April 26, 2017

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Authors Posts by Abraham Lee

Abraham Lee

Abraham Lee
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by Abraham Lee

YOU, at work, not getting enough exercise, not eating right and stressing out. That’s going to cost you – years of life and insurance money, compounded by a medical inflation rate of 15 per cent in 2015. It’s going to cost your employer – lower productivity from the time you spend, sick days and medical claims. It’s going to cost the nation – more than $1 billion from diabetes alone in 2010, and expected to be over $2.5 billion by 2050. 12 per cent of Singapore’s population is pre-diabetic- it will get worse.

But who should be concerned about employee health? Employers currently have the most control over workplace culture, but how can employers, human resource professionals, and even employees, build a healthy culture at the workplace?

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No budget? No problem. While the first step to building a healthy culture in the workplace requires commitment from the company’s (or the department’s) leadership, it can be simple and cheap to implement. Mr Alexander Yap, Global Rewards Director at United Test and Assembly Center, shared about how his department, after talking about losing weight and getting healthier for ages, decided to set team health as one of their Key Performance Indicators.

Mr Yap said that it “starts with an awakening” and leading by example. He formed a cycling team at work and started off with just short routes around the company premises. Over time, the team cycled longer distances and more often, at times covering 200km a week. In just five months, Mr Yap lost 16kg, and every member of his team clocked some healthy weight loss.

Offering smart incentives is also key to guiding workers towards developing healthier habits because of the short-term judgement errors likely to be made when it comes to decisions on health. Mr Yap highlighted that since the company became an existing AIA customer, the corporate AIA Vitality programme encouraged him and his colleagues to pursue healthier choices.

Encouraging a culture of health can also come from the choice architecture of our office spaces. For example, placing prominent staircases in the layout of an office building can encourage employees to climb stairs. Low uptake on the free fruit basket? Simply moving the complimentary fruit from the corner pantry to a well-lit, accessible part of the office would increase consumption two-fold. Introducing standing desks will encourage workers to get off their bums more often.

The panel experts also emphasised the importance of not procrastinating and taking small, repeatable actions. Dr Derek Yach, Chief Health Officer of Vitality Group, talked about how physical activity triggers more healthy activity and encourages healthier habits, and that this cycle can lead to more success.

He shared data showing how companies that participated in the AIA Vitality programme saw fewer medical certificates being taken and produced lower rates of absenteeism. There was also a correlation between companies with more active participants in the programme and those that saw lower medical costs. Healthier employees are also more productive and motivated at work.

Senior Consultant of the National Heart Centre, Dr Carolyn Lam echoed these sentiments and said that “we have to start somewhere” and that “that feeling of being on the right track… is addictive”. As a cardiologist, she was more eager to preventing heart disease than treat it, and started encouraging the medical staff on her shift to walk up and down the stairs between wards instead of taking the lift.

These small, measurable changes, she said, help to build habits and it is best when these habits are reinforced with small rewards. When asked how long results take to be seen, Dr Lam said, “We expect a response to lifestyle measurements in terms of the reduction in blood pressure or reduction in cholesterol levels and so on, within three months.”

Perhaps it’s time we started taking our workplace health as seriously as we do our careers. The end of a career is retirement, usually at 63, but our health choices stay with us until the very end of our lives.
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This story is part of a series with AIA Singapore.

AIA Singapore is invested in the health and wellness of Singaporeans and has launched AIA Vitality, a comprehensive wellness programme that rewards members for taking small, everyday steps to improve their health.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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Featured image by Flickr user Ray_LAC CC BY 2.0

by Abraham Lee

DIABETES isn’t a disease you “catch”, and that means that nobody can “give” it to you. But it’s not far-fetched to say that your job could put you at risk. Lifestyle factors form many of the risk factors for developing diabetes, and since we spend about a third of our day working (and for some of us another third of our day thinking about work), your job, work environment and the people around you become key factors in the war against diabetes.

Singaporeans work among the longest hours in the world. In 2015, we worked “an average of 2,371.2 paid hours” – longer hours than those in reputedly ‘workaholic’ nations like South Korea and Japan. Work habits and culture have a great deal of influence over our lives simply because we spend so much of our time at work.

While great habits at work can promote positivity, bad ones can debilitate other areas of our lives, especially our health. Singapore ranks second among developed nations for diabetics as a proportion of the population, with 11.3 per cent of Singapore residents suffering from diabetes in 2010. That number is projected to rise dramatically to 20 per cent by 2050.

