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No e-mail after midnight for PM Lee

This and going for holiday twice a year are some things he does for his work-life balance, PM Lee revealed. -ST
Andrea Ong

Sun, Sep 30, 2012
The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong tries not to answer e-mail after midnight and takes time off twice a year to unwind.

These are some things he does to manage his work-life balance, he revealed.

But it is much more difficult now to maintain that balance compared to the past, he admitted, in response to a question on whether work-life balance is achievable.

"We all feel the pressures, we all feel the responsibility of trying to do our best," he said.

There has also been a "significant change" over one generation, and it is now a norm to work late into the night. People, he said, are more likely to say: "Everybody else is still working in the office, is it okay for me to go home?"

It is a far cry from the time when his father was prime minister and could still keep "a certain cadence" to his day.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew worked hard but would stop by 6pm at the latest. He would take a break by playing golf, exercising, unwinding and spending time with the family, before restarting at night when the papers reached his home.

"Close up the box in the morning, box goes back to the office. And then, by the time he comes into the office, well, the follow-up has been seen to," said PM Lee.

"Today I finish - and so do all my ministers - later in the day," he said, adding that there are always evening engagements, and work goes on long after dinner.

"And if you e-mail somebody at night, you don't expect him to reply the next morning. You expect the response immediately," he said. "Instead of catching up on the work, we're speeding up the treadmill."

Unhealthy trend

It is a worrying trend which extends to many other professions, he said, noting that young lawyers and bankers from big firms can clock 20-hour days and up to 80 hours a week. "That's really not sustainable," said PM Lee.

"You have to work hard. When you're young, you have to do perhaps more than your fair share. But it has to be in a sustainable way and there has to be time for family, for taking care of yourself."

Mr Lee said the Government is trying hard to do this, with many agencies practising Blue Sky Days, whereby employees are encouraged to go home on time and spend time with family.

"But I think it's also a matter of mindset," he said. That is also why he tries not to reply to e-mail after midnight unless there is something urgent going on.

As for his twice-yearly breaks, he said he usually takes leave for about a week to 10 days, which he spends overseas or in Singapore.

"Sometimes I'm just here at home doing nothing. Or I go and try some of our park connectors, which are a lot of fun to walk along," he said with a smile.

Asked if he blocked out "gadget-free" time, Mr Lee said with a laugh: "Well, I haven't reached a cold turkey stage yet, but when you're overseas and the roaming costs a lot of money, then you have an enforced abstinence."

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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