22 January 2013

Empowering work-life balance

22 January 2013

Work Life Balance

The announcement of the Marriage and Parenthood Package (M&P Package) is like the constant nudging of well-meaning relatives reminding the singles among us that we need to seriously consider getting hitched, or if we are already wedded, that we should not ignore the joys of parenthood. We first announced the package in 2001. Twice, in 2004 and 2008, it has been updated and enhanced to take into account the changing needs and demands of Singaporeans. This year, we believe we could do more to support marriage and parenthood including promoting a culture of better work-life balance in Singapore. Hence, the M & P package is into its third incarnation.

It is no secret that our young Singaporeans are driven and aspire to great things. They are working longer and harder at building their careers, which is a commendable thing. Many are so caught up with their jobs that they don’t even make time to clear their annual leave. I also know that many working parents in Singapore are hesitant about starting a family because of their busy work schedules. How can they cope with one more mouth to feed, diapers to change, child-minding arrangements to make, reversal of night and day during the early years of infancy? No wonder that many put parenthood on pause in the short term. The sad thing is that the short term quickly becomes the medium term, and the medium term turns into the long term. But, what if we COULD really balance work and the demands of starting a family?

Minister Tan Chuan-Jin spoke about creating a work-life culture at the workplace at last year’s Work-Life Excellence Award Gala Dinner and that struck a chord with me. We need to build an ecosystem where employers value pro-family initiatives for their benefits to business performance, where business leaders are role models themselves, where employees feel confident enough to take up flexible work when they need to, but in a totally responsible way, and where colleagues are understanding and supportive. Everyone in this ecosystem can work together to achieve the right kind of work-life culture that is sustainable without compromising on organizational outcomes. In fact, if we think about it, given our scarce manpower resources, a work-life culture is an important way to enhance a business’s ability to attract and retain the most valued workers.

And in today’s context, flexible work is very feasible. Working off-site or on-the-go is no longer a problem for administrative work. Our smart devices connect us readily to our emails; in MOM for example, some of our colleagues are issued iPads. The majority of others use a laptop equipped with remote access. Yet others can work flexible hours or part-time. As a working parent myself, I find such work-life balance support very empowering. When my three children were much younger, much of the technology that facilitates flexible work was not available then. Being in a developed country, we are blessed now to have good access to cutting-edge technology and we should leverage on that. Of course, such technology requires investment.

For companies with limited resources, there is help. Have you heard of Work-life Works! (WoW!) Fund? This is a scheme that facilitates companies in providing flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting, job-sharing, etc. Over 850 companies (95% of which are SMEs) have benefited from the WoW! Fund since 2004 when it first started. In total, about $15 million has been disbursed. Our tripartite partners are also providing tool-kits to companies new to the concept of flexible work arrangements. Over the years we have also conducted outreach efforts such as WLEA, Work-Life Conference and CEO-to-CEO forums to encourage the sharing of best practices and success stories amongst our employers.

The Government has expanded our scope of support to help individuals too. We have heard your calls for more leave benefits to bond with the young ones without compromising on your careers. We are also sharing the financial load with employers in this aspect. In the new M&P package, working parents can look forward to two days of government-paid child-care leave for parents with children aged 7-12 years old, four weeks of government-paid adoption leave for working mothers, government-paid maternity benefits for working women who do not currently qualify for any maternity leave some income after childbirth, one week of government-paid paternity leave for fathers and one week of government-paid shared paternal leave. You can find out more about these at our MOM website.

Nevertheless, even with all the support in place, for a work-life culture to work, both employer and employee must make the effort to foster mutual trust. We need employers to inspire confidence in their employees, so that they not only tap on flexible work arrangements knowing that workflow has been adjusted, but also do so knowing they would not be disadvantaged compared to a colleague who