Up till just 12 years ago, Saturday was still considered a half working day in Singapore. In 2004, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong declared that the civil service, schools and military camps would move to a five-day work week.

Before that, a weekend in all its full two-day glory was considered an economic perk that Singapore could ill afford. For corporate Singapore today, it still is.

The extent of work done on weekends tends to vary by occupation, The Business Times’ poll of executives found. Those in analytical roles seemed better able to keep away from work. Investors and venture capitalists also reported a decent level of autonomy.

At the other end of the spectrum, lawyers sounded the most sanguine about working on the weekends. Those in finance also said they may socialise with clients or simply make themselves available then.


Weekends are more than the mere absence of labour. If they are kept work-free, they actually bring health and happiness. “From construction labourers and secretaries to physicians and lawyers, people experience better moods, greater vitality, and fewer aches and pains from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon,” a 2010 study by the University of Rochester finds.

“Far from frivolous, the relatively unfettered time on weekends provides critical opportunities for bonding with others, exploring interests and relaxing – basic psychological needs that people should be careful not to crowd out with overwork,” the study’s author, Richard Ryan, says.

Even the rate of heart attacks is lowest on weekends. It jumps significantly on Mondays and eases back down on Tuesdays, The New York Times reported in 2006.

Work appears to also take a cumulative toll on the heart. A study published earlier this year found that among full-time employees, the risk of a heart attack rose 1 per cent for every extra hour worked a week over 10 or more years.

Several companies in the US have also started to report benefits from offering four-day work weeks, though these firms say good planning is needed for it to succeed.


Bosses here aren’t too keen, though. Some flag a latent danger of reclining so much that workers end up unable to extract themselves from their couches.

Chan Chong Beng, CEO of wallpaper company Goodrich Global, says the business community here is “not ready” for a four-day work week, which he worries may take a toll on productivity and profitability.

Even in the food and beverage industry where business booms on weekends, employers are lukewarm to the idea. A four-day work week would make it “very difficult” to conduct business, says Adrin Loi, executive chairman of kaya toast chain Ya Kun. The company operates seven days a week from 9am to 9pm, and already needs two shifts to rotate its staff, he notes.

So what do weekends mean to CEOs here and what is their policy when it comes to working on weekends?

“Stress. I save up all my important work to do over the weekend. That is the only time I am able to read, understand, and write anything useful.” – Adrian Tan, partner at Morgan Lewis Stamford

“I used to work over the weekends but that has changed. Now, I refrain from working and do not schedule any meetings or business entertainment. These days, I extend my weekend to Mondays. On Mondays, I take time to be with myself. It’s my ‘me time’ to meditate and reflect.” – Venture capitalist Eugene Wong, who runs Sirius Capital

“It’s all about balance. There may be some decisions that can wait, but invariably there will be others that cannot.” – Tan Boon Khai, CEO of Singapore Land Authority

Adapted from The Business Times.