What makes you stay in a job? – Choice Theory

In the previous post, I shared about just how money cannot bring us true happiness. This is especially true when our basic needs are fulfilled, there is little return when we go beyond our threshold of needs.  Since happiness can’t be bought but only created, ideally we should spend every waking hour to create happiness. It shouldn’t be difficult to figure out where do we exactly spend most of our time in? – Our Job, at least 8 hours a day, 5 days per week.

To put it simply, to achieve everyday happiness, we should be in a job that allows us to create happiness.  But the sad part is that data seemed to show that most employees in Singapore are not happy with their job.

Just How Unhappy Employees in Singapore are?

I believe we will somehow know of someone who is unhappy with their present job. Some of them display their unhappiness more explicitly, through lamenting sessions, whereas some others drop subtle clues, like lack of motivation and the “drag the feet” attitude.

The result from the recent National Workplace Happiness Survey 2014 stressed on this. With a new definition of happiness created, known as ‘under happy’, Singapore employees are regard to be ‘under happy’ with an average score of 59, out of 100.  One interesting finding was that it reported that among 28 factors happiness drivers, salary and benefits ranked to have the least impact on employee’s happiness. This only further emphasised that you cannot buy happiness with money. In fact, I believe that once a person attained a certain threshold in their salary level, any further increment would only result in a marginal increase in his/her happiness index.

source: ST Graphics

Happiness Index of Different Industries. Source: ST Graphics

Clearly, the results show there can be improvements made to make Singapore’s workplace a happier environment to work in. To quote what Erman Tan, president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute, “From the HR perspective, there is more that the employer can do to let our employees feel a sense of empowerment.”

The question is then what exactly is the empowerment that an organisation can provide to their employees?  Do the managers know what the employees want? Or do the employees know what they really want from their job?

To discuss on this topic, I would like to introduce you to Dr William Glasser’s Choice Theory.

Dr. William Glasser’s Choice Theory

Choice theory revolves around the principle that we are motivated internally (intrinsic influence) rather than externally (extrinsic influence). The theory explained what drives our behaviour is developed by what most important to us. All of us have a quality world which we would like things to be and is conceived out based on the following 5 basic needs:

  1. The need to survive (Survival)
  2. The need to belong (Sense of belonging)
  3. The need to gain power (Power)
  4. The need to be free (Freedom)
  5. The need to have fun. (Fun seeking)

Applying Choice Theory To Explain Work Motivation

In terms of applying choice to work, I would say the first point simply refer to the need to put food on the table. But this alone doesn’t make us stay onto our job as any decent job should be able to meet this need. So what make us stay and most importantly motivate us to excel in our job?

This would have to be for points 2 to 4,  which describe the desire to feed our physiological needs.  As we human are emotionally driven, these 4 needs are so powerful that if these needs are met, we tend to more driven and motivated. An ideal organisation should able to fulfil all these.

For sense of belonging, we need to meet our need of establishing meaning relationship. This relationship can be in the form of one to one or with groups at work.  A good organisation will provide opportunities for employees to interact and reduce undesirable competition.

For power, it is not always related to ranks and authority in workplace. On the contrary, we all desire power in certain way. First of all, Glasser’s definition of power doesn’t limit to authority with the ability to command others but it extends to a sense of achievement and gaining personal competence that you can called yourself as professional. Therefore, a good organisation should always provide opportunities for employees to challenge themselves with adequate support.

For freedom, is about the degree of autonomy. It is the idea that one can ‘design’ his own work that give employees a sense of freedom to make choices. Such choices can be in the form of flexible working hours/scheme, career development and a simpler organisation hierarchy system.

Lastly, for the need to have fun, is about how one’s enjoy their job. Everyone will have things they like to do. I would avoid using the word passion as it is a huge topic itself. Organisation can provide the fun in work by creating meaningful role/ work scope for employees. Employees, on the other hand, will need to understand the rationale of the task given, so to brace themselves with the challenge.  Don’t you agree that it is fun to be able to accomplish tasks that are challenging and meaningful?


What Choice Theory can do to help managers, is to explain to managers that money is not the only carrot they could use to motivate staff. Despite our uniqueness, everyone tends to seek to attain at least one of the needs discussed in Choice Theory. Organisation and managers should be aware that there are various way they could employ when discussing motivation.

Of course, with this short blog entry, I won’t be able to cover everything about Choice Theory. If you are interested, you can pick up this book from your nearest bookstore to understand it better. 🙂



The Need to Work Less for More

A recent conversation with a veteran with over 30 over years of experience has sparked an interesting food for thought. To him, all these years, work has not been a breeze. The motivation, when he was younger, was that to work harder during his younger days so that when he get old, he will have an easier life. However, he shared that as he progresses up the corporate ladder, responsibility and work has been loading him, causing his life to only get busier. Eventually, he comes to realise that he has devoted a large part of his life into working, missing out other important things in life.  Therefore, he urged juniors like us to while working, we should not neglect our family, well being and personal time for own growth.

