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About 95% of Singapore expats in top positions feel burnt out, survey finds

A businessman looking out of window.
Most expats feel symptoms of burnout. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — A majority of expatriates in Singapore in top positions feel burnt out from work, a report released on Thursday (23 June) showed.

The report is based on American insurance firm Cigna's 360 Well-Being Survey, in which 95 per cent of expat respondents in Singapore said they have burnout symptoms, with 36 per cent citing cost of living as the top stressor.

Personal finance and having too much work are also among the top causes of stress, with 29 per cent of expats each citing these.

The study surveyed 11,922 respondents aged 18 to 65 across 15 expat destinations including mainland China, Hong Kong, Europe, the Middle East and North America between April and May 2022.

About 98 per cent of expats surveyed globally have experienced symptoms of burnout, according to the study, while 90 per cent are stressed, and 89 per cent said they were unable to disconnect from work.

While memories of the pandemic are fading in many parts of the world, its enduring impact continues to be felt.

Around 73 per cent of expats said they have spent time re-evaluating their life priorities since the onset of the pandemic, and 76 per cent said that being close to family and friends is more important than before.

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Since early 2020, countries imposed lockdowns on movement that had businesses shifting to remote working for staff.

The pandemic restrictions on travel affected expat workers, with 87 per cent of respondents saying they felt helpless, trapped or defeated and 86 per cent expressing feelings of being detached or alone in the world. The numbers are lower among non-expats, with 68 per cent of locals saying they felt helpless, and 64 per cent feeling detached.

More than a third are also concerned or uncertain about their financial situation.

Expat lifestyle changed

The exciting, rewarding, globally mobile lifestyle that used to sum-up the "expat dream" has changed and more people are now prioritising lifestyle, family and friends when planning future moves.

"Many expats saw their lifestyles completely up-ended by the experience of the pandemic, separated from family, friends and colleagues," said Cigna International Markets president Jason Sadler. "The challenge now is to rethink the expat opportunity to reflect the experiences, and the new priorities, of those living overseas."

Meanwhile, around one-third of expats in top management positions in Singapore said they were likely to relocate or move back home within the next two years.

Among the expats not in top positions, the top destination for relocation is Australia, with 30 per cent wanting to go there, followed by Malaysia at 20 per cent and New Zealand at 13 per cent.

About 36 per cent of expats in Singapore are driven to relocate for a better lifestyle, 32 per cent for better financial prospects, 30 per cent for closer proximity to their family, 20 per cent for better weather and 18 per cent for better job prospects.

Overall, the survey also found that expats who had spent more than five years working abroad are also much less likely to choose to quit, with only nine per cent saying they would likely return home compared to a quarter of those who have been overseas for less than a year.

The Asia-Pacific region has a higher proportion of short-term expatriates than other markets. About 57 per cent of expats in China, 47 per cent in India and 40 per cent in Singapore have worked overseas for less than a year.

The survey also found younger people were interested to work abroad, with up to 37 per cent of respondents between 18 and 34 years old interested in overseas postings, compared to 13 per cent for those over 50.

“Over the past few years we have seen people choosing to take roles that are closer to home, with a move away from ‘long haul’ expats destinations, towards more localised, regional roles," said Michelle Leung, head of human resources, Cigna International Markets.

"With memories of restricted travel likely to remain for the foreseeable future, the emphasis on being able to travel and easily visit loved ones will be likely to continue,” she added.

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