Sunday, 20 July 2014

Work-life integration: Most happy but 'more can be done'

Only 6% of employees polled felt they lacked the flexibility to enjoy both
By Yasmine Yahya And Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2014

A COMPREHENSIVE new survey of bosses and employees in Singapore has thrown up a rather surprising finding - that local workers are actually quite satisfied with their work-life integration.

However, data from the survey shows that this contentment comes not from any major lasting shifts in office culture or practices, but from ad hoc benefits.

The poll, commissioned by The Straits Times and Employer Alliance (EA), took in responses from 1,000 employees and 500 employers across industries in Singapore.

"It's the most in-depth survey on work-life integration in Singapore. Most surveys on the topic would just ask about whether the workers are satisfied or not, but this one drills deep into societal norms, desires and expectations," noted Ms Sharon Kok, the director of Degree Census Consultancy, which conducted the survey.

Of the employees polled, 82 per cent said they felt they were generally in control of their work-life arrangement and only 6 per cent said they did not have the flexibility to integrate the needs of their work with their personal and family lives.

Yet, each structured flexi-work programme such as job sharing or working from home had only ever been tapped by a fifth of the respondents or fewer. Instead, the top two most commonly used "work-life initiatives" were emergency leave and taking time off at short notice."

When asked which were the initiatives they found most useful, these two were again voted top.

EA chairman Claire Chiang said these findings give the lie to recent polls that have painted Singaporean workers as being miserable and disengaged. Rather, this poll shows they "love to work".

"Usually when employees are disengaged, it's not because of the work itself but because of their supervisors. If their leaders are good, working hours will not be so much of an issue."

But at the TAFEP CEOs' Breakfast and Dialogue yesterday where the survey results were unveiled, Guardian Health and Beauty chief executive Sarah Boyd told some 60 business heads present: "I think for me, the ability to take time off at short notice or emergency leave shouldn't be considered a part of the frame of reference for work-life balance - it should be a basic human need... If Singaporeans were able to see what work-life balance and flexi-work means in other parts of the world, they would get a very different frame of reference for their decisions."

To be sure, the survey indicates that despite their overall satisfaction, Singaporean workers, especially younger ones, do feel there is room for improvement.

Among all workers, 84 per cent said their personal well-being would be better if they could manage their work and personal lives more effectively. Two-thirds of workers aged 30 to 39 said they would consider leaving a firm that lacks flexi-work arrangements.

Of the 500 bosses polled, over 80 per cent said they felt work- life initiatives are important to improve employee satisfaction, raise productivity and retain talent.

In some cases, bosses are even more open-minded than staff seem to think. For instance, only 55 per cent felt that staff should be in the office during working hours versus 75 per cent of workers who felt they were expected to do so.

But bosses who want to implement structured flexi-work schemes said obstacles exist. Ms Boyd said her firm finds it tough as it does not have enough manpower. Others, like Gadgets.D. Legacy boss Ivan Choong, said employees sometimes have unreasonable expectations of flexi-work.

But IBM Singapore managing director Janet Ang had encouraging words. "I would be bluffing you if I tell you that 100 per cent of the time for every employee at IBM, I feel 100 per cent trust that they are doing their job (while on flexi-work). But I will have to tell you the culture grows. You've got to believe it, execute it, hold people accountable and see the delivery of the results and if all that works, you have to trust them."


Usually when employees are disengaged, it's not because of the work itself but because of their supervisors. If their leaders are good, working hours will not be so much of an issue.

- Employer Alliance chairman Claire Chiang

Key findings from the survey
- 82 per cent of Singaporean employees feel they are generally in control of their work-life arrangement.
- 87 per cent of men would be more productive at work if they had the flexibility to integrate work and personal life - versus 78 per cent of women.
- 91 per cent of the youngest workers aged 20 to 29 would be attracted to work for companies that support them in managing work and family commitments, the highest among all age groups.
- 60 per cent of employees aged 30 to 39, and 58 per cent of mothers with young children, would consider leaving a company that lacked flexi-work arrangements.
- 25 per cent of employees have concerns about using flexi-work arrangements, such as negative comments from their supervisor or receiving unfavourable assignments.