None of us wants the lifetime burden that diabetes promises. The incurable disease is also the gateway to heart disease, stroke, blindness and other complications. The most common strain, Type 2 diabetes, is largely due to lifestyle factors and is usually seen “in people aged 40 and above who are overweight and physically inactive”.

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So what are the riskiest things about our job, diabetes-wise?

Working late can disrupt your mealtimes, sleep patterns, and heighten stress levels. Irregular meal times from skipped meals or late lunches or working late “are linked to a higher risk of metabolic syndrome”, a group of factors that increase the risk of heart disease and problems like diabetes.

Stress from work also messes up your hormone levels, including cortisol which increases appetite and can lead to overeating when its levels remain elevated due to continued stress.

Entertaining clients over drinks, or going out drinking with colleagues, if done too frequently, can also become a hazardous habit as alcohol intake is linked to Type 2 diabetes.

Your work posture can cause tension in your muscles which in turn changes our hormone levels. Sedentary, desk-bound work also lowers our activity levels, which puts us at risk of weight gain, which can lead to diabetes.

Fatigue from work often discourages us from spending time in the evening exercising – it’s much more tempting to veg out in front of the computer or TV, and then go to sleep.

While workers should take responsibility for their own choices, companies are also key stakeholders in promoting healthy lifestyles for employees through healthier work culture. Promoting work life balance, encouraging workers to exercise more and reminding them to practise self-care will result in healthier and more productive employees.

It’s not all that difficult to do either. The Health Promotion Board (HPB) has led the way with healthy eating campaigns and the National Steps Challenge which encourages walking 10,000 steps per day with in-kind rewards. In its second season, it introduced the Corporate Challenge pitting companies against each other with cash prizes at stake and setting up a platform for intra-company challenges.

Complementing HPB’s National Step Challenge is AIA Vitality, a comprehensive wellness programme, launched by AIA Singapore to help users make real change to their health. The programme offers weekly rewards to members when they meet their weekly physical activity targets, cashback, discounts on gym memberships, airfares and more to incentivise them in making healthy choices. This wellness programme is also made available to companies who wish to have it as part of a comprehensive health and wellness benefit for its employees.

It’s going to be a tough fight to live a healthy lifestyle at the workplace, but with the commitment from both the public and private sectors to create a healthier workforce, we can win the fight against diabetes. In the end everyone stands to gain – us, the G, employers and our children.

 

This story is part of a series with AIA Singapore.

AIA Singapore is invested in the health and wellness of Singaporeans and has launched AIA Vitality, a comprehensive wellness programme that rewards members for taking small, everyday steps to improve their health.

 

Featured image by Flickr user Ray_LAC. (CC BY 2.0)

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

 

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by Abraham Lee

WHILE the old saying goes, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day of your life”, it’s almost unrealistic to assume that you’ll continue to love your job like the first time you were exposed to it. The lucky ones among us might, but certainly not every worker.

Moreover, although we often glorify the career paths of those who followed their dreams to do what they want like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, life doesn’t always go according to plan. No wonder the old saying has since been ‘updated’ to read, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day of your life… Because that field isn’t hiring”.

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Nevertheless, having a plan for what you want to do is a good place to start when deciding which university or higher learning course to pursue. At the same time, it’s also good to be realistic – to understand the need to also love what you eventually do and keep an open mind about your career prospects as you plan for the future.

 

Doing what you love

If you don’t yet know what you actually love doing, a good place to begin is to think about your own strengths and interests. This will help to narrow down the industry or field you want to enter. For example, if you’re especially good at analysing and handling numbers, and interested in insurance, finance and risk management, you may want to consider a career in actuarial science.

Or if you love kids, have a passion for a certain subject and teaching that subject, you may prefer becoming a teacher. To help you find the job you’re most suited for, you can apply for internships or temporary jobs in the field of your interest, gain the opportunity to meet new people you may not otherwise have met, and valuable experience towards crafting a career that you’re actually passionate about.

With the emphasis on embracing the challenges of the digital age on innovation, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) is organising networking sessions to bring together people from different industries to share and receive insights. The future of the economy lies in this cross-pollination of ideas, and companies are increasingly looking for problem-solvers with skills spanning across different fields. It’s relevant for students planning for their futures to look forward and keep an open mind about how their various strengths and interests can fit into these trends.

