Remember that infamous statement PM Lee made back in 2013, about having to "guard your lunch" from workers in China, Vietnam and India who're so "hungry" they're ready to steal it?
Well, it seems that guarding your lunch is no longer enough. Last month, Singaporeans were advised to get ready to steal other people's lunches amid growing competition worldwide.
As awful as this awkward turn of phrase sounds, and as much as it contributes to the already debilitating siege-mentality that robs Singaporeans of their tolerance for risk-taking, when taken in the intended light it does make some sense.
What the PM was trying to say was that workers in the current economy need to be aware that businesses face competition not just from local employees and employers, but also from those abroad. In fact, Singapore is already facing some fall-out from the relocation of business operations to cheaper or more competitive countries, as anyone working in operations in a bank can tell you.
For individuals, it's also a reminder that despite having gotten degree qualifications, good jobs are by no means an entitlement-especially not when there might be "hungrier" employees who're only to happy to do the same job you're after, possibly at a lower salary.
So what exactly should workers be doing? Here are some ways you can position yourself to "steal other people's lunches".
Get overseas exposure and learn best-practices from abroad
On paper, we might have a decent GDP, but Singapore has a lot to learn from other first-world economies when it comes to best-practices at work and in business.
We're positively backward in some respects, for instance in our obsessive focus on face-time and the inefficiency of individual employees and business practices. This is clear to any Singaporean who has worked in another developed country.
If we want to truly be in a position to compete with other countries on the world-stage-especially highly productive developed economies-things need to change in our workplaces.
Management in many companies must learn to be more progressive, to harness technology to boost productivity rather than focus only on short-term gains, and to learn how to motivate employees and harness their potential, rather than get them to sit at the office unproductively till late at night.
And employees could also benefit from overseas work stints. International work experience can be invaluable to those in certain field-there is a lack of expertise in many fields (eg. software engineering and data science) because there aren't many high quality entry-level jobs in which rookies can learn the ropes. What's more, in some industries locals get passed up for foreigners when it comes to upper management because they lack international exposure.
Don't focus only on short-term gains
The scarcity mentality has led to many businesses focusing only on short-term gains. When something is in fashion, be it bubble tea, blog shops or cat cafes, everybody rushes to jump on the bandwagon. Copycats are a dime a dozen.
But when it comes to true innovation and companies that offer real value, we don't fare so well.
Accordingly to a recent report, despite the rapidly growing startup scene, only 8.1 per cent of tech startups are able to achieve fast and profitable growth, with 56.8 per cent of them struggling to achieve growth. Amongst startups that survive, there is too little risk being taken, and as a result these companies never really get any significant breakthroughs.
Businesses are also often afraid to invest in innovative new technology that can boost productivity, since the costs can be high and the benefits unlikely to be immediate.
Instead, they prefer to just do what everyone else is doing-hire the cheapest labour they can find, and try to load as much work on their employees as possible.
Employees have also been criticised for their eagerness to chase short-term gains. Job hoppers who jump ship for small rises in salary, those who choose to become Uber drivers for the quick cash over a more sustainable long-term career and employees who can't be bothered to take the initiative to upgrade their skills are just some examples of those who aren't taking a long-term view of their careers.
Take advantage of new opportunities instead of staying stuck
The greatest advances in your career and, heck, your entire life, come when you leave your comfort zone.
Unfortunately, that's hard and scary, which is why so many individuals and companies choose to just stay stuck, even if they don't like their current situations.
We all have friends who complain incessantly about their jobs, yet do nothing to change their situation since they're "too comfortable" where they are.
This mentality has led to a disengaged workforce that cares about their work only inasmuch as it keeps them from starving.
Singapore SMEs have also proven slow to adopt business model innovation, which causes them to lose out on opportunities.
What has worked in the past will not necessarily continue to be useful. Thanks to the tough times ahead for Singapore's economy, change will be necessary to stay relevant. And those who fail to do so could get their proverbial lunches stolen from under their noses.