Well, the Beatles got that one right. Love does make the world go round, and all the more so in the month of February!
At SingHealth, we are one big family. But for some of us, we are literally FAMILY. With more than 28,000 staff in SingHealth and us spending on average, more than 8 hours at work each day, it’s little wonder that some of us may have found their life partner here at work. Some others have even ended up as colleagues within the cluster along the way.
Joy at Work catches up with two couples to find out how their love started, the best part about working together, the “ground rules” that they set and more!
Alvin Chumari from SingHealth Marketing Communications Department and Renee Seow from the Communications Department at Sengkang General Hospital just celebrated their 10–year wedding anniversary in 2018. The couple, who has no children, has previously worked in the same organisation twice!
Q: How did the two of you meet?
Alvin: Renee and I first met 16 years ago when we were both working in a small publishing firm specialising in trade publications. It was both our first jobs and we were writers for different publications.
Counting SingHealth, Renee and I have actually worked in the same organisation three times. Following the publishing firm, the second time we’ve worked together was in an advertising agency, where we were both copywriters – I wrote for print and traditional media, while she wrote for digital platforms.
Q: Wow, three times! Was that deliberate?
Alvin: The opportunities just happen to present themselves that way. When I was working at the advertising agency, there was vacancy for a digital copywriter. I told the digital team that my wife was interested and she applied. When I was at SingHealth, Renee chanced upon a job opening for a communications role at Sengkang General Hospital. She applied for the job and was successful, and as they say ‘the rest is history’.
Of the three industries I’ve been in, I would say healthcare is most gratifying. It’s a good feeling to know that what I do not only impacts the care that patients (like my parents and parents-in-law) receive, but also helps shape the care that Renee and I would need later in life.
Renee: Even in an administration/support role, the work we do plays some part in helping people and that’s what I like about being in healthcare. Plus, every day is different working in a general hospital. The work can be fast-paced and challenging at times but it offers chances to work with people from all walks of life and you learn new things all the time!
Q: What’s the best thing and not so good thing about working together in the same organisation?
Alvin: I don’t feel there’s anything really bad. Being in the same organisation, we get a wider understanding of the inner workings of the organisation as we can share each other’s perspectives and experiences. It also is a great way of getting to know more people as we get to know each other’s colleagues. Perhaps the only downside is that some may associate us as “the other’s spouse” and not as an individual.
Renee: The good thing is that when I first started working here, reaching out to a few of the closer colleagues Alvin worked with but whom I’ve not met/spoken with before is slightly easier. To break the ice at times, I would say “Hi, I’m so and so, from SKH Comms, and also Alvin’s spouse”.
Q: What are your colleagues’ first reactions when they learn that both of you work in SingHealth?
Alvin: For me, it would be “Your wife works in SingHealth too? Where, which department, what’s her name?” in that order. Being Singaporeans, we’re naturally “kaypoh” or what we like to call, “being in the know”.
Renee: Yup, I get the same questions too, sometimes followed by “So you met in SingHealth ar?”
Q: Any misconceptions people have about the both of you?
Alvin: A common misconception is that we must spend whatever available time we have at work (e.g. lunch time), together, along with the assumption that we don’t have much individual space. But such misconceptions quickly go away when I tell that although we’re in the same organisation, we’re in different locations and departments.
Renee: Maybe it’s because I’m the more reserved one (Alvin can be very affable and entertaining/comical), some assumed that I ‘got in’ because he ‘pulled’ me in, especially for the smaller companies that we worked in. And of course, the slightly miffed me would need to explain that no, he did not introduce me to someone or pull strings, and that I applied for the job, went for interviews the same way as everyone else did.
The only ‘advantage’ I had, perhaps, was that I would already have an idea of what the organisation does and about the work because Alvin has been there for a while and was able to share what it’s like working there.
Q: Any “ground rules” between the two of you, for example, no work-related discussions at home?