For example, through design thinking, an increasingly popular problem-solving methodology, designers can combine their technical expertise with their deep knowledge of their product or company to tweak processes and improve user experiences. While traditional problem-solving processes start by defining the business goal first and working to deliver the user experience that matches these goals, design innovation involves defining the desired user experience and designing the delivery system for the experience after that.

Ms Agnes Kwek, Executive Director of DesignSingapore Council, said that the industry needs “people who are ambidextrous”. That is, “designers who can code-switch between the creative sense and the pragmatic sense and know what can be reasonably implemented, as well as how to navigate the stakeholder environment”. To get started in design thinking, you can consider a design diploma and degree programme, and building a portfolio of projects that implement what you learn.

 

Loving what you do

A 2014 study found that 46 per cent of Singaporeans didn’t like their jobs. We placed second in the Asia Pacific region – only behind Japanese workers, 56 per cent of whom didn’t like their jobs. But as important as it is to know what you want to do, so is learning to love what you do.

While we have ideal career paths in fields we are passionate about, our lives don’t always pan out the way we plan them to in reality. Even if we end up in our dream jobs, we may not always do what we like within that role. A large part of succeeding at what you do lies in putting more time and dedication than other people, and this requires love for the job, especially for jobs you aren’t naturally attracted to. Thus, it’s imperative to be able to learn to love what you do.

We can learn a thing or two from those dedicated to their crafts like Mr Jiro Ono, the 91-year-old sushi chef and owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a Tokyo sushi restaurant that has won three Michelin stars. In the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, he said that he entered the F&B business when his parents kicked him out at the age of seven. Yet, he also highlighted the importance of honing deep skills in becoming successful. He said, “Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honourably.” He calls this work ethic as the shokunin spirit – loosely translated to mean ‘craftsman spirit’.

 

Remain flexible and open-minded

It’s also important to adjust your goals as you become exposed to other opportunities and ideas. Mr Lawrence Koh, founder of indoor skydiving company iFly Singapore, had always been interested in flying and skydiving since his secondary school days and “was looking at becoming a pilot or a Commando”. He enlisted with the Commandos and became an officer. Upon the completion of his Platoon Commander tour, he went on to get a degree in Avionics Systems Engineering at the University of Bristol to continue pursuing his love of flying.

It was during his time in the Commandos that he “developed the concept of skydiving simulation for freefall training… to bring the dream of flying to everyone”. At the end of his bond with the SAF, Mr Koh decided against staying on in what would’ve been a “comfortable and secure career”, and instead “stepped out of [his] comfort zone to do something that can change and influence [his] life and others greatly”.

There will always be thoughts of failure but if you don’t try it, you will never know the outcome. Of course, we cannot just make the decision recklessly. We have to plan and prepare for it so that even if we fail, we learn from it and aim to do it better next time.

He left the force in 2008 and became the first to bring a wind tunnel to Singapore when he set up iFly Singapore in 2011. During this time, he drew from his training in skydiving and the Commandos the keen understanding that there was only one chance and failure brought with it “devastating consequences”. Mr Koh said, “I also planned in advance for what I want to do and also contingency plans. This is to eliminate most uncertainties and likelihood of things failing. On execution, I will be pro-active in it so that we can react to the situation if anything unplanned happens.”

He is now planning to expand his business in Asia.

Mr Koh said, “[You] should pursue what [your] dreams are and set [your] minds to it. There will always be thoughts of failure but if you don’t try it, you will never know the outcome. Of course, we cannot just make the decision recklessly. We have to plan and prepare for it so that even if we fail, we learn from it and aim to do it better next time.”

So, to love what you do or do what you love? Why not both?

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

 

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Illustration by Sean Chong

by Abraham Lee

THE G has emphasised that workers have to upgrade and pick up new skills to keep up with the changing economy.

At a Marsiling job fair two weeks ago (Feb 24 and Feb 25), Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob exhorted job seekers to learn new skills. Last Tuesday (Feb 28), Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran said in Parliament that “a key focus of the Government’s efforts” would be to “support the development of deep skills in workers”.

Yet, while there is a call for workers to better themselves, it can be an uphill battle without supportive employers. Companies can help develop their employees through mentorship programmes, opportunities to pursue further education, funds and other credits to attend courses, and providing paid time off to attend them. To see how employers help their employees maximise their potential, we talked to two companies about employer best practices and their employees on how they benefited from these skills development initiatives.


