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Interview with Jan Lee

Today, Jan Lee is a Talent Sourcer supporting recruiters in hiring at DBS. He was previously an auditor at professional services firm KPMG Singapore. Life changed at aged 10 when Jan was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord which paralysed him from the waist down.

At a young age, Jan understood the phrase “the world will not stop turning because of me” well. It guided his younger days and motivated him to complete his education but he does not shy away from admitting that it would not have been possible without the encouragement from those in his life.

" My teachers, lecturers, family and friends did not give up on me. I am grateful for all whom I have crossed paths with and made a difference in my life.”

Like many people, Jan experienced challenges securing his first job after graduating from NTU’s Nanyang Business School where he studied accountancy. Office accessibility was a major concern of the employers he interviewed with, but KPMG Singapore stood out. While they had also expressed concerns, Jan was proactive and walked them through how he would overcome their concerns, including the government’s Open Door Fund, which employers of PWDs could tap on for workplace modifications to improve accessibility.

His determination and positive attitude got him the job as an Audit Associate.

To reduce Jan’s traveling time (he’s a wheelchair user), KPMG assigned him to clients in the CBD with a flexible work scope and schedule. After meeting an untimely accident commuting from a client’s office, he was transferred to an internal compliance research unit before it was eventually outsourced to the India office.

It was time for a new chapter.

Despite coming from a business background, Jan’s willingness to try new things eventually saw him move to his current role in HR, a Talent Sourcer supporting recruiters at DBS. He sees his work as extremely fulfilling, especially being a social person by nature. He enjoys the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and helps them to realise their dream careers.

But all that hard work also came at a cost – burnout. It was during that period of deep unhappiness that Jan made a resolute decision to change the way he was living his life. The realization hit him that chasing fame, titles and recognition at the cost of his health was simply not worth it.

Today, he has a different approach towards Life. Promising himself that he would live each day better than the one before, Jan now places a higher value on self-contentment and emphasizes the need to slow down to appreciate life. While ambition is important, Jan shared, “I now focus on appreciating the small blessings in life as there is much more to life when you can appreciate it.”

“Happiness is in infinite measurements and comes in many forms; big and small.”

For PWDs grappling with employment challenges, Jan encourages themselves to be honest with their capabilities. He says, “Don’t over promise, take responsibility and be accountable for what you’re doing.”

In July, the Harvard Business Review published an article centered around using failure as an opportunity to reflect on one’s strengths. Jan agrees, encouraging his peers to not give up even if their calls are dropped. “Life is either a celebration or lesson learnt,” he says and continued, “Take each setback as a comeback opportunity.”

“Things happen for a reason. Learn to take rejection in life, learn from it and strive to be better.”

Like his former employer, DBS also made flexible working accommodations for Jan, an example of enablers of success for PWDs in the workforce. For the most part, Jan now works from home and occasionally goes into the office for training and events. Yet while he seldom interacts face-to-face with his colleagues, he still feels like a part of the DBS HR family.

Technology has changed the way and future of how we work. Specifically, it makes possible the careers of those who have disabilities or caregiving duties, like Jan as a provider for his family.

His advice to employers? Be proactive. He tells us, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions but to keep sensitivity in mind.” According to him, there is a need for employers to try and better understand the needs of PWDs. He hopes that there will soon be more employers who do not see hiring PWDs as something out of the ordinary. In his view, when the PWD labour pool is supported with the right tools and mindset, they can be a great asset to their company.

Committing to a work-from-home arrangement is not easy and requires a high level of mutual trust. While some might think it is easier to work from home, Jan feels otherwise as it requires more discipline and focus to steer away from many other distractions.

Like dialogue, employment is a two-way street. Both PWDs and employers must be able to have open, frank conversations to best understand capabilities and responsibilities to achieve an optimum working relationship.


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