2021 was the darkest year I’ve lived through yet. The pandemic. Government responses to the pandemic. Ever-changing policies and advisories. Supply chain crisis. Inflation of the US dollar. Growing societal divisions. We’re going to see the effects spill over into the coming year.
2022 will demand the most and the best of us. Courage. Motivation. Serenity. Creativity. Passion. Leadership.
Do not hope for others to save you. We must find a way to survive the coming year—and to thrive.
The Coming Crunch
A great termination is coming to Singapore.
According to a survey of 1002 workers, 24% of Singaporean workers plan to resign in the first half of 2022. 49% are unsure if they would stay in their jobs. The pandemic looms large over the workforce, with 42% of respondents thinking about leaving their jobs and citing the pandemic as a factor. Other major contributing factors include disliking their current job (49%), increased stress (46%), workload (44%), burnout (33%) and isolation (20%).
As of time of writing, 52000 employees remain unvaccinated against Covid. They will be barred from returning to the workplace starting 15 January. Partially-vaccinated workers have until 31 January to complete their vaccination regimen. If they cannot be redeployed to remote work positions, they risk being placed on no pay leave or being terminated outright. Terminating an employee for not being vaccinated would not be considered wrongful dismissal.
The Ministry of Manpower says termination is a ‘last resort’. That’s not happening on the ground. I have received stories of people who’ve been placed on no-pay leave in preparation for termination, have already been fired, or have been reassigned to duties that demand physical presence—in other words, forcing them to choose between the jab and their jobs. And all this took place before the latest advisory. With the latest advisory, these stories are coming in thicker and faster than before.
Everybody knows that it’s only a matter of time before the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated are completely banished from offices and workplaces. They may not necessarily lose their jobs altogether, but Singapore is a culture that prizes face time in the office and respect for authority. Even if they keep their jobs, their promotion prospects will be stunted, as will their bonuses and other incentives.
I expect to see three major waves of unemployment in the coming months. The first will take place on 17 January, the Monday after unvaccinated employees are terminated. The second will be on 1 February, when the remaining partially-vaccinated employees are also removed from the workplace. The third wave will take place over the next three to six months, as ‘no pay leave’ transitions into formal termination. Mass resignations will likely take place after Chinese New Year, after workers receive salaries, bonuses, red packets and other such incentives. Potentially thousands, or even tens of thousands, of workers will either be fired or will leave their jobs over the next half-year.
The economic impact of so many workers losing their jobs all at once cannot be underestimated. While the mass resignations and terminations may represent only a small fraction of the workforce, that is still thousands of families affected, which means the lives of tens or even hundreds of thousands of people will be affected. It would represent a significant drop in household incomes. As more and more workers resign or are terminated, the labour crunch is going to get worse.
The blowback will spread across every industry in the nation, and touch the lives of everyone. Increased prices and household bills. Rising unemployment. Reduced spending. Rising inflation. Small businesses forced to shut down. Relocation of international businesses. Reduced capacity to deliver goods and services. Constrained expansion of businesses. With Singapore being the most expensive city in Asia, low-income workers and their families are going to bear the greatest burden. Compounding this is the ongoing supply chain crisis, inflation of the US dollar, and the planned GST hike from 7 to 9 percent in 2022.
The above photograph was taken at Orchard Xchange on Christmas Day. The underground shopping strip, right next to one of Singapore’s largest malls, is a ghost town. The situation has been ongoing since June, and the other Xchanges aren’t exempt. It could be a taste of what’s to come in malls and small shops across Singapore.
The pandemic will blow over sooner or later. I’m confident that Omicron spells the beginning of the end, as Covid becomes increasingly less deadly. If the next variant confirms Covid’s evolutionary path towards decreased lethality, then the world will finally be able to confidently exit the pandemic.
The impact of the Great Termination will be more keenly felt, and will linger for a longer time.