1. Funds and in-house credits

DBS Bank provides avenues for skills upgrading by pursuing a “Triple E” approach, “providing staff with experience, exposure, and education”. DBS has conducted digital mastery classes and hackathons to better prepare its employees for the move towards digital in the industry and to gear their mindsets to adopt a “more nimble and digital approach” to problem-solving.

DBS also plans to use hackathons to identify top talent skilled in disruptive technology such as machine learning and Big Data. On Feb 20, the company announced they would hire 100 top coders through a two-part coding and hackathon challenge. DBS hopes to gauge technical ability and problem-solving capabilities through the challenge, to “attract the right talent” and to boost its “digital transformation efforts”.

Bolstering this vision is DBS SkillsFlex, a programme set up in 2015 to complement the nationwide SkillsFuture movement. Employees can use another $500 DBS SkillsFlex credit annually on top of their existing SkillsFuture credit to apply for 90 courses customised to be relevant specifically for DBS employees, and the thousands of courses that employees can use SkillsFuture credit for.

Parenting products retailer Mothercare also supports its employees with further skills training by sending them for various service courses and supervisors for advanced certification courses run by Singapore Institute of Retail Studies (SIRS). Employees are also encouraged to use their SkillsFuture credits while time spent in courses are also counted toward working hours. Mothercare helps to cover course fees for its foreign staff by subsidising half and allowing the rest of the fee to be paid in instalments, over a year.


2. Company courses and programmes

DBS has in place structured training programmes for entry level staff all the way to senior management. Managing Director of Group Human Resources Khoo Teng Cheong said, “…we believe in developing our people from the ground up. Building a succession pipeline across the organisation from fresh university graduates to senior leaders is one of our key priorities.”

Of these programmes, Senior Vice President Tan Tsze Shin most notably benefited from was DBS’ Strategic Talent Assignment and Rotation (STAR) programme in which participants spend two years in a cross-country assignment, working in a different role. Prior to the programme, Mr Tan was a business director in the wealth management department but was sent to attend sales courses and trained to better understand DBS products like equities, derivatives and insurance. In preparation to be based in Hong Kong for his new role in the risk management group, Mr Tan also took technical courses in credit management and regulatory requirement. “These courses were largely subsidised by the bank and I was given paid time off work to focus on these courses,” said Mr Tan.

Mr Tan also highlighted the bank’s mentorship programme for its “extremely approachable” senior management team who are “willing to spend time to guide and mentor employees”. He is still in contact with a few managing directors who have guided him in the past few years.

These courses were largely subsidised by the bank and I was given paid time off work to focus on these courses

Mothercare has also conducted coaching programmes. It ran one for its mid-management team last year and is planning to extend another to its store supervisors and assistant supervisors for operations, to equip them with team building and managing skills.


3. Opportunities for further education

Apart from its own courses and programmes, DBS also offers sponsorship for further education in the form of the DBS Group Education Sponsorship Programme (GESP) to those who wish to take up diplomas, degree courses and postgraduate programmes.

At Mothercare, employees with at least one year experience and good performance and attendance records are supported to pursue further education. The company nominated Mr Wilson Ke, an assistant store manager at the time, for the MasterCard scholarship for Diploma in Retail Management with The Retail Academy. He has since graduated and was promoted to store manager upon the completion of his diploma, with his time spent in class counting toward his working hours.

Another employee to benefit from Mothercare’s commitment to developing its staff is Ms Gloria Loh who joined the company as an entry level sales assistant in 2011 while she was still taking a certificate course on retail supervision at SIRS. She continued to study in the subsequent advanced course and eventually graduated with a diploma in retail management in 2013. During this time, Ms Loh attended her classes two days per week and worked full-time during the other five days. She highlighted that the company encouraged her to go for training, provided her with “good managers” and allowed her fixed off days during this time. Ms Loh has since been promoted four times, to her current position as senior supervisor.

Ms Loh said that it was “most important” that her company and family gave her “moral support” when asked how she persevered through working five days and studying two days a week.

When asked whether courses and other skills training impact employee promotions and pay raises, both companies said that the two do not directly correlate and that performance remains a key factor. Mothercare HR Director Pang Shu Xin said that going for courses helps employees to upgrade skills and develop new ones and that they “have better chances for promotion or salary adjustments as their job scope changes”.