5 things bosses and staff don't see eye to eye on when it comes to work-life balance
Survey shows gaps exist in understanding of key issues such as time spent in the office
By Amelia Tan, The Sunday Times, 20 Jul 2014

Nearly one in two bosses do not expect employees to clock the full eight hours in office. Yet most workers believe they have to.

And while bosses frown on employees bringing work home, they also want them available when duty calls after office hours.

A new survey on work-life integration commissioned by The Straits Times and work-life advocacy group Employer Alliance has revealed that employer and employees are often not on the same page on several key issues. The study, conducted by market analysis firm Degree Census, involved 1,000 employees and 500 employers here. The Sunday Times highlights five gaps in understanding between bosses and staff.

1 You don't need to be in the office

Think twice if you feel clocking eight hours every day in the office makes you a star employee.

Of the bosses surveyed, 45 per cent said their staff did not need to be in the office during business hours, or were neutral about the issue.

But workers disagreed, with three in four believing that they are expected to be around during office hours.

Human resource experts said this mismatch is because workers believe that putting in long hours is a way of showing commitment.

Ms Cheryl-Ann Szetoh, a manager at human resource firm RobertWalters, said: "The joke going around offices is that if you leave at 6pm, you are taking half a day off. Workers will avoid going home early to avoid being seen as skiving."

2 Bosses are flexible, or are they?

Employers believe they give plenty of freedom but some workers disagree. Overall, 80 per cent of bosses said they allow staff to manage their time as long as targets are met.

The sentiment is even stronger among chief executives and those in senior management positions, of whom 94 per cent said workers should have flexibility.

But only 76 per cent of workers feel that their bosses give them such flexibility.

Some employees also point out that they hesitate to use flexi-work schemes because they do not want to leave a poor impression.

Senior business analyst Esther Wong, for instance, was unsure about asking her boss to let her work from home to care for her three young children when their pre-school was closed for a day.

"I had just recently joined the company. I did not want my boss to feel that I was not serious about work," the 38-year-old said.

"In the end I went ahead and my boss said yes. But it was still difficult."

Mr Mark Hall, the vice-president and country manager of recruitment company Kelly Services, said employees can build trust in their employers by providing regular updates on the progress of their work.

"This helps them reach a position where they are given the responsibility to plan their own time."

3 Bringing work home a no-no

Working till the wee hours, either at home or in the office, has been the norm for lawyer Sharon for the past six years.

That was why the 30-year-old, who declined to give her full name, was surprised when told that just 6 per cent of bosses surveyed said their staff should take work home after office hours.

Chief executives and senior managers preferred if no one did work at home.

In contrast, 13 per cent of workers said they are expected to bring back work, with the proportion increasing to 18 per cent for higher-skilled employees.

The reason why they "work- round-the-clock" is that their bosses are doing the same. "My boss would reply my e-mail at 3am. How can you not work when your bosses are working too?" said Ms Sharon, who quit her job at a big law firm earlier this year.

Bosses admitted it is up to them to draw the line.

Madam Hasliza Hashim, the managing director of training course provider N-Rich, lets her staff plan their time according to their needs. They can also work where it is convenient, including at public library work spaces which the company rents from workplace solutions firm Regus. However, work starts at 9am and stops at 4pm sharp. "I tell my clients to contact me and not my staff if they need to reach us after work hours. I don't want them to be disturbed," the 32-year-old said.

4 Duty after work

While bosses do not want their employees bringing work home, 54 per cent feel they should be able to call on them after office hours if there is a need.

However, many workers will likely balk at this suggestion. Only 37 per cent said they are expected to meet business needs regardless of time.

One boss who feels it is only right that workers chip in is 38-year-old Tan Wei Leng, South-east Asia head of marketing at video-conferencing tech firm Polycom.

"Bosses give workers flexibility. So workers need to be there for the company too," she said. Her company allows staff to work from home, take a few hours off to settle family matters or even go to the gym during office hours. In return, staff work on weekends and at night when necessary.

