Work or life?

Vivien Shiao Shufen 31 Dec 2012

It is common knowledge that Singaporeans are hard workers. A recent survey by has found that nine out of 10 employees regularly work beyond their official hours. Overloading of work and high-pressure deadlines were the main reasons why locals feel they are unable to have work-life harmony.

The most alarming part of the study is this: only 30% of respondents felt that their companies had initiatives in place to promote work-life balance, while almost half said their companies only paid lip service to work-life balance.

Many experts say that companies which choose to ignore the well-being of staff do so at their own peril. “Multiple studies have reported that employers who focus their efforts on cultivating a culture of healthy work-life balance tend to benefit greatly – from higher levels of engagement within the company to enhanced productivity and profitability,” notes Clement Goh, Managing Director, Equinix South Asia.

When asked if work-life harmony is merely a myth in workaholic Singapore, many HR professionals say that more can be done to ensure the well-being of staff.

Sonia Cargan, vice president of HR – Asia, American Express, says that work-life balance is a critical part of the employee value proposition in her organisation.

“Companies need to foster a culture of respect and trust for employees,” says Cargan. “It is becoming more critical that employers recognise the different needs of employee segments and adopt approaches and a culture where all employees can grow and succeed.”

At American Express, flexible work arrangements (FWAs) help ensure staff have a healthy work-life balance. FWAs range from staggered working hours to remote, off-site work areas. They also offer employees childcare and flexi-leave benefits that are above and beyond statutory requirements.

Communication is key to unlocking work-life balance, says Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA).

“To ensure the success of work-life policies, the most important factor is to have open communication with staff,” says Alice Tan, Group Director (Corporate Serices), LTA. “Open communication also allows employees’ feedback to be obtained, encouraging a culture of trust, enhancing employee engagement, and creating a healthy work environment.”

LTA has programmes focused on meeting the needs of staff at different life stages, breaking them down into various categories such as: married staff, singles, and the mature workforce. In addition, it allows staff to make FWAs that create balance between their work and personal commitments.

Most HR practitioners agree that for work-life harmony to begin, there needs to buy-in from top management.

“Business leaders need to truly walk the talk in order for things to happen and for HR programmes and policies to actualise,” explains Goh. “The first step for HR professionals is really to convince senior management teams that work-life skills are just as important as technical know-how. In fact, once top management makes the commitment, implementation can be fairly easy.”

However, the responsibility of work-balance does not only lie with employers alone, but is also controlled by employees to a certain extent.

“While the demand for work-life solutions has skyrocketed, many policies have fallen short of their promise and potential to deliver – primarily as a result of the unhealthy mindsets workers have developed over the years,” says Goh.

He added that younger workers have cultivated an unhealthy mentality that associates longer working hours with hard workers. “As such, many business leaders actually struggle to implement and make work-life policies work,” he noted.

Eugene Lam, HR Director, Applied Materials concurs. “Many Gen Y workers want to work hard and long hours, so it may be hard to enforce work-life integration practices,” he observes.

Despite the challenges involved, Lam also notes that it is HR’s role to be the ‘conscience’ of management when it comes to work-life practices in policies.

According to Shalini Bhateja, Global Talent Development Director, Schneider Electric, the work situation is changing and trust is the key to navigating these changes.

“When there is trust between management and employees, there will be better work-life balance,” she says. “Gone are the days when you need to work later than your boss – it’s not about the hours you work, it’s about productivity. Organisations that fail to acknowledge this will not attract or retain the best talent.”

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Commented by: Gerard at 31 Dec 2012 04:13 PM Report this comment
I am sorry but I am rather sceptical of the finding. What was the age group of the people you surveyed and what kinds of jobs are they engaged in? I'm working in the civil service and what I see is younger (not the older) staff often taking mc. It's also the younger staff who are making clear that their family is a priority (which is not wrong) and thus declining more responsibilities (which is their choice). Perhaps we need to do a separate survey for civil servants.
Commented by: Edward at 03 Jan 2013 05:00 PM Report this comment
I second what Gerard has observed. It would be more meaningful if the survey findings could be further analysed and presented by age group, gender, marital status, and type of industry.

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