“Nearly 7 in 10 respondents in a survey by the labour movement say their employers are not quite supportive of flexi-work arrangements” (‘Mindset Change Needed’ For Flexi-Work To Take Off, Mr. Woo Sian Boon and Miss Kelly Ng).
The commentary (‘Mindset Change Needed’ For Flexi-Work To Take Off (March 2, 2013) by Mr. Woo Sian Boon and Miss Kelly Ng) on the perceptions towards flexi-work should signal two things to the government with regard to its plans to calibrate work-life balance in Singapore. On the one hand, employers are less than thrilled with flexi-work arrangements, reiterating their perspective that not every job can be done on flexi-hours. On the other, even if employers might be forthcoming with flexible work options, employees are apprehensive. The anecdotes raised in the piece reflected pragmatic concerns: worries that they might appear to be unproductive, uncertainty over monetary incentives, and childcare concerns. Taking up these arrangements could be an occupational dead-end, or – particularly in competitive environments – render them susceptible to marginalisation or discrimination.
Correspondingly, the statistics provided by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) – that the number of establishments offering at least one form of flexible work arrangement has increased from 25 per cent in 2007 to 41 per cent in 2012 – does not tell the complete story. Notwithstanding the observation that 41 per cent is a dismal figure (for a country that is looking to boost work-life balance), first, it does not reveal how many employees have responded to these strategies, and have actually taken up these options within the span of a calendar year. Second, the provision of a generalised percentage, without taking into account time-based or blue-collared vocations, is not very helpful.
The Challenge of Work-Life Needs in Singapore
I think this is a good example of how the actual implementation of policy recommendations differs from the perceived outcomes. The availability of flexible measures at the workplace is one thing; whether employers proactively promote the initiatives to their workers is another. If MOM is sincere in its endeavour to assure greater work-life integration, especially in the offices, employers can then be compelled to discourage workaholic tendencies, or work engagements after office hours. This could include flexible human resource management with their superiors, the providence of compulsory leave, or part-time allowances.
In 2006, the National Work-Life Harmony Study, which tracks the progress of work-life harmony in Singapore – was 64. Last year, it stood at 63. Do we need more evidence that present steps to address work-life needs are wholly inadequate?
Change has to start from the top, from the bureaucrats and the employers. They need to shoulder greater responsibilities, to first convince their subordinates that they have nothing to be worried about, and that the company will not leave nervy workers in the lurch. The short-term costs might not seem justified in the beginning, but studies have constructively shown that individuals who are granted greater flexibility and liberty would prove to be more productive, and will be happier people. Break the vicious culture and mindsets, we must.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.