However there are bosses who go overboard, said investment banker Andy, who declined to give his full name. He said his boss has driven to his house on a Sunday morning to pass him work.

"I had already worked from Monday to Saturday and was hoping to sleep in," said the 29-year-old who quit earlier this year.

5 The office grapevine

Most bosses - 73 per cent - feel they have a role in educating workers on work-life integration policies. But 71 per cent of workers find out by word of mouth instead of official channels.

Human resource experts say some workers may not feel comfortable approaching their bosses and rely on the grapevine instead.

However, they warned against this because the information may get distorted.

Mr David Leong, managing director of recruitment firm PeopleWorldwide, added that human resource departments in some companies are reluctant to inform workers on flexi-work options because their work will get harder.

"Tracking the performance and paying a worker on flexi-work is more complex than dealing with full-time workers," he said. "We need better trained human resource staff and more approachable bosses."

'Few workers make use of flexible hours'
Fear of giving negative impression a reason parents don't do so: Survey
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 21 Jul 2014

WHEN relationship manager Serene Lee gets off work at 5.30pm, it is a mad rush to meet her husband, buy dinner and pick their daughter up from childcare.

By the time dinner is over and the family has settled down, she has only about an hour to spend with four-year-old Chloe.

"It would be nice if the work day ended a little earlier, because the extra half hour or one hour can make a lot of difference at home," said Ms Lee, 34, whose husband is a civil servant. "We could pick our daughter (up) earlier, and the pace would be less stressful. In the evening, we could spend more time with her."

While working parents with young children like Ms Lee deem flexible hours or staggered start and end times beneficial, few of them enjoy this perk, a survey found earlier this year.

The survey commissioned by The Straits Times and work-life advocacy group Employer Alliance (EA) found that although staggered start and end times were the top-ranked benefit among working mums with young children, less than a quarter used the scheme. Also, less than a quarter of mums and a fifth of dads used flexi-hours, though they ranked it third-most beneficial.

This could be because many feel a need for facetime.

The survey of 1,000 employees and 500 employers by Degree Census Consultancy showed that more than eight in 10 working mums with young children think they are expected to be in the office during working hours. Likewise, for seven in 10 of their male peers. "Our clients work during office hours so we need to be there to liaise between them and the internal team," said Ms Lee, who works in a publishing company.

Working parents with young children worried more than the average employee about using work-life programmes - while 25 per cent of all employees were concerned, 34 per cent of mums and 27 per cent of dads were concerned. Mums worried about financial losses or negative comments from colleagues and supervisors, while dads feared getting unfavourable work assignments.

"It's a tough decision because working fewer hours might mean less income, and there are a lot of expensive things to consider when raising a child," said assistant communications manager Angeline Ng, 30, who has a three-year-old daughter.

Some young parents are also tied to the workplace as they may have daily meetings or a lot of overseas travel, for example.

Mr Yeoh Cheng Huann, 33, quit his previous job four years ago when he and his wife, a teacher, were planning to have children. "I needed to travel for periods of time and thought if I had a child I would like to be at home more." As a senior financial consultant now, he can arrange meetings around events like medical appointments for his two-year-old daughter and six-month-old son.

Worries about being unable to track productivity or contact employees on flexi-work arrangements may discourage some employers from implementing such practices. Around half of the companies surveyed offered staggered work times or flexi-hours.

But EA chairman Claire Chiang said: "You have to see this as a marketplace imperative and an investment for a longer-term war for talent." For a start, companies can make plans, talk to the person requesting flexi-work arrangements, decide about pay, and then evaluate performance after six months, she added.

Businesses can gain too, said human resource expert Paul Heng, adding: "It could help retention and employees may be able to focus more on work during office hours with the peace of mind that their priorities are balanced."

Founder and chief executive of corporate services company Heritage Trust, Dr Angelo Venardos, said he saw this after one worker started a three-quarter work day arrangement six years ago to spend more time with her children. "She found she could work more effectively and her team is one of the best because of her."

The company formalised its flexi-work arrangements this year, to ensure that staff know they can apply for them but do not take the schemes for granted.