And there is recognition, albeit non-monetary, for employers that have “made significant efforts in investing in their employees” in the form of SkillsFuture Employer Awards. The award is open to all Singapore registered entities that show strong support for SkillsFuture and other national manpower objectives, and acknowledge skills and mastery in hiring and employee development. Up to 10 awards will be given out in 2017 and up to 30 awards in the future.

Applications for SkillsFuture Employer Awards 2017 will close on April 30 and can be made here.

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Abraham Lee

GIRL cries rape. And you go: You asked for it? That didn’t seem like a smart move on the part of a local teen magazine when a reader claiming that she had been raped asked its columnist for “helpful advice”.

In its November issue, Teenage found itself under a barrage of fire when its columnist, Kelly Chopard, who helms Dear Kelly, gave what many saw as an unsympathetic response which condoned rape and blamed the victim for bringing the misfortune on herself. Facebook user Sara Janelle took photographs of the column and posted them online yesterday. It has since garnered 1,300 reactions, 1,600 shares and 200 comments.

 

The reader, only known as ‘Liar’, said she had lied to her parents about staying over at her best friend’s place when she was actually spending the night at a boy’s place while his parents were not home. A “great day” of “lunch, home movies and conversations” led to dinner, wine, music and romantic lights. Dancing turned to cuddling, kissing and undressing. The girl, who said it was her first time imbibing wine, said she was unable to protest and lost all memory of what happened after that. When she woke the next morning in bed with him, he said: “Wow! I didn’t know you were a virgin, honey!” Afraid to confide in her parents, she wrote to Dear Kelly.

The monthly magazine, first established in 1988, is published by Key Editions and retails at $3 per issue. It displayed her letter and Kelly’s response over two pages under the headline “Raped after lying to mum”, with the last three words emphasised in red. Netizens said Kelly was placing the blame on the rape victim for not asking “for the lights to be turned on fully”, for accepting wine and becoming drunk, and for not stopping the situation from escalating when they decided to dance or when the boy engaged in kissing her. Kelly then said: “I don’t blame him for thinking you were not a virgin. You acted like a girl who has been around”.

Netizens were incensed and remarked that Kelly seemed to be on the side of the aggressor, pointing to lines such as “You can’t blame him for thinking a sexual connection was all right with you” and “You are expected to know what happens when a girl agrees to stay over at a guy’s house when only the two of them are in residence.”

A tirade of comments flew around social media.

 

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The deluge prompted the magazine to respond with an apology on its Facebook page as well as an official apology from the columnist on its website yesterday evening. Except that they appeared to be grudgingly given and more of a defence of the content and tone of the column which they said was intended to send the message that the girl shouldn’t have lied to her parents and that teens shouldn’t indulge in risky behaviour.

Ms Chopard, a teacher, insisted that nowhere did she blame the girl for the rape and had in fact described her as “naive and inexperienced” as well as “a total innocent”. Her intention was to tell teenagers that they should be careful about giving the wrong signals that would lead them into trouble. “I am gravely sorry that this response has garnered a negative response,” she said.

 

From their responses, the magazine and its writer clearly have no idea why people were outraged. They believe that it is helpful advice to tell young women to avoid being left alone with a man lest they are taken advantage of. They do not think that by doing so, this places the responsibility of rape on the victims. At no point in Kelly’s column was the issue of consent discussed. At no point was the wrongfulness of the boy’s actions highlighted.

Instead Kelly wrote that she thought the girl was most hurt by the boy’s “casual dismissal of her”. “I was careful NOT to dwell on this so as not to cause her further pain. I tried not to highlight what was going through the guy’s mind. I was careful to downplay his point-of-view so as to spare her additional pain.” You would think that the girl only cried rape because she had regrets the morning after.

In its stiffly-worded post, Teenage Magazine considers this episode as part of raising “awareness about youth issues that have long been swept under the rug”. It’s a laudable aim, if the attempt wasn’t so cack-handed. It would have been a prime opportunity for the magazine to reiterate the importance of consent and how a girl’s absolute sovereignty over her body is protected by the law.

As much as we’re tempted to tell young women to cover themselves up and behave properly, we should be equally forthright in telling our young men to keep their junk in their pants and only act on a sober ‘yes’. Rather than responding with “why did you let the boy get you drunk?” or “why did you not say no?”, we should be reprimanding the boy for preying on the girl and not acting like a decent human being.

