Work-life balance? 'Know trade-offs too'

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has sought to inject some balance in the national preoccupation with work-life balance, warning Singaporeans that competitors are out to steal their lunch.

At a televised forum last Tuesday night, he said the idea of work-life balance has become so popular it is now a tag phrase.

"They call it a meme on the Internet," he said, adding that people who used the phrase did not seem quite sure what they meant by it except that they would like more free time and less stress.

It was also not clear if people knew the trade-offs, he said.

"If you look at other countries: Vietnam, China, even in India, they're not talking about work-life balance; they are hungry, anxious, about to steal your lunch. So I think I'd better guard my lunch."

He did not agree with the generalisation that younger people want an easy life.

"I would not write off young people," he said. "I think there are a lot of very hard-working young people and very altruistic young people who do a lot of good work beyond themselves."

Among the questions he fielded during a one-hour broadcast on Channel NewsAsia was one on who would foot the bill for new policies to increase support for the vulnerable members of society.

He said the State cannot pay for all the measures and that individuals and the community have to play their part.

Citing the move towards universal health insurance coverage, Mr Lee said more must be done to encourage people to pay their MediShield Life premiums as otherwise, others on the scheme will have to pick up the tab.

Besides rules and schemes to make payment convenient, social pressure from the community is also important, he said.

"If you don't pay, there is a certain amount of social disapproval... You're not carrying your burden; you're really free-riding. That is a very important attitude which we must develop as a community," he said.

On succession, he said it was now more difficult to recruit people for politics, given greater uncertainty of a win at the polls and intense public scrutiny.

Mr Lee, who turned 61 in February, also reiterated a point he made in last September's "Ask the PM" forum with current affairs website Singapolitics: He would not want to still be Prime Minister at the age of 70.

A successor should be in place well before then because of the emotional, mental and physical demands of the job, he said.

He ended the programme on a high note, saying that when Singapore turns 50 in 2015, it should not just be "fireworks and parties", but also thanksgiving for a successful half century of tremendous achievement.

In its first 50 years, the People's Republic of China suffered huge upheavals in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution before economic reforms set it on the path of growth, while Israel fought four wars and celebrated its 50th year in a pensive mood, with the Palestinian issue unresolved.

Singapore had a tough first decade with the withdrawal of the British, but found its feet.

On marking the 50th anniversary, Mr Lee said: "There must be a spirit of commitment, dedication of ourselves to the next phase and a resolution that I want to take this further.

"I believe that we have every reason to be confident that we can take it to the next stage, ourselves and our children, and we will do that."

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.