Dr Venardos added: "If we make you happy during the day, hopefully you go home happy and come back happy the next day."

Going 'flexi' can be tricky, say experts
Firms must harness IT, build trust, have robust appraisal system
By Yasmine Yahya, The Straits Times, 22 Jul 2014

BOSSES are keen to make changes at the workplace to help their staff better manage work and personal demands but introducing such flexi-time arrangements can be tricky, say experts.

A company has to harness technology, build a culture of trust and set up a robust system of assessing workers' performance that does not penalise those on flexi-work, they add.

A recent survey commissioned by The Straits Times and work-life integration advocacy group Employer Alliance showed that some companies could use a tip or two on how to make the system work for them.

The survey conducted by Degree Census Consultancy was detailed in a Straits Times report last Saturday.

It took in responses from 1,000 employees and 500 employers and found that more than 80 per cent of bosses supported initiatives that would help their staff better manage their work and personal or family demands.

But 65 per cent were also concerned about running the business efficiently while addressing their staff's work-life needs.

And 56 per cent added that they would worry about whether employees on a flexi-work arrangement such as teleworking were really getting the job done.

Having a robust appraisal system would help in such cases, noted Ms Tan Wei Leng, the South-east Asia head of marketing at video-conferencing firm Polycom. Her company trusts staff to work from home and on flexi-work schemes because everyone knows what is expected of them, she said.

"You need to be detailed and transparent about the targets to set your staff so that everyone is on the same page."

Managers set clear targets in talks with staff at the start of the year and then review the situation at the half-year mark.

Staff also have to regularly update their bosses on their work, even if it is through instant messaging and video calls.

Sociologist Paulin Straughan noted that the absence of proper target-setting and performance appraisal is what causes supervisors at many local firms to rely on face time as a proxy for whether an employee is working hard or not.

But having such a structure in place is not enough. Arguably, the more important step is to foster a culture of trust so that employees feel confident about tapping flexi-work and will not worry that their supervisors will mark them down for it.

"Management needs to walk the talk. Some organisations have their middle managers try out the different flexi-work arrangements themselves. Others encourage their employees across ranks to regularly tap the various options so it becomes the norm within the organisation," said NTUC Women's Development Secretariat director Sylvia Choo.

Employer Alliance chairman Claire Chiang believes another way to make flexi-work a success is for companies to have a "work-family manager". This could be a person within the human resource division who studies the makeup of the company's staff and figures out what kind of flexibility different groups of staff might need, depending on their stage of life.

Relevant work-family programmes could be developed and ways found to make the workplace a more sensitive environment for employees to better integrate work and family needs.

If hiring a work-family manager is out of the question, the company could embed such practices into existing human resource policies, Ms Chiang added.

For example, job interviews and annual appraisals could include questions about the employee's life circumstances, to find out whether he is undergoing any stress at home.

"For example, if you find out this person is taking care of a wife in depression, you can recommend that he shouldn't travel. Or this other person has a sick father - you can ask if he wants to have a more flexible schedule."

While these tips could be applied to many firms, there are some companies where flexi-work can be almost impossible to implement.

Take a hospital that has to be operational 24/7. Teleworking is not an option for most staff and, without a big enough pool of employees, the hospital would not be able to offer flexi-work options such as part-time work or job sharing.

Such firms may have limited options, but there is still much room for improvement for many others here, noted Ms Foo Mee Har, MP for West Coast GRC and an advocate for work-life integration. "It's true that not all jobs can be made flexible, but there are so many more jobs in Singapore that could be done on flexi arrangements which are not. We are very far from the optimal level," she added.

NTUC holds flexi-work workshops for companies keen to learn more about flexi-work, Ms Choo noted.

These free, four-hour workshops are being held each month until the end of the year.

The love-work imbalance
Better work-life integration was the popular refrain at the recent Our Singapore Conversation sessions. But a new survey finds low take-up rates for flexi-work arrangements, with employees sticking to full-time face-time. Insight examines the surprise result.
By Yasmine Yahya, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2014

AS A mother of two young children, 32-year-old Ms Shernice Ong could easily tap her company's schemes for more flexible hours or to work from home several times a week.