There is a myriad of analogies that can explain the absurdity of blaming rape victims for what happened to them but none can fully reflect the gravity of the offence. It would have been better if Teenage published something like this below:

 

Featured image a screenshot by Facebook user Sara Janelle

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by Abraham Lee

THE Middle Ground officially launched on June 15, 2015,  one year ago yesterday. This time last year, I had just ended my penultimate year at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and was about two weeks into my marketing internship at The Middle Ground. The renovation works at our office at Commonwealth had been delayed and so the team had to camp out at Botanic Gardens for our official website launch. Fortunately, Food For Thought had all three things that we required to churn out good work – good coffee, air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi – although my lower back later learnt that the tall stools were not for slouching.

I was the first intern to be brought on, and until more editorial interns were pulled in a week after our launch, I had to handle both our digital marketing efforts and the subediting of our articles. The first day was the craziest. Bertha had stockpiled articles for the launch and at some point, we were pushing one out every half an hour. That meant I had to subedit and format each article, and prepare to share it on TMG’s Facebook page within half an hour. I still remember yowling at Daniel when I couldn’t edit everything quickly enough and him pitching in while being equally busy himself.

For the most part, however, I shadowed Daniel. I joined the meeting with the creative agency handling our branding, I followed him to SingFirst’s pre-GE forum and under his guidance, learnt the ins and outs of using Wordpress, Facebook Ads and MailChimp, the platform on which we set up The Lunchtime Digest, TMG’s email subscription list. It was only when I took a digital marketing class at NTU that I realised that my internship had already taught me what the class was meant to teach and more. In fact, instead of the module helping me to become a better digital marketer, it was my summer internship with TMG that prepared me to do well for the class.

Another aspect of my internship was to do the bidding of my direct superior, making me Daniel’s go-to sai kang warrior. I will never forget the days we spent driving from one end of Singapore to another to collect pre-loved chairs, tables, bookcases, an office fridge we bought off Carousell and even a large sofa – one does not simply underestimate the brute strength of a father of six. We turned a dusty industrial office into a fully-functioning newsroom.

Before, an empty and dusty room, and after, a busy newsroom.
Before, an empty and dusty room, and after, a busy newsroom.

Admittedly, I, like many of my peers, had wished to intern at a large MNC – something that would look great on my CV. However, looking back, I wouldn’t give up my experience at TMG for an internship at a large firm. Unlike many of my friends, I did more than master the art of making coffee or writing minutes. Instead, I pitched ideas to the bosses, carried out ad campaigns on Facebook worth thousands of dollars and had my writing published to a large audience. Indeed, there’s nothing quite like an internship at a small start-up, simply because there’s too much to do and not enough people to go around.

In the past year, I’ve seen TMG grow its staff with the additions of the visual team, various generations of editorial interns and also the breadth of news covered with the incorporation of the lifestyle section. As hoped, the company burst into the online news scene during GE2015 and has since steadily grown its readership.

Though I had left the company for school, I remained on in the Facebook workgroup: Offering ideas, and pointing out typos in articles before readers could get to them. I’ve seen that each generation of interns has brought on different skills, thereby shaping how TMG has moved forward. Some have been proficient at coding, helping the backend team to fine-tune how we use WordPress and expanding the different ways we present stories, with various online tools. Others have been more dogged in their journalism, able to track down elusive pieces of information.

I was able to witness first-hand the progress TMG had made, at its relaunch event in February. The logo was upgraded and the website had finally become pleasing to the eye.

This month, everything came full circle and I returned to TMG as a Marketing Executive. In brief, I’ll be managing and optimising our distribution channels, like Facebook and other social media, to get our articles out to a greater audience. But unlike last year, I have a proper newsroom to work in, more people to talk to – and an awesome pantry.

Happy first anniversary to us, at TMG.

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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by Abraham Lee

THE Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS), an advisory council under the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), recently released a draft of digital and social media advertising guidelines on Dec 7. The eight page document pertains to “advertising and marketing communications that use social media to promote goods and services or to influence consumer behaviour”. They are requesting for feedback from the public until January 8, 2016. The draft goes down to the nitty-gritty details of what marketers are allowed to do and how advertisements are to be presented to the consumer. However, while the proposed guidelines try to be thorough, some sound overly restrictive, others outright ridiculous and raise questions on how they will be enforced.