Alvin: For Renee and me, how we grew close is the “same wavelength” we share in terms of the way we communicate, joke, etc. so talking is important for us (it also helps that we have similar interests in food, music, movies, travel). So asking each other how we are coping at work: the joys and challenges, is one of our daily conversation topics.
Also, as both of us are communications practitioners, we are able to empathise with each other’s challenges and at times, even brainstorm together to come up with solutions to problems or better ways to tackle work challenges.
Q: What tips do you have for a fellow colleague if he/she is thinking of dating someone in SingHealth?
Alvin: I think it helps to have a realistic expectation about how some people will think it is ok, while some may frown upon such behavior – it’s just like how you can’t expect everyone you meet to like you. As long as both of you are happy, and your happiness does not come at the expense of others, I’d say “go for it”.
Renee: I agree. SingHealth as an organisation is huge, really huge. Compared to where Alvin and I previously worked at, the likelihood of dating someone in SingHealth is high. So if you are worrying about what people may think or say, don’t. As long as you are still going to conduct yourself professionally, why worry?
Opposites attract and that statement couldn’t have been truer for Julia Chong, Senior Occupational Therapist at SGH and Dr Warren Fong, Consultant at the Department of Rheumatology and Immunology in SGH
Julia, who professes to be a social butterfly, enjoys going out with friends and watching movies. Dr Fong, on the other hand, is quiet and reserved, and generally enjoys smaller group companies and quiet evenings.
But 15 years ago, when the couple first met, Julia was struck by how gentle and respectful he was. “He was always very reassuring and comforting towards the patients, especially the elderly, and that was what really attracted me to him then,” recalled Julia, with a smile.
And that impression stuck. Julia and Dr Fong had more opportunities to interact as they were covering some of the wards together and hence would often discuss if patients were able to be discharged home safely. Friendship bloomed, dating came after, and 3 years later, they decided to tie the knot. Julia subsequently transferred to SGH, and Dr Fong was also rotated to SGH for his MO training before he stayed for his specialisation.
Sharing the same “lingo”
What is it like working in the same organisation? “It’s not so much about working in the same organisation, but rather, in the same (medical) field,” said Julia. “Communication is easier, as we share the same ‘lingo’, and that helps, even when we talk about things that are not work related”. Julia, who confessed to being a K-drama fan, cited a scene in the drama “Hospital Ship”, where a man could use his reattached amputated hand immediately post-surgery. When musing over that scene, the immediate response from both Julia and Dr Fong was, “Wah! Really ah… How can…?”
On a more serious note, because they are both in the same field, there is an added respect for each other’s work. “He has great respect for the work that I do, and that makes me feel validated and makes me want to become a better therapist,” said Julia.
The couple, who have been married for 10 years and have three boys, aged 10, 7 and 4, makes it a point to avoid talking about work at home though. “There are so many other things to talk about,” says Julia. “The kids, holiday plans, where to go for meals etc. Work-related conversations don’t usually come up.”
Good hygiene starts at home
However, there is one somewhat work-related ground rule that Julia enforces with an iron hand - infection control measures. “We take it very seriously as we both understand the importance of infection control and good hygiene practices,” says Julia. “The rule is that we must shower immediately when we reach home. No hugging the kids, no sitting on the sofa. It is straight to the shower. Even the kids are well trained – they don’t come running for a hug until we have showered.”
After the kids go to sleep, the couple unwinds by watching dramas. “He watches shows like Sherlock Holmes on television, while I catch up on K-drama on my tablet,” says Julia with a laugh. “We are still spending time together, although watching different shows. In between, we have friendly debates on which is the better show, a topic which we have till date, agreed to disagree.”
It’s the car ride to work where they have each other’s attention. “To me, that’s the best thing about working in the same place - coming to work together. We have uninterrupted conversations and we also take that time for morning prayers,” shares Julia. “But Warren doesn’t like to drive, so I’ve been taking driving lessons so that I can give him a break once in a while and send him to work instead!”