Under regular economic circumstances, employers may seek to relieve a labour crunch by offering higher salaries and better incentives to attract manpower. It won’t happen here. With the unvaccinated permanently barred from the market, it will take longer to fill in manpower gaps. The unvaccinated won’t be able to find jobs that demand physical presence. Even if those vacancies are filled, employers will seek to pass on the labour costs to the customers through increased prices. The impact of such a move is not governed by the laws of biology; it can merely be attempted to be predicted through the theory of economics.
This worst case scenario may not come to pass. But we have to plan as though it will. We can always scale back our plans should the worst fail to occur. It is much harder to scale up if things are worse than expected.
Being fired from your job carries a stigma. Being fired for refusing to take the vaccine makes it worse. Whatever a person’s reason may be for refusing to take the vaccine, from a Singaporean’s perspective, this signals noncompliance, stubbornness, and nonconformity.
In a nation that prizes compliance and conformity, this is the ultimate social sin.
Don’t make trouble. Don’t stand out. Just keep your head down, do your job, stay away from sensitive topics, and you’ll live a comfortable life. Everybody knows this.
I grew up with the chase for the 5Cs: cash, car, credit card, condominium, country club membership. The never-ending pursuit of material wealth defined my childhood days. The pathway to wealth was narrowly defined: study hard, get good grades, get a good job. The educational pathway was also equally narrow: there is only one correct way or one correct method to answer questions, the only purpose of education is to prepare for the working world, and all instructions must be obeyed without question.
Step outside this path and no one will help you.
Even as a teen, I saw where that pathway led: No U-Turn Syndrome. Coined by Sim Wong Hoo, founder of Creative Technology, the term describes the Singaporean mindset of compliance with higher authorities. In some countries, drivers are allowed to make U-turns everywhere except where there is a no U-turn sign. In Singapore, drivers may only make a U-turn if there is a U-turn sign. Between red tape and a culture of compliance, creativity and entrepreneurship is heavily stifled. Even the very idea of doing something different, of going it alone without the approval of the higher-ups, is alien to most people.
Go along to get along has been the mantra of the average Singaporean. But what if you can’t do it anymore? What if you won’t?
Being terminated for refusing the vaccine will be a scarlet letter. Even after the pandemic is over, I expect many employers to hire only the vaccinated. From the employer’s perspective, if an employee were stubborn enough to resist mass pressure to get the vaccine, and is willing to sacrifice his job for it, he won’t make for a good employee. That is to say, he isn’t likely to be loyal and compliant. The government may, in the fullness of time, lift the guideline allowing employers to hire only the vaccinated, and it may even formally ban vaccine discrimination, but everybody knows that what the law says and what is practiced on the ground don’t always coincide.
The unvaccinated cannot hope to get their jobs back after the pandemic. To an employer, he is not a human, but a human resource, and there are plenty of vaccinated resources out there. There is no reason to retain or re-hire someone who has demonstrated defiance, or may cause trouble in the future.
From the employee’s perspective, an employer willing to pressure an employee into resignation or compliance is an employer who is prepared to do so again. Should an employer reach out to him after the pandemic seeking to re-hire him, he would naturally view the employer with grave suspicion. Any re-employment period must be treated as tenuous at best, lasting only as long as it would take to train up his vaccinated replacement.
If you’re prepared to lose your job over the vaccine requirements, then you must also be prepared to create your own job. Or, at least, be prepared to work for people who will not discriminate against you.
This requires breaking away from the Singaporean mindset.
The Mindset Game
For weeks I have been harping on the importance on creating a parallel economy. This is why we need it. While it is geared towards surviving the pandemic era, you must be prepared to scale it to last decades, even generations. This requires a different mindset from the rest of society.
You need to reprogram yourself. You need to unplug yourself from everything that causes and contributes to NUTS. You need to tap into your skills, talents and experiences. With your own wisdom, by your own hands, you need to forge your own path in life.
Or you need to work with people who don’t discriminate against you.
The Opposition has remained silent. The unions agree with the government. The legal community has said nothing. You cannot hope for any institution to save you. You cannot even hope to remain eligible for the Covid Recovery Grant.