Here are six key ways the new proposal will change your online viewing experience:

1. Endorsements must pass a lie detector test… though it’s unclear who will administer it

What the proposal says: “Endorsements must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs or experience of the endorser. An endorsement must not convey any express or implied representation that would be deceptive if made directly by the advertiser”.

What this might look like:

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2. Marketing communications should be clearly distinguishable from personal opinions

What the proposal says: “The foremost principle is that all marketing communication must be identified as such and distinguished from editorial or personal opinions… Advertisements should not appear like impartial or casual tweets on a user’s Twitter account if they are actually advertisements endorsing a specific sponsor, product or service or product name.”

What this might look like:

3. Disclosures will now be in-your-face

What the proposal says: “Disclosures for paid native advertising units should therefore be clear and prominent”.

In fact, ‘Disclosures’ has a sub-section of its own and Section 3.6 states that marketers must make these disclosures distinguishable from editorial content, discernible, both visually and audibly, and placed where consumers can easily read them.

What this might look like:

(Back to the bling-bling age of the early-2000s we go..! Image from GIPHY)

4. No inflation of social media likes / Marketers can’t ask you to “like, share or comment”

What the proposal says: “Marketers must not induce people to like, share or use social plugins so as to falsely suggest that the contents are more popular than they really are”.

What this might look like:
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5. Companies must be able to prove that their marketing emails are not spam

What the proposal says: “Individually addressed unsolicited marketing communication via digital interactive media should only be conducted where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the consumer who receives such communications has an interest in the subject matter or offer…”

What this might look like:

Capture

6. The onus is on the company to bar minors from entering their age-restricted websites

What the proposal says: “Websites devoted to products or services that are subject to age restrictions such as alcoholic beverages, gambling and tobacco products should undertake measures to restrict minors from accessing such websites.”

What this might look like:

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Featured image by Najeer Yusof.

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by Abraham Lee

AS Malaysia reels from the Wall Street Journal report alleging transfers of US$700 million from 1MDB companies to Malaysian PM Najib Razak’s personal accounts, netizens have turned to Twitter to ridicule the new scandal PM Najib has become embroiled in. The hashtag ‘#1MDBMovies’, a reference to IMDb (the Internet Movie Database), has gone viral on social media.

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has reminded Malaysians: “The public is advised to stop spreading modified pictures, unverified news or any speculation on the investigation into 1MDB through social media, including through the WhatsApp application… If found guilty, the punishment is fine of not more than RM50,000 and/or jail of not more than a year”. The warnings were met with outrage and derision.

MCMC strategic communications director Mr Syeikh Raffie Abdul Rahman has since clarified: “When was there ever a ban? There was never a ban. It was totally misinterpreted. It was just an advisory notice”.

We brave the possible weight of the Malaysian law to bring you some of the best of #1MDBMovies.

Some were more lighthearted…

Others took the opportunity to make fun of Rosmah Mansor, PM Najib’s wife, and her reputation as a spendthrift.

Some took issue with financier Low Taek Jho whose accounts have come under scrutiny as part of the probe into 1MDB.

And then there were the more loaded parodies that perhaps betray how confident Malaysians are in PM Najib’s scruples… especially since the Wolf of Wall Street ended up in prison…

Any better ideas? Tell us what parody movie you’d pay to watch.

 

Featured photo by C.K. Koay via Flickr.

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by Abraham Lee

CAN you believe it? Not more than four months ago, Amos Yee mocked Christianity, took the mickey out of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and now he’s responsible for Tuesday’s MRT incident?

Just connect the dots – Amos was released on Monday with a scowl on his face, looking like an absolute train wreck, and the worst SMRT breakdown in history happens the very next day? It sure looks suspicious…

It’s like he read our minds! Yesterday, Amos admitted that he was “fully responsible for the breakdown of the MRT tracks“. How so? Because the judiciary’s decision to let him free, instead of stoning him or banishing him to “eternal damnation”, provoked God’s wrath, resulting in the MRT service disruption, a divine intervention. Amazing!

Divine intervention or not, it seems that Amos has made a full recovery – just like the NS and EW lines – for now. Yesterday, he posted on Facebook a love letter to a certain Claire – though, he doesn’t say who she is.

