Why Singaporeans Go To Work When They’re Sick

Go to work when ill

I try to avoid taking trains during peak hours as it’s near impossible to escape when another passenger near me sneezes or coughs. Trapped in that impossibly small space, one either risks inhaling the airborne viruses or hold one’s breath till the next station and flee from the train. Singapore does not have a culture of being civic-minded, unlike countries like Taiwan and Japan, where people wear face masks whenever they are ill. In fact, if you cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, you are already very “polite”/”cultured”. So many people sneeze, cough and clear their throat with zero consideration for the people around them. But have you ever wondered why Singaporeans go to work even when they are ill?

#1: Too Much Work To Do / The Company Cannot Do Without Me

Some people are genuinely good-natured and do not want to trouble others to cover their duties for them. In other words, paiseh lah. Perhaps it’s a special project that the team has been working on for the past few months and today’s D-Day and everything has to go smoothly? Perhaps, too, you may not want others claiming the credit for the project’s success (during your absence)?

#2: For A ‘Wayang’ Show For The Boss

During my JC days, there was a tutor who “taught” us many things such as how to “act busy”. The tutor also taught us how to make our (future) bosses impressed by our work ethic and dedication to the job. One day, he was down with the flu but still came to teach, and when he had to leave for an urgent meeting with the Principal, he brought along AN ENTIRE BOX of tissues even though there was probably no real need for the whole box. But for dramatic effect, it worked. I heard he got multiple promotions later down the road.

#3: To Score That ‘No Sick Leave’ Bonus

Some companies offer staff a bonus if they go an entire month without taking sick leave. On one hand, it provides employees with an incentive to stay fit and healthy, and for the company’s operations to run smoothly as people do not go on medical leave for any little ailment. On the flipside, it means that employees who are ill may still come to work if their condition is not so severe that they cannot get out of bed. What this also means is that if they have a contagious virus (such as the flu virus), they’ll likely end up sharing the love within the office. If you have a performance appraisal coming up, you’ll also not want to have your superior take special notice of your absence due to sick leave either.

#4: Because Your Boss Is A Slave Driver

Someone told me that his slave driver manager once told the office that “If you are fit enough to walk to the GP to get an MC, you can come to work”. Good luck to that manager when he eventually falls ill. It means he’s probably in hospital if he isn’t in the office.


Ever wondered why Singaporeans don’t wear masks when they are ill?

Excuse #1: It’s not comfortable.

Excuse #2: Worry about being ostracized. *I once wore a mask while on a train and a lady was about to take the seat next to mine – her butt was already hovering over the seat – when she noticed my mask, and hurriedly walked away. I’m not complaining. I love the extra space 😀

Excuse #3: “Trapped germs not dispelled from body” – easily the weirdest excuse I’ve heard thus far. But I guess it’s also why some people don’t cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze; they don’t want the “germs” on their hands.

Whatever your excuse may be, do note that for the sake of the people around you, you really should put on a mask and practise proper hygiene and be considerate. If you’re ill, stay home. You’ll recover faster with adequate rest too! 😛