But the operations analyst at an international bank chooses to stick to a traditional work routine - she is at her desk by 9 every morning and on most days, she leaves after 6pm.

"I'm quite happy," she says simply. "I actually enjoy going in to work each day and meeting my colleagues. I'm quite a chatty person so I need that social environment."

Ms Ong adds: "As long as my supervisor lets me take emergency leave if one of my kids falls sick and lets me leave at 6pm twice a week so I can pick up my daughter from childcare, I don't need to be on any special arrangement."

Her sunny attitude towards work is reflective of Singaporean workers at large, going by the surprising results of one of the most comprehensive surveys ever done here of that buzzword "work-life balance", or what advocates now call "work-life integration".

The survey was commissioned by The Straits Times and work-life advocacy group Employer Alliance (EA) and conducted by Degree Census Consultancy, which carried out telephone interviews with 1,000 employees and 500 employers in Singapore.

While 86 per cent of employers support work-life initiatives that would help their staff cope with their work and family demands, flexi-work schemes such as job sharing and staggered hours have been used by about 20 per cent of workers or fewer.

This is low compared with other developed countries, where at least half of the employees are on some kind of flexi-work arrangement, says Ms Wendy Heng, a manager at recruitment firm Robert Walters Singapore.

The reasons that local workers shy away from taking advantage of flexi-work vary from the pragmatic to the philosophical.

A quarter of the workers polled said they had concerns about using flexi-work, citing worries such as being passed over for promotions, getting smaller bonuses and receiving unfavourable work assignments.

Others from this group said their concerns related to the Singapore work culture - they feared receiving negative comments from their supervisor or colleagues and having their commitment to the job questioned.

EA chairman Claire Chiang suspects another reason so few have tapped flexi-work has to do with how central work is to most Singaporean workers' identity.

As the senior vice-president of hospitality firm Banyan Tree, she has observed that Singaporeans, like operations analyst Ms Ong, simply "love to work".

She says: "I look at myself and the people around me - every night I have to tell my people to leave the office. Work has become a central life interest for Singaporeans. The workplace has become a place for personal satisfaction and they also like the camaraderie they find there."

These results come in the wake of the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) exercise last year, which threw up a different take. The OSC committee found then that a majority of locals would prefer a more comfortable, slower pace of life, even if it meant giving up career advancement.

The discussion has since gathered pace and the Government said in May that it plans to issue guidelines on how companies could put in place flexible work arrangements later this year.

It also plans to improve the Work-Life Grant, which offers firms up to $160,000 over three years when they implement flexi-work schemes.

Underlying factors

BUT given the low take-up rate of flexi-work arrangements among workers today, this strategy of encouraging more widespread adoption of flexi-work schemes by local firms might not be the key to improving work-life integration in Singapore.

MP for West Coast GRC Foo Mee Har, who has championed the issue of work-life balance in Parliament, believes that there are underlying factors at play.

"For flexi-work schemes to be systemic and something that workers can take as an institutionalised way of working, it needs to be widely accepted and a norm in the workplace, or else they'd feel out of place."

And for flexi-work to be widely accepted, employers first have to truly believe that work-life integration and flexibility will benefit them.

According to the survey, only about half the employers polled provide flexi-work arrangements. For example, 55 per cent offer staggered start and end times and only 40 per cent allow staff to work from home.

Among employers here which do offer a range of such schemes is MasterCard Singapore.

"We recognise that work sometimes takes place around the clock, especially if staff have to dial in to conference calls in Europe or the United States - work doesn't stop just because it's past the official working hours," says general manager Julienne Loh.

With staff working beyond the usual 9 to 6, the company believes it, too, should be flexible in return by allowing employees to better integrate their personal lives with their work.

That means, for example, allowing them to work from home or have flexible hours so they can run errands when they need to.

But many other local companies are still "not on the right wavelength", Ms Foo laments. "We need to help employers see the benefit of flexibility, and not see it as 'welfare' but as a clear business advantage to engage employees and enhance business opportunities."