You need to save yourself.
You need to create your own wealth.
You may hear stories of people with astronomical salaries, big houses, and other material comforts. But what is the price they have to pay? Working 80-hour workweeks with unpaid overtime, separation from families, manipulative and unappreciative employers who will find any reason to drop them whenever they become inconvenient, the constant specter of new regulations and new policies over their heads.
That’s not wealth.
Wealth is more than just a fat bank account and nice toys. It is health, strong relationships with friends and family, freedom from worries about debt, bills and sudden expenses. It is the ability to pursue the higher and finer things in life, to grow as a person, to be of greater value to everyone around you.
The most important aspect of wealth is time. It is the one thing you cannot buy. What use is a million-dollar salary, a big house, a fleet of luxury cars, a private jet and a staff of lackeys if you’re constantly working and have no time for your loved ones? You may be materially comfortable, but what’s the point if you cannot buy what is important in life?
Wealth should free up your life so you have the time and energy to focus on what is important. Instead of chasing status symbols and figures in a bank account, you should create the kind of wealth that frees you to be the best person you can be, to and for everyone around you. It doesn’t necessarily mean making a mound of money, but it does mean eliminating all your financial worries so you can be happy and be of service to others.
Creating your own wealth requires a significant mindset shift. The secret to wealth is that you cannot do what everybody else is doing, especially in Singapore. Everyone knows the way of studying hard and working hard. But if you can’t walk that way anymore, you cannot think as though you are still on that path.
Everything flows from the mind. Everything you do influences the state of your life—finances, health, relationships—and everything you do stems from your thoughts and beliefs.
To create wealth, you need to solve problems. The bigger the problem, the more people you help, the more wealth you create.
Look at your skill sets and experiences. What is a good fit for you? What problems can you solve that people are willing to pay you for? Or if you’d rather be an employee, how can you help people looking to solve problems? Start from this perspective and explore your options.
The labour crunch isn’t a Singaporean phenomenon. It is a global occurrence. But it will be exacerbated in Singapore. With possibly thousands of workers losing their jobs, and likely remaining unemployed for months and years to come, times are going to be tough.
I cannot look away.
The Writing, The Mission
Every man needs a mission. Especially if he is to walk alone in a crazy time.
Coming 2022, I am going to pivot the blog towards mindset and entrepreneurship. There’s going to be a huge number of people who will desperately need help in the months ahead. My goal is to discuss a different way of thinking, a different way of living, and most importantly, a different way to make a living. I cannot create jobs—not for everyone—but I hope that, in my own way, I can show how to survive and thrive in the coming days. This, I feel, is way more important than trying to score political points or preaching to the converted. And on that note, I wrote a book before the pandemic that highlights 10 principles for life, which guide my actions.
Before I was a blogger, I was—and still am—a fiction writer. Fiction remains an inextricable part of my life. The events of 2021 have disrupted many of my fiction plans, and they have also brought many things into focus.
Throughout 2022, I will be publishing Saga of the Swordbreaker. It is a cyberpunk cultivation series, set against the milieu of a jianghu dominated by the Five States and Ten Corporations. Li Ming is a young man who seeks wealth and immortality through the way of the fist, but discovers that the price may be too high. You can get in on the IndieGoGo here.
Work on the Babylon series will continue. I’m almost done with Babylon Black. Once that is complete, I will move on to the final volume: Babylon White. All told, there will be 17 stories in the entire collection. That’s more stories than many Singaporean authors will ever write in their lifetimes.
I hope Book 3 of Song of Karma, Unmasked, will be published in 2022 as well. This will pave the way for Book 4: Task Force Karma.
And now, the question on everyone’s minds: what do I write next?
I can tell you what it’s about. Faith over fear, virtue over vice, courage in the face of adversity. The essential ingredients of a pulp story, timeless and timely, eternal and enduring.
Vague? Perhaps. But I’ve learned that it’s best not to commit to the public eye that which has not yet been finalized. But I will say this:
That which the world needs, I must write.