The Perks of Working in SOE (or Not?)

cr. Human Resource
It's been 10 months since I worked for an state-owned enterprise (SOE) in Indonesia. The company's majority share is owned by the government of Indonesia and the rest are for public investors. What made it different? Since the ownership is majority the government, SOE profit has to be distributed more the government. Basically the profit we made will be returned for the government and in terms of doing business, we have to be aligned with government's direction. For me, who works in high-level corporate business, most direction came from top-bottom not bottom-up. It's difficult to say that I work in customer-oriented way, mainly I listen to what my bosses asked me to do. Therefore, for you guys who complained to me about the services, sorry I can't help enough lol.

In Indonesia, working in an SOE or being a civil servant is the safe heaven since it provides stable career and income for a long time. Like, dude we don't have to be worry about being cut off as an employee, the income besides main salary are great, and we will be able to work until we decided to take a time off. It is indeed stable and promising, especially in this current economic situation, however there must be a trade off for doing so. I've seen a lot of people out there now being unemployed due to company efficiency or their salary is being deducted, meanwhile I'm here working from home and still receiving full salary plus plus. Surely, safe heaven.

But I have to say, in order to get that comfortable live by working in an SOE you have to sacrifice these things:
  1. Idealism
  2. You might be the bravest person among your peers and you have strong principles. At first, you might think that choosing SOE as a place to build a career is a great decision. Later on you realise, your idealism to contribute for the nation by joining SOE is no longer a dream you should carry on. I did think, by joining SOE I can pay back the obligation the nation has given me. Turns out, I have to battle with the environment of the SOE itself to keep my idealism on fire. I don't know why, but the working culture is not quite what I expected to begin with. The longer you stay in an SOE, the more test you will face to hold onto your strong idealism. What idealism? By means appreciative working culture, open discussions, and healthy collaborative working. It's difficult to find those value in SOE, it is possible but it's rare.
  3. Work Life Balance
  4. I must say that every single corporate worker will have difficulties to deal with this matter. However, in SOE there's no such things called extra-pay for working long hours. You work for the nation, they said, so you have to be mentally prepared for not getting overtime salary. You have to sacrifice the after office hour hang out with friends or just a netflix and chill to loose the tense after the whole day sitting in front of your computer. It doesn't happen a lot, though unfortunately it happens a lot in where I work now. It depends on the leader of the unit, if you got a hardworking boss well I must say you have to lose your precious free time after work or even your weekend. Anyway, SOE compensate you enough for this unpaid overtime working hour by giving you bonuses and extra payments. But is that right? Is that proper treatment? The conclusion is up to you.
  5. Urge to Speak Up
  6. As a someone who couldn't stand unfairness, I don't think you will stay long in an SOE. Personally, I couldn't see myself stay forever in this place since I'm not a crowd pleaser or a butt-kisser. I see unfairness, I'll speak up about that. The company might have culture code that encourage open discussion or freedom of speech, the fact? I must say, working in an SOE that mostly dominated by old-generations made us have to be extra careful in choosing words or addressing complaints. Wrong move, they are not going to fire you instantly but giving you hard times you have to endure until I don't know when. Savagely speaking, it's like a smooth bullying. You can't speak what bothers your mind freely, you have to choose the right timing and deliver your suggestions in massively polite way. The best way among all is to keep your mouth shut and say "Yes!" to everything they said. Then you will lose your idealism, you lose your fire, and you become a robot. An individual who has strong drive might not last long in SOE.
  7. Being Appreciated due to Good Performance
  8. We can find this point anywhere else, not just an SOE, to be honest. However the game of being a crowd pleaser is strong in SOE. First, the bosses have to please the Directors and Committee (and government). Second, the officer have to say "Yes" to bosses' direction though it might be contrary to what they originally thought. In my case, this incident is rarely to be happened because it is related to numbers. And we know that numbers can't lie?
    Some of my friends in another unit, for example, face this case a lot. Those who only say "Yes" and follow bosses order despite it's wrong are going to get recognition. The person who actually performs well is under appreciated, not being promoted, and ended up resigning. Instead, the incompetent one is being promoted. I guess you can find the answer in this article. Personally, I don't really want to be a famous employee whom the bosses always call in a meeting. I just want to be appreciated if I do a good job and get a proper promotion. The fact is the one who keeps being crowd pleaser and butt kisser is getting promotion first and the competence one is being left behind.
  9. Outstanding Competencies
  10. An acquaintance of mine decided to move out from the company since her competencies are way too outstanding. Based on my personal observation, high achiever doesn't really match working in an SOE because the difficult part of job is taken over by the consultant. In my current position, I might contribute in the modelling but the model itself is built by the consultant. And the thing that I can do in working with outside party is to feed them data or arranging meeting. There are few individuals who posses outstanding competencies in their field in SOE but the chance of them going up? Highly unlikely, like my manager. He has sound knowledge of both quantitative and qualitative ability but he stays longer on his current position never knowing when will he got promoted. He almost run out of time tho, he's gonna get retired soon.

You may see that working in an SOE will offer you great deal of financial stability in long term, however if you are a high-achiever I suggest you not to even try. Our SOE may undergo a cultural transformation but it will take longer time than we expected, especially when boomers are getting retired. The worst case, it will never transform into more agile and open organisation if the predecessor keep doing the old habits. To get there, big heart and patience are highly required. For someone who couldn't keep her mouth shut to injustice, I think I'm gonna be eliminated soon before I see the transformations happened.

Working in an SOE is okay but psychologically draining. So, choose your path wisely.


  1. Hello Agis, finally I found your blog. If you remember me, I was the one who resigned from GPTP IX. Nice to meet you again :).

    I read your blog posts about GPTP sessions in Pusdikhub and Corpu. I admit that there were several events that made me upset back then, like why bother to do "basic trainings" a la military enlistment for office workers? Moreover, sessions in Corpu. I remembered when that one boomer said, "There is no such copyright in the internet", that made me furious and questioning myself, how can the "senior" mentor on one of the top SOE in Indonesia can be this.... poor informed? Also by telling us to be "loyal", that's how those boomers "brainwash" their future successor, no wonder the reformations at the govt and SOE didn't work. To be honest, I felt that some of us got brainwashed too at that time.

    Then in OJT, I got a vibe like, 'this is not a place for me', then I wrote my first resignation letter. Actually my first resignation letter for them was a bluff, but then it became serious after their half-assed attempts to defend me to work at that company. So then I part my ways with that SOE. I still feel lost tho until now because at first I want to be a lecturer while building a small IT consultant office in my hometown, but I feel saner than in Pusdik, Corpu, and my OJT post.

    I don't recommend you to get out from that SOE, in fact I suggest you to do the opposite. I really urge you to stay because this country needs that kind idealism in the govt and SOE. I feel furious everytime I read the news about govt and SOE tried to sell jargons such as industry 4.0, big data, blah blah blah without knowing the meaning behind that. In future, this country needs people with competences and idealism, not the ones who have some connections with the govt nor those hollow, brainwashed millennials.

    Sounds like a 'toxic positivity', but... just grit your teeth and hang in there until those.... poor informed boomers retired. Fight for your place, and I suggest you to form a circle with people who have similar idealism to fight with those brainwashed ones. If you feel exhausted, just think the positive one, "This is the safe haven... this is the safe haven... so whatever I'm doing here, I will safe here!" (although in real practice, it won't, LOL)

    Good luck!


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