Flexibility helps to attract and retain talent and can also help companies save costs, Ms Foo says, adding that a recent study of British firms with flexi-work schemes found that they had reaped cost savings of 3 to 13 per cent.

Some, for example, saved on rental costs as they did not have to lease as much space, with workers telecommuting.

Ms Foo notes: "Singapore is uniquely positioned to harness the powers of flexi-work as we're a wired and compact city with expensive real estate costs. So if companies can think creatively about how to do flexi-work, it would benefit both employees and employers."

Sociologist Paulin Straughan notes that one major hindrance is ignorance among employers about how to harness flexi-work properly.

"Many supervisors do not know how to assess performance of their team in this new economy where you can't easily measure work output. So for lack of a better alternative, they continue to resort to using face-time as a proxy for good performance," she says.

"Employees know that, so they, too, try to ensure that they are seen in the office. Until we can get to the crux of the problem, this misperception will continue to guide performance assessment."

National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong agrees, saying that the structure has to be robust for flexi-work to really work.

"Supervisors have to be trained to schedule and roster work fairly and not be biased against staff on flexi-work; and at appraisal time, the supervisor must be fair.

"My sense is that the rostering and appraisal system is often not robust enough to measure the output of someone on flexi-work."

The survey points to this conflict among bosses about how to properly assess and remunerate workers on flexible arrangements.

For example, 65 per cent of employers have concerns about balancing business requirements with employees' work-life needs. The top worry, cited by 56 per cent, is not knowing whether the employee working from home or on a flexi-work schedule is really getting his job done.

And while 86 per cent of the bosses said they were supportive of work-life arrangements to help their staff cope with their work and family demands, only 63 per cent of them said the career advancement and performance reviews of such workers would not be affected.

Former civil servant Zubaidah Salim has faced such an environment - she felt she had to think twice about applying for a flexi-work arrangement after her daughter was born.

"I knew it would affect my chances for promotions. I also heard from others who took up part-time positions that the work distribution wasn't very fair. You take home half the pay but you do more than half the work."

She eventually decided against flexi-work and left the job altogether.

Making it all work

OF COURSE, availability of flexi-work schemes is one thing, but fostering a culture that makes it acceptable and normal for workers to take them up is quite another.

One interesting finding was that among the workers polled, 82 per cent said they felt in control of their work-life arrangement. Yet, 84 per cent also said that their personal well-being would be better if they could manage their work and personal lives more effectively.

MP for Mountbatten Lim Biow Chuan says this contradiction is a symptom of the Singaporean addiction to work.

"Although they are in control of their work-life arrangement, they probably feel that work is so important that they spend an inordinate amount of time on it. All of us want more time for ourselves to do our own thing. Even though you know you ought to spend more time on yourself and your family, you don't."

And for those brave enough to take the plunge into flexi-work, there is cultural stigma to contend with.

"When you receive an accolade, people say, 'Claire seems to manage work, family, life and community'. An ability to manage it all seems to be the accepted definition of success," notes Ms Chiang. "Hence, if you don't work full-time, that means you're not able to cope, when in fact it is rather a choice someone can make at a point in his life, to want to contribute just this much, for this purpose, during this period."

The only way to change this mindset is to empower workers to ask themselves what they want and speak up about their needs, Ms Chiang says.

"Bosses must know their talent and what they are going through. Employees very often won't present their problems. So we need to foster a culture where people can share their problems."

She suggests that during job interviews and annual appraisals, bosses should ask their staff about their personal lives and take the lead in suggesting flexi-work options if the worker seems in need of help.

"People must feel safe to be themselves and it is the real hurdle - it requires a lot of trust between the management and the staff."

The way forward

THE results point to work-life integration becoming a more pressing need in future - young workers expressed a high desire for good work-life integration, more than any other age group.

Furthermore, this is no longer a women's issue - 87 per cent of men said they would be attracted to work for a company that supports them in managing work and family commitments.

Experts agree that the path towards better work-life integration will require the combined efforts of all - the Government, employers and employees.

The Government, as the biggest employer in Singapore, should take the lead, says Mr Lim. For example, managers in the civil service should not be allowed to call employees after office hours, unless there is an emergency.

