Did Minister Josephine Teo use the phrase psychological pay to justify paying NSFs less?

We came across a video circulating on TikTok and Facebook suggesting that politicians in Singapore are using the phrase “psychological pay” as a justification to allegedly underpay full-time national servicemen (NSFs).

The video appears to splice two separate clips, with a text overlay “how to pay NSFs less”. The video begins with the Senior Minister of State (SMS) for Defence, Mr Heng Chee How, stating that national service (NS) is a duty to the country, not a form of employment. In the clip, SMS Heng says that instead of a salary, NSFs receive an allowance to support their basic personal upkeep.

Following this is a clip of Minister for Digital Development and Information, Mrs Josephine Teo, who introduces the term “psychological pay” and explains that it involves receiving emotional or mental satisfaction instead of monetary compensation.

Several critical comments under the posts seem to assume that Minister Teo’s remarks about psychological pay are justification for the current NS allowances. Commenters argue that, in a similar vein, ministers and politicians in public office should also receive reduced salaries, given that their jobs can also be seen as a duty to the country.

As such comments have the propensity to fuel public outrage, we took a closer look at the video to verify the context and accuracy of the statements made.


Context behind the videos

We ran reverse image searches of screenshots taken at various points of the video and confirmed that it was composed of two different videos spliced together.

The first portion of the video was taken from the parliamentary sitting on 29 February 2024. SMS Heng’s comments about NS allowance were made in response to a question posed by Mr Gerald Giam, Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. Mr Giam inquired if NS allowances could be revised upwards in light of increases in the cost of living and the opportunity cost of serving NS and proposed a terminology change from “NS allowance” to “NS salary”.

After explaining the government’s position on NS and NS allowance, SMS Heng shared that the NS allowance is subject to regular reviews, with the last revision taking effect in July 2023.

The second portion of the video was taken from an episode of The Titan Podcast, hosted by local influencers Jian Hao and Wendy Cheng (better known as Xiaxue). Minister Teo appeared as a guest on the episode, which was uploaded on 14 March 2024, and discussed topics about the digital information space, such as Singapore’s initiatives to stay ahead in artificial intelligence and the government’s initiatives to support victims of online harassment.

Psychological pay

Minister Teo’s remarks about psychological pay were made in response to Xiaxue’s views on content creation as a career choice. Xiaxue expressed that when starting out with content creation, the primary motivation should be one’s enjoyment of the process rather than expectations of financial success. She added that if financial success follows, it will be a bonus and this approach ensures that the lack of monetary gain will not lead to disappointment.

Minister Teo then elaborated that this mindset exemplifies what she refers to as psychological pay, where the satisfaction derived from doing something outweighs monetary compensation. She does not make any reference to NS allowance in her explanation. Further, our research did not find existing literature on psychological pay, indicating that Minister Teo may have coined this phrase.

Hence, the video circulating on social media is misleading. Minister Teo’s comments, which were taken out of context, were not related to NS allowance. The misleading text overlay stating “how to pay NSFs less” and the combination of two unrelated videos create the false impression that Minister Teo was talking about psychological pay for NSFs.

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