Claire, if you’re out there, please give our love to Amos. And tell him to stop causing more MRT breakdowns.

 

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by Abraham Lee

IN December 2011, Singapore experienced the worst train service disruptions in SMRT’s history. Yesterday’s disruption smashed the record set in 2011 by affecting more sections of the MRT line and thousands more commuters. Here’s a break down of the breakdowns, then and now.

 Dec 15, 2011Dec 17, 2011Jul 7, 2015
Time at which train service disrupted:6:47 pm6:44 am6:52 pm
Stations experiencing service disruption:Services in both directions between Marina Bay station and Bishan station were affected.Services in both directions between Marina Bay station and Toa Payoh station were
affected.
Services in both directions between Marina Bay station and Yew Tee station and, Redhill station and Changi Airport/ Pasir Ris station.
Number of commuters affected:127,00094,000250,000
How quickly service resumed:South-bound service from Toa Payoh station to Raffles Place
station resumed at 8.30 pm. Full service on the North-South Line resumed at 11.40 pm, about five hours after service was disrupted.
Partial north-bound service from Raffles Place station to Jurong East Station resumed at 8.29 am. Full train service on the North-South Line resumed at 1.53
pm, about five hours after service was disrupted.
Services on the East-West Line and the North-South Line resumed at 9.20 pm and 10.35 pm respectively, albeit at degraded service levels and reduced speeds, about 3.5 hours after initial disruption.
Cause of service disruption:Power failure due to a damaged third rail, which supplies power to the trains.Power failure due to misalignment between the trains and the power rail.

The later published COI report cited shortcomings in SMRT's maintenance regime and checks.
A power trip along the North-South line caused the entire network to shut down.

SMRT cited damaged insulation of two power cables along the North-South line, a faulty relay system at Kranji’s power substation, and a water leak close to the third-rail insulator at Tanjong Pagar station as possible causes of the power trip.

It was not clear which of these (if any) caused the power trip, at the time of publication.

The G commissioned a Committee of Inquiry (COI) to examine the sequence of events that led to the December 2011 disruptions, establish the causes and any other contributory factors, and to recommend ways to manage and minimise future such cases. The COI was also required to submit a report of its proceedings, findings and recommendations to Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew.

The COI summarised the immediate cause of the two incidents as: “…damage to their Current Collector Device (CCD) “shoes” due to sagging of the “third rail” which supplies electrical power to the trains. During both incidents, sections of the third rail sagged after multiple “claws” which hold up the third rail above the trackbed, were dislodged. With their CCDs damaged, the trains were unable to draw electricity from the third rail to power their propulsion and other systems such as cabin lighting and air-conditioning.”

It wanted the LTA and Public Transport Operators to undertake a holistic review of standard operating procedures so that stranded passengers would be able to get off their trains more quickly. The COI offered recommendations on engineering and maintenance issues, and incident management.

For example, SMRT was to examine the viability of using mass SMS alerts to provide updates more quickly during a disruption. Alternative bus services were slated to be increased to cope with passenger volumes while the option of providing free bus services for those at affected train stations should be explored. Also, agencies such as the LTA, the Police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force, were to be alerted more quickly in future such crises. Transport Minister Lui promised that he will continue to improve and rebuild confidence in the MRT system.

Yesterday, traffic police could be seen directing traffic.

SMRT updated commuters on the train disruptions via Twitter and Facebook, at 7:16 pm and 7:39 pm respectively.

Free bus services were also provided. However, some of the free shuttle buses did not appear and miscommunication led to much confusion and chaos at bus stops.

SMRT was fined the maximum financial penalty of $2 million by the LTA for the December 2011 train service disruptions. In February last year, Parliament approved an amended Rapid Transit Systems Bill, increasing the maximum financial penalty from $1 million for every rail incident to 10 per cent of the train operator’s annual fare revenue.

Minister Lui was at Ang Mo Kio station observing train operations this morning. While there, he told reporters: “I don’t think another COI (Committee of Inquiry) is necessary. LTA and SMRT must focus on finding the root of the problem”.

The hope then is that LTA and SMRT will tell all, even without a COI, to cool commuter outrage. The more bloodthirsty will also be looking at how the LTA will act against SMRT, for deflating commuters’ hopes of better rail reliability, which it had boasted of at its own annual general meeting only yesterday.

 

 

Featured image by Daniel Yap.

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