Ms Foo adds that there needs to be more education and outreach to employers to get them on board. "The Government could roll out schemes but why would companies even apply for the schemes if they don't believe in the benefits?"

Employees have their own part to play too, Ms Chiang says. "You have to know what you want and how you want your work to fit into your life. But you also have to be responsible and accountable to the organisation's requirements."

Finding the ideal mix with technology and work-life options
By Yasmine Yahya, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2014

FOR the past two decades, "work-life balance" was the buzzword describing that ever elusive lifestyle that afforded as much time for leisure and family time as the fulfilment of career ambitions.

Now, however, advocates of flexibility in the workplace are urging workers and employers to embrace the idea of "work-life integration".

"In the past, there was a fundamental assumption that work and family were conflicting responsibilities," Employer Alliance chairperson Claire Chiang notes. "So if women went to work, it meant they were neglecting their children and very often women felt guilty about working. But life has changed. People are now demanding to do both, and to succeed at both."

And so integration is about studying the complex interactions between the work and family domains, and using technology and flexible work arrangements to allow for "mutual facilitation and enhancement" between the two, she adds.

Singapore started having serious discussions about the need for more pro-family work policies in the mid-1990s, and even then it was late to the game, Ms Chiang notes.

"The United States was and is far ahead of us because they didn't have domestic assistance," she says. "They had to learn how to cope earlier, how to be more flexible. The same happened in Europe - gender equality and the lack of home assistance were the twin pillars that drove companies to embrace work flexibility.

"Whereas we had buffers - extended family, domestic helpers. so it was an issue we didn't have to deal with until the late 90s."

Ms Chiang, who was involved in advocacy for pro-family work practices from the start, recalls: "In 1997 we started discussing it to address the issue of productivity, labour shortage and engaging and empowering women."

Today, these issues are more pertinent than ever. Many companies face a shortage of labour, yet there were 734,800 people in Singapore last year aged between 26 and 64 who were economically inactive. And of these, more than 155,000 wanted to find work.

"There is this pool of people out there ready to work and may be having trouble finding a job that can fit their work-life needs, yet companies are saying there isn't enough labour in the market," Ms Chiang notes.

"As the war for talent intensifies, companies might offer flexi-work to attract these people back to work provided they also offer work packages that make the engagement worthwhile."

Ms Chiang says she is confident, however, that Singapore companies do have a fairly sophisticated understanding of work-life integration.

"In terms of awareness, we are ahead in the Asia-Pacific. But in the journey of reaching that stage where flexi-work is something that people don't question any more, where it's just another way of working, there's no stigma and everyone can integrate work and life and is happy, I would say we are now at five or six out of 10."

It may take another decade for Singapore to reach this ideal stage, Ms Chiang adds, but she is optimistic.

"If we keep at it and with market forces pressuring companies to adopt flexibility as a way to attract and retain talent, we can get there."

No pay cut at this hotel for older employees
By Yasmine Yahya, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2014

ONE workplace lauded for being one of the more enlightened in Singapore is a hotel in the Holiday Inn chain - but even its array of flexi-work offers does not get much take-up.

At any given time, only five or six employees out of 260 are on some kind of flexible work arrangement, says the general manager of the British-based chain's Orchard City Centre hotel, Mr Jagdeep Thakral.

And this is despite the hotel - which has won awards including the Exemplary Employer Award this year - going out of its way to consider workers' needs.

Mr Thakral, 48, even holds regular Tuesday tea sessions with four to five mostly rank-and-file employees for feedback about work and to learn more about their lives.

Its flexible work arrangements include allowing one sales manager who was in an accident to work from home for over six months, and permitting workers to stay on past retirement age without a pay cut.

And it even goes the extra mile for a not-a-morning- person banquet sales manager. Mr Thakral says: "Instead of pushing her to come in to work at 8am, we changed her timing to start at 10am, and she works late into the evening anyway."

As to why, despite this impressive flexibility, staff prefer to come in to work and do full-time hours, Mr Thakral says it likely has to do with the close-knit family environment that the hotel has fostered among its staff, many of whom have been with the hotel for over a decade.