This advice has leads me to another thought which sometimes it get me wonder that with the advances in technology over the past century, how come workers are still working just as hard or even harder than in the past. Worst still, many peers shared that sometimes the reasons for working over-time might be for stuffs that are non-enriching or not contributing to the true productivity of the organisation. Example is like spending time over editing a presentation.

The reason for OT?

The reason for OT?

Studies have shown that working for longer hours do somehow has negative effect on our level of productivity. With the fatigue and frustration, we are subjecting ourself to less time and energy to uncover our creativity that might have the chance of reaping greater benefits for us and the society.

Working longer hours has also shown to associate with poor health and higher mortality rates. Chronic stress could lead to unnecessary anxiety and worry that result to depression. In other words, we might be risking our lives by working pro-longed hours!

Are you sure you are going towards your right goal in life?

Are you sure you are going towards your goal in life?

This possibly strikes the outcry for the need of work-life balance among employees. But with all the clamours for this balance why isn’t this happening in an instance? David Spencer, a professor of Economics and Political Economy gives five reasons why is it so:

1. Employer Power

The decline of unions coupled with a more flexible labour market (meaning less job security) have granted employers more power to maintain work hours that suit their economical interests.

2. Consumerism

Workers are swayed by mass advertising and sophisticated marketing to demand more goods and services – this, in turn requires that they work more

3. Inequality

Workers are more likely to enter into competitive forms of consumption and to feel more pressure to work longer where levels of inequality are high. Evidence shows that countries with higher inequality tend to have longer work hours.

4. Household Debt

The buildup of household debt, especially in US and UK, has put added pressure on workers to work longer.

5. Technology

Gadgets such as iPhones and laptops have meant that workers an be at work even when commuting to and from work or at home.


No matter what reason you are working for, your passion, business, money, do remember that it should not be eating up your entire time. Other aspects of life are equally important such as your health, your relationship with family and friends, your own personal time for growth and creativity. All these will give you a complete and better life and for sure, your level of happiness and satisfaction will be higher. In turn, your company will stand to benefit from having happy and satisfied employees around in the organisation.


A Thought on Work-Life Balance

Liew Mun Leong

To me, work life balance is not easy. Since it is not a zero-sum game (quoting ex-CapitaLand CEO), then naturally it won’t be balance, ain’t so?

He is a believer of principled pragmatism where it defines ” is being practical yet not sacrificing your core values.” Our founding father used the same approach in making unpopular but appropriate decisions that has largely account for the success of what Singapore is having now.

So to keep it short, I would say, you have to hold equal values for both your job and the various perspective “life” that you have, be it personal, family or friends. It must make so much sense to you that it is almost practical to do so. This drives down to meaning and purpose of work – do you get to see them?

What’s on an employer mind is that perhaps as workers we demand work life balance, but perhaps what most worker yearn for is just a fruitful and equally challenged work, exactly how we fought to lead a meaningful personal life. Both aspect to be equally gleaming having achievements that we can be proud of.

I don’t know if you encounter this word before, instead of calling the desired state of work-life balance (where it doesn’t really exist in a capitalism society), we should have it named “Work-Life Harmony”.

The important notion that I trying to bring across is that to strike a harmony where neither one of them will disturb the status of the other. There will be time where work needs you more, vice-versa there will be time where your family/personal needs you more.

Expectation Vs Reality

Today I witnessed a conversation between my boss and a colleague. The topic is about expectation vs reality. It really makes a lot of sense to me and I have the urge to share with you readers.

Everyone, including your boss, parents, spouse and friends will have certain expectation from you. Having expectation is not a bad thing. In fact, if you take it positively, people will only have high expectation of you when they have high regard of you. But what if the expectation from a someone is too much to take or on the other hand, you are disappointed with someone who never meet with your expectation?

I think one particular sentence from her just strike hard into me, “People are born differently, with different strength and weaknesses. We have to accommodate the fall short of one another.”

Let’s face the fact, we are living in an imperfect world. I agreed with her that we will be too much if we ask for the ultimate perfection from someone, it is impossible. Even we can blame others for their mistakes, we must always be conscious that we are no better than the person we are blaming. We also cannot expect everyone to be just like us, as we have the tendency to place ourself on a perch.  Everyone will have their working style and thinking. That’s what make us human, aren’t we?

So, in my opinion, there is no need to please everyone or expect everyone to please you, it is not possible. There bound to be friction, expectation gap and mis-alighnment of goals at some point of time. These gaps if to be treated positively, are actually a good tool to spur us and the team onto greater heights. We shouldn’t put all blame onto ourself or others.

The key lesson here is communication. We have to communicate to calibrate to each other’s expectation and needs. If you want or need to work in a team, then you will have to digest this adage:

If You Want To Go Fast, Go Alone. If You Want To Go Far, Go Together

3 Ways To Increase Your Income

Is it a dream or can I make it a reality?
img source: urban-review.com

Are you feeling that the meagre monthly pay check that you are getting is no longer sufficient to sustain your lifestyle? Are you eager to find out what is the formula for earning a higher income?

