore common workplace myths — some more nefarious than others — and set the record straight once and for all.
Myth #1: Standing desks are better for health
Every office has that one enthusiastic colleague who spends half the day standing at his or her desk — no, not as a punishment, but because we have all bought into the belief that standing at our desks all day is somehow healthier than sitting down. Some have even gone the extra mile to purchase laptop stands and hydraulics-powered tables that adjust to your standing height. The COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, has turned many standing desk skeptics into true believers. The logic checks out, too. After all, since experts advise at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercises per week, sitting down all day should be bad for our health, right?
As it turns out, the benefits of standing desks are still up in the air. According to a Harvard study, standing for an hour burns about 88 calories, which is about eight calories more than sitting for an hour. This means that using a standing desk for three hours burns just an extra 24 calories, which is roughly equivalent to the amount of calories found in a carrot. Worse is when people go overboard and spend the entire day standing. Experts from the same Harvard study warned that prolonged standing could ‘lead to swelling of the feet and ankles, and compression of the spine’.
Myth #2: Robots are taking over all our jobs
You’ve seen such headlines before. Some online articles claim that robots could take over 20 million jobs by 2030, while others say that robots are already stepping into the jobs left behind by 60 million Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. The truth of the matter is a little more complicated than that.
Technology doesn’t have to be the enemy of all mankind at the workplace. In fact, if not for technology, humans would still be using buffalos to plough the fields and horses to pull carriages. Besides, there are still many things that humans do way better than our artificial counterparts. Even though automation is taking over smart warehouses along global supply chains, Amazon continues to employ massive human workforces because robots are (at least for now) unable to perform the picking and stowing operations that require human-level perception and dexterity. As such, to say that they are taking over all our jobs is, at least for now, premature.
With that said, there are winners and losers in the future of work. While technology will likely replace routine, predictable tasks, others will likely be future proof for the long haul. According to this article, winners include “skilled trade workers”, “workers whose occupations require the development of deep, sophisticated relationships with other people”, as well as “intellectual work that is creative or activities that are otherwise genuinely non-routine and unpredictable in nature”.
Myth #3: Foreigners are taking over Singaporeans’ jobs
This is a big one. Many Singaporeans are concerned that foreigners are taking away their jobs, which is strange because Singaporeans also understand that immigration, by and large, is good for the economy — we are clearly a contradictory bunch. At any rate, concerns were loud enough for then Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing to address it directly in Parliament.
According to the Ministry of Manpower, local employment has been growing every year since 2010 — even in 2020, which saw one of the worst unemployment rates in Singapore’s history. On the other hand, foreign employment (minus foreign domestic workers) dropped by nearly 200,000 in 2020. The myth got so bad, in fact, that the Ministry of Manpower even had to put up an article to refute similar claims made by certain websites in 2018.
Myth #4: Longer work hours means more productivity
Chinese tech tycoon Jack Ma famously said it was a “blessing” for workers to be part of the so-called “996 work culture” — that is, working from 9am to 9pm six days a week. However, does working longer hours truly equate to more productivity?
First of all, the most productive countries don’t seem to correlate with the most overworked ones. Research conducted by the Draugiem Group also tracked employees’ productivity on a traditional nine-to-five work schedule and discovered that the most productive employees weren’t necessarily the ones that worked longer than others. Instead, they all worked less than eight hours every day, with regular breaks in between.
So when that work email comes in at 11pm, ask yourself: is this urgent, or can it wait? Most of the time, working overtime is not going to win you any awards. It’s just going to make you the most exhausted person in the room tomorrow.
Myth #5: Singapore raised its retirement age because it doesn’t want us to stop working
Here is the biggest myth of all: the government raised retirement and re-employment ages for Singapore workers so that we could work till we die.
The fact is that raising the retirement and re-employment ages is not an evil, master plan to work Singaporeans into the grave. Instead, it is to prevent employers from terminating an employee on grounds of age before the statutory retirement age. This is especially necessary, considering that 25% of the resident labour force was aged 55 years old and above in 2020 — up from 16.5% just a decade ago. With the workforce getting older, it wouldn’t make sense, then, for large swaths of the population to be forced into retirement even if they are willing and able to keep on working.
Ultimately, Singapore wants happy, healthy workers. If you have the means to retire by 65 years old, by 55 years old or by 50 years old, by all means, go ahead! Enjoy your retirement! You deserve every cent that you have earned. If you are nearing your retirement age but want to keep working, learning and growing, there are resources where you can gain access to libraries of courses which are specially curated according to research on the in-demand skills coveted by employers in Singapore!
For those who want to keep going because they find meaning in the work they do, raising the retirement and re-employment ages is not a punishment — it is a protection, or a reassurance that, if you want to continue doing something that you love, you can.