Of all the debates in Singapore, none is sillier or more pointless than the job-hopping debate.
You know which one. It usually goes something like this: A survey finds that 1 in X millennials indulge in the sin of job-hopping. Some have gone through no less than X jobs in Y years! And they think such behavior is perfectly alright!
After the outrage, a panel of HR vultures descend. They provide employers with reasons (‘instant gratification’) for why young people job hop, warn kids about the dangers of job-hopping (‘arrogant’’), then offer advice for prospective employers who do not want to find themselves a victim of this most odious crime. (‘Create meaning! Fulfilment!’)
Cue outraged voices lambasting the youth of today for their self-entitlement. Cue HR consultants swooping in to sell you their very expensive snake-oil — guaranteed to cure a bad case of the Millennials.
Copy-paste until every corner of the internet is aware of this non-existent crisis.
As an entitled millennial par excellence, I find this conversation frankly ridiculous. The imaginary ‘millennial’ featured is a starter pack meme/bundle of stereotypes and the platitudes provided by these so-called ‘management’ experts who would fail an ‘O’ level essay.
But labels like ‘instant gratification’ or ‘strawberries’ is not what infuriates me. What infuriates me is how the conversation automatically gives a free pass to shitty employers or toxic workplaces—which are absolutely rife in Singapore.
Take for example, this Today article about job-hopping losing its ‘stigma’. The journalist in question identifies ‘toxic work environments’, ‘difficult co-workers’, and a mismatch of expectations with reality as the main reasons why people job-hop. He then goes on to investigate if job-hopping still has a stigma attached.
Do employers still view job-hopping negatively? Is ‘family’ or ‘health’ a valid reason to leave your job after 4 months? (Answer: Maybe)
I’m sorry, but why is there no stigma attached to being a ‘toxic’ company who treats employees badly? Job-hopping employees are a disgrace, but what of the companies whose bad practices are responsible for said job-hopping?
Everyone knows that Singapore is hardly a utopia for workers. Unpaid overtime is endemic, and there are plenty of companies that run on workplace bullying, blatant favoritism, and straightforward abuse—both physical and verbal. There are unreasonable bosses who behave like petty tyrants and bosses who use social media to humiliate their interns for no justifiable reason.
But there are no name-and-shame articles for horrible company cultures or exploitative employers. There are no articles scrutinising the management attitudes that so many have cited as the cause of job-hopping. In prevailing conversations, all the scrutiny (and blame) is focused on the deficient millennial employee, with zero thought or attention given to even the possibility that Singapore’s management culture is less-than-perfect.
Instead, we are told not to talk shit about past employers, even if they were objectively nasty or more dysfunctional than a Bishan MRT water pump.
Instead, best to tell unoriginal lies about ‘personal ambition’ or ‘growth opportunities’, even if you’re the victim, because victimhood is reserved for the LLC who didn’t get their money’s worth from training you.
In short, the onus is on the employee to change, even if they are in the right and the company has every reason to mend its ways. The job-hopping employee is guilty until proven innocent and the company is faultless unless proven otherwise. The debate basically tells us: there are no errant employers, only bad employees.
Just as there are apparently no sweatshops, just lazy, arrogant workers.
Millennials are selfish, impatient and self-entitled, but they are no more flawed than the older generation who manages them, who are also entitled, just in a different way.
For all the talk about millennial job-hoppers and what is wrong with this generation, there is little self-examination or introspection on the part of employers. Parenting, technology, avocados and everything under the sun gets blamed, except their own culpability in the “Flight of the Millennials”, which somehow never gets its day in court.
This is—in my opinion—a double standard, plain and simple. Employees can be held accountable for their flighty behavior, but employers don’t suffer the same stigma for a high turnover rate. Job-hopping is a prolonged national debate, but a toxic workplace culture that churns through employees or piles on overtime like it’s a corporate birthright never gets fingered.
I call bullshit.
Millennials should stop their job-hopping, maybe. But only when companies are held to the same standard as those they hire.
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