Take Mr A. Ramoo Chandrasegran, who is 62 this year and looks after the hotel's housekeeping team.

He plans to stay at the hotel and work full-time instead of retiring. "I've worked here 29 years, it's like my family. I'm still able-bodied and I like to work."

The hotel's policy is to continue to pay such workers their full compensation package, unlike most companies which would typically re-employ their older workers with a 10 per cent salary reduction and fewer benefits.

Last year, the hotel had 15 staff who turned 62 and all 15 chose to stay on and work full-time.

Those Tuesday tea sessions help to maintain this closeness, Mr Thakral says.

"It's a great way of understanding who the staff actually are and what values they have in life, rather than what they do. And I share with them who I am and what I do, so we know we are connected to each other. It breaks down that wall."

Once an organisation has created this "bubble of trust", Mr Thakral says, workers would feel more empowered to voice their needs and concerns.

The strategy is certainly working on many levels.

Turnover at the hotel, which is one of six run by the Intercontinental Hotels Group in Singapore, is less than 2 per cent monthly, whereas the industry standard is about 6 per cent, notes human resources director James Lee.

The most recent survey that the hotel conducted of its workers found that 94 per cent felt engaged at work.

To Mr Thakral, work-life integration is all about having a team of passionate people whose work is a meaningful part of their lives.

"Work-life integration is about building passion into the work. Our recruitment policy is based on passion first and competency next. We see if the person has the attitude and passion for the job and then we look at his capability."

Time off work for training lets national bowler keep her job and sport
By Yasmine Yahya, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2014

FOR national ten-pin bowler Jasmine Yeong-Nathan, 25, the flexi-work available at auditing giant KMPG Singapore is a knock-out success.

The management consultant benefits from a unique flexi-work scheme, Programme for Elite Athletes in KPMG (Peak), targeted at national athletes working at the firm.

The 2009 Sportswoman of the Year, who is the first Singaporean to win the AMF Bowling World Cup, has been on a sabbatical since April as she is training full-time for next year's South-east Asian Games. Before that, she worked on a flexible schedule that allowed her to leave at 5pm every day to attend training, and she could take time off for competitions.

"Without such a programme, I would have had to choose between bowling or a job," she says. "I would've probably chosen bowling, but I would also worry about what happens after my bowling career ends."

She adds: "As a national athlete, you don't have time for internships, so I would have entered the job market later than most people with limited experience in the working world. So it's incredible that I get to do both now."

KPMG Singapore operates in an industry notorious for its high turnover rate and a high population of young professionals, so several years ago it decided to get creative in order to attract and retain an ever-younger workforce.

"Flexi-work has been around in KPMG for a long time but in the past, people were considered for such arrangements on a case-by-case basis," says Mr Stephen Tjoa, the firm's partner for people, performance and culture. The firm is one of the largest professional services providers in Singapore, with over 2,300 employees.

"So what we have done is institutionalise these schemes, largely to address a new generation of workers with very diverse needs and aspirations both within their careers and outside, with the aim of retaining top talent."

It was a good call to start early - the company's average employee now is a 27-year-old female - young, ambitious, about to take on more responsibilities at work but also likely to have an active personal life or about to start a family.

Even so, the take-up rate of flexi-work schemes has been slow - fewer than 10 per cent of KPMG staff here are on some kind of special arrangement.

"People still have the mindset of not wanting to take it on because they worry that it might affect their careers," Mr Tjoa notes. "But as a firm, we are trying to push it across. All line managers are fully aware of the available flexi-work options for their staff and are given very detailed briefs."

One who has taken the plunge into flexi-work is senior tax manager Tan Teck Ming. Since January, he works from 9.30am to 6.30pm every day.

That sounds like a full week of work for most people, but not in auditing - auditors at KPMG tend to start earlier and finish work much later.

Mr Tan - a father of four children aged between six and 17 - says these hours enable him to adapt to the needs of a demanding professional life and equally busy personal life.

"I need the time to drop the kids off at school and avoid the crowd in public transport and traffic jams," he says.

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