“Kiasu”, “competitive”, “materialistic”, “self-centred” and “complaining”: These are some of the negative and potentially-limiting values that define the current society, according to a survey of some 2,000 Singaporeans.
The 2018 Singapore National Values Assessment also showed that of the top 10 values that characterise the current society, the respondents only listed three positive values: “educational opportunities”, “care for the elderly” and “effective healthcare”.
These findings were unveiled on Monday (30 July) at a closed-door roundtable discussion organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). The survey, jointly conducted by aAdvantage Consulting Group and Barrett Values Centre (BVC) for the third consecutive time, was also previously carried out in 2012 and 2015.
Notably, six of the seven negative values of the current society in the survey – “kiasu”, “competitiveness”, “materialistic”, “blame”, “kiasi” and “self-centeredness” – also appeared in the 2015 survey while “complaining” was a new value added to the latest edition.
Vincent Ho, director of aAdvantage Consulting Group, said at the discussion that complaining could be seen as a virtue.
“If people complain and as a result of them, openly discuss what went wrong and (their) different perspectives, then potentially there might be positive outcomes,” said Ho.
When asked to describe their top 10 personal values, the respondents selected positive attributes such as “family”, “caring”, “compassion”, happiness and “humour/fun”.
On the gap between the respondents’ perceptions of the Singaporean society and at the individual level, Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser from the Department of Sociology at the National University of Singapore (NUS), explained, ”I think it’s because Singaporeans hope that society will be like a family, where people care for another…But society is such that each person is for himself or herself.”
He noted that the respondents’ negative views of certain aspects of society may be a form of self-criticism. As a result, this can hold back Singaporeans from “being the best” they aspire to be despite their high expectations, he stressed.
Prof Tan graded the respondents’ views of current societal values in Singapore a “C” and their perceptions of themselves an “A-”.
In a separate section of the survey on their desired society, the respondents listed the top 10 values as “affordable housing”, “care for the elderly”, “compassion”, “care for the disadvantaged’, “effective healthcare”, “caring for the environment”, “dependable public services”, “educational opportunities”, “concern for future generations” and “respect”.
The top five values with the largest disparity between the perceptions of current and desired society were “affordable housing”, “compassion”, “care for the disadvantaged”, “care for the elderly” and “respect”.
A shift from a “complaining” to a positively-affirming society may help bridge this disparity, Prof Tan added.
He also observed that while Singaporeans are gradually moving up the “values ladder” – a “shift from focusing on themselves and circle of friends and family” towards broader concerns for society at large – he noted that it would still be difficult for them to “get out of survival mode”.
“I am not sure we are there yet,” said Prof Tan. “Making a living is the true barrier.”
He added that more specific goals defined by those in leadership and management positions would contribute towards a better society.
“Over the years, comparisons of societal values in 2012, 2015 and 2018, show a presence of potentially-limiting values…Society needs to do better – this is a message to whoever is in charge,” he added.
The survey polled 2,000 Singaporeans above 16 years of age between March and May, using a stratified quota sample that represents Singapore. Respondents were asked – mostly face-to-face – three questions where they chose 10 out of a list of about 80 to 120 words that best describe themselves and their perceptions of society.
Of those surveyed, 956 were selected because they had worked in organisations with at least five employees for at least three months at the time of the study. They answered two more questions about their perceptions of the workplace.
The findings showed that “teamwork”, “continuous improvement”, continuous learning”, “results orientation”, “cost reduction” and “long hours” were among the top 10 values how employed Singaporeans perceived their workplace. Two potentially-limiting values, “cost reduction” and “long hours”, were cited in the latest survey – similar to the findings in 2012 and 2015.
The top 10 values that Singaporeans say define their desired workplace include “employee recognition”, “ home/work balance”, “coaching/mentoring” and “employee health.” Four of the selected values were also reflected in employees’ current perceptions of the workplace.
Ho Meng Kit, CEO of Singapore Business Federation, hoped to see values such as “risk-taking” and “working across culture” becoming more important in the workplace.
“We are just too comfortable at home,” said Ho. “It will be in Singaporeans’ advantage to rethink their attitude in taking up international opportunities and jobs.”