On media and in news, you will get to know of people who earns millions and wonder how they did it? First let me ask you a question, “Have you ever wonder how did your employer/market determines your income?” You might say is contribution, hmmm.. not quite. The exact answer should be value. Be it if you are a 8-5 employee or a business owner, the amount of income is determine by the value you created. So the next question is how can we create more value in order to earn more? Below are 3 suggestions for you to consider:

1. To Work For Longer Hours

I guess this should be easy to understand. When you are an employee and work beyond 8-5 (the usual office hours), either you get more pay through over time allowance (OT pay) or you are being more productive in generating more results at a longer working hours (Assuming that you are a doing real work). Hence the value you added to your company is to  put in more of your time and effort to generate more results/products. Best of all, what you generated has a direct co-relationship with your company’s revenues. This naturally will put you among the top candidates for promotion. And with promotion comes with higher salary and tadaa.. more income for you. Your boss will be gladly to reward you for your hardwork to encourage you to work even harder and longer for the company.

However, the truth is that this method is what I term as limited and a non-sustainable way to increase your income. Why? The reason is simple.First of all, although all of us have only 24 hours a day, we couldn’t be trading all our 24 hours  for money.  We still need to sleep, eat and shit anyway. Hence, no matter how a tough guy you are, the most you can go is working for 16 hours a day? And I cannot imagine how shag you will be if you choose to work at this rate.

Second, let’s say you are in your early twenties and still single, you can easily commit yourself to a few hours more per day in your work to produce results. Sooner than you realised, you will meet someone you love and together you form a family with kids. You realised you can no longer commit the extra long hours you gave before because you couldn’t wait to fetch your kid from school and weekend to you are precious for family bonding. Moreover, upon hitting near 40s, you realised you are no longer as energetic as before as you get tired easily. Thus, you take frequent medical leave to go for your checkup etc. Your boss might thought you are no longer committed to work as he don’t get the same value you gave before and therefore your pay will be stagnant for the many years to come.

Therefore I would only recommend method 1 to the young graduates who are fighting for their career at the beginning stage. The longer hours you put in can not only generate value to make up for your inexperience but it can also be your stepping stool to gain more knowledge and skills from your job. Then what about the more senior or experience staff? Is there hope for increment? Let’s move on to method 2.

2. To Upgrade Yourself 

Method 1 discuss mainly about productivity. To recap: how you create more value is to commit more of your time to generate goods and results for your company. Method 2 on the other hand, will be on efficiency. This will mean by investing your time and perhaps money in taking enrichment courses that teach you how you can create more value at the same stipulated time frame. If you are lucky, your company will send you for such courses for free! and in return, you increase your efficient and thus more value for the company. An example of such courses could be on automation.

Let’s say you work for a bakery. Everyday you can bake a total of 8 cakes from 8am to 5pm in your usual working hours. As a skilful baker, the 8 cakes you bake sells like hot cakes everyday. You realised the demand is high and you, being a reader of spectra of life blog, remember reading about method 1 and say to yourself. “Hey let’s create more value by working longer, than I can bake 2 or more cakes per day!” But you also just learn about method 2 and just happen that you completed an automation course, you decide to put what you had learnt into good use. And true enough, with machinery and automation, you are able to produce 20 to 30 cakes per day and all of them still sell like hot cakes! Wola, there you have created instant value for the bakery and no need to mention, promotion is also coming along your way.

Although method 2 sounds great, but can you do better than this? Method 2 guarantee you to create more value through the concept of leverage to increase your efficiency but it still lack of an impact. So how to create the impact? Read on…

3. To Reach Out For The Masses

Methods 1 and 2, teaches you to increase productivity and efficiency in the context of to your one company or your only business (if you are a business owner). The value you created will only potentially reach limited hands and therefore at some point in time, the income will still plateau.

Method 3 is the ultimate method we all should learn and adopt in order to have limitless potential in creating income.  This method want you to multiply your efficiency in creating more value. What I meant by multiplying is to generate the same amount of value at the same efficiency to a larger scale of people. This way, your value is received by more people and these new recipients will give you a sum of money in return.

So you might wonder how do this method come into real life context? In fact it has been happening everywhere in our daily life, for example the business model of franchising. Macdonald’s , the largest franchise retailer has a global presence hence they are able to sell burgers to every human possible living in this world. Now that’s a lot of business as our world population is growing exponentially every year!

As an employee, you could think of other channels to provide value to the masses, for example creating an info business on the internet etc. Take your hobbies and turn it into a business idea. For example, holding a class to teach about sketch-booking, cooking or even photography. Basically anything! Through these, you should be able to have multi streams of income from people who receive lesson as values from you.


So dear readers, do think about what how you can do to create more value. And I truly hope that you would not employ method 1 for long. Make it a temporary solution and move on to method 2 and even 3! Do not have a limit on the amount of value and the things that you can create as we are all created to achieve greatness and success in our own race!

All the best!