Helping employees switch off

Vivien Shiao Shufen 05 Aug 2013

In today’s digital age, the line between our work and personal lives has been drawn much thinner than before. With the rise of flexi-work and Bring-Your-Own-Device policies, it is becoming more tricky for workers to truly switch off from their jobs.

We are not just talking about staff that check their work e-mails as soon as they wake up, or those working via an iPad before heading to bed. Surveys have shown that employees even continue working when they are on vacation. According to a Nielsen survey by accommodation website Stayz, 51% of employees check their e-mails daily even when they are on holiday.

With so much connectivity, it is important that employees are able to balance the demands of work with the very real need for personal time and space. Work-life harmony is key to unlocking the potential of each employee and it is imperative that HR is in the driver’s seat to make sure that staff are able to perform at their optimum level.


The role of technology

Advances in technology have undeniably made most people’s lives more convenient, but there is also a price to pay for this constant accessibility.

“Technology has indeed blurred the lines between our personal and professional lives,” says Gabrielle Tourelle, Global Talent Director, Text100. “For that reason, we need to be mindful of how we choose to use technology, but more importantly how we take an overall approach to managing our lives so that we feel fulfilled at work and at home.”

She explains that while technology can enable workers to spend more time at home, it is necessary to ensure that employees take breaks and are not unnecessarily checking e-mails and introducing work stress into their lives.

“We rely heavily on technology for staying connected, but we also encourage downtime from phones and laptops,” adds Tourelle.

American Express acknowledges that while technology can cause the boundaries of work and home to blur, it is also an enabler for staff to enjoy flexible work arrangements. Technologies such as IP phone, audio and video conferencing, instant messenger tools, and a global electronic room booking system, are some ways that the organisation helps employees be productive while enjoying flexi-work opportunities.

“We are shifting the culture from predominantly a presence culture to a results-driven culture, and technology definitely plays a vital part in making this possible,” says Yoshimi Nakajima, Singapore Country Manager, American Express.

For generator rental provider Aggreko, technology can also play a significant role in work-life balance for staff, even while also addressing the needs of customers.

“For example, we have customised and highly efficient logistical systems that allow us to mobilise available equipment and expert technicians to any part of the world at any time,” says Moonie Moon, Director of HR, Aggreko Asia-Pacific. “While this allows us to provide customers with the 24/7 service they rely on us for, it also allows us to ensure that our technicians are taking the necessary time off for a quality work-life balance.”


Walking the talk

More companies are now aware that well-balanced employees are more engaged and productive, and many have implemented schemes to boost the well-being of staff.

DHL Express is one company recognising that a healthy body begets a healthy mind. The Singapore country office has a gymnasium where staff can go for a quick workout during lunch or after work. The company also encourages employees who are passionate about sports or hobbies to set up and champion hobby clubs. To date, there are several clubs established, including those for soccer, cycling, cricket and golf enthusiasts.

“These hobby clubs provide an excellent platform for greater interaction between colleagues, and help strengthen employee camaraderie as well as promote a healthy lifestyle,” says Herbert Vongpusanachai, Managing Director, DHL Express Singapore.

Some 61 DHL participants took part in the recent OCBC Cycle Singapore 2013. They were rallied together by a core group of employees from the cycling club and span all levels – from senior management down to the junior staff.

DHL also encourages staff to participate in community outreach programmes to gain a balance between work and life. It believes these sort of programmes add deeper meaning to each employee’s time with the company.

As for Text100, there is a global Duvet Day programme that allows employees two unscheduled paid days off per year. “It is meant for those days when you would rather pull the duvet over your head and go back to sleep, rather than face work,” explains Tourelle. “Our philosophy is simple: our people work hard and play hard.”

By factoring in extra downtime for staff, the company offers employees to recharge and value life outside of work. In the Text100 Singapore office, a ‘Get a Life Day’ is offered for every staff member once a month. Each worker is able to come in to work two hours later than usual, or leave two hours earlier.

Aside from flexible work arrangements in American Express (see boxout), the organisation has a number of initiatives to help employee achieve work-life balance, including paid parental and flexi-leave benefits.

In the Singapore office, childcare leave of six days is offered for employees who have children up to aged 12, regardless of nationality. Staff also get six days of flexi-leave for personal situations such as accompanying family members to medical appointments. Up to 60% of employees made used of this benefit in 2011.

The company also has its Healthy Living Programme, that was launched in 2010 to establish a culture of health and wellbeing among staff. It encourages American Express employees to be active, eat healthy and stay balanced at home and in the workplace.

“Since launching the programme, we have seen significant reductions in both health claims and sick leave,” says Nakajima.


Reaping the benefits

At DHL Express, when staff are provided with opportunities to take part in community outreach programmes, not only can they take their minds off work, it also fosters interaction among colleagues outside of a work environment.

“We have seen how such non-work activities have improved relationships between supervisors and staff, enhanced employee engagement and given our staff opportunities to demonstrate active leadership,” says Vongpusanachai. “These improvements were also noted in our annual Employee Opinion Survey, which tracks ‘Active Leadership and Engagement’, among other metrics.”

It is important that companies measure their schemes and strategies, to accurately gauge their impact on staff and business goals.

In this way, American Express has observed that employees have higher levels of productivity and perform better when they have better work-life harmony. The organisation has seen an increase in employees’ retention and engagement, leading to a higher rate of employee satisfaction and higher retention rates. An internal survey recorded that 87% of employees were satisfied with their corporate culture of flexibility.

“The ultimate benefit lies in your ability to grow and retain employees,” says Tourelle of Text100. “If people are feeling conflicted between work and their personal lives, it will be harder for them to succeed and if it is not addressed, it can be the key reason people leave. It is critical to see the signs and deal with a person’s concerns before they feel like the only solution is to seek a job that can provide better balance.”

For these companies, the cost of investing in staff is worth every penny.

“People are a company’s most precious asset,” says Moon of Aggreko. “We believe that when employees feel that they are well taken care of, they will be most inclined to take care of the company’s business.”


Flexi-work at American Express

At American Express, a global programme named “BlueWork“ addresses how work is changing by opening up the boundaries around where and how work is actually being done. It provides tools and environments that facilitate flexibility, creativity and collaboration. One component of BlueWork, is flexible work arrangements which range from staggered working hours to encouraging remote, off-site work areas.

Four distinct work styles are assigned to every role to match the work that is being done so as to support employees’ productivity and maintain work-life balance.

•        Hub – An employee whose role requires them to work in the office every day is assigned dedicated office workspace.

•        Club – An employee whose role requires frequent in-person interaction with colleagues and leadership, can utilise unassigned cubicles in the office (hot-desking).

•        Home – An employee who only occasionally visits the Hub Office and consistently works from home three or more days a week

•        Roam – An employee who primarily works at client locations and makes regular short visits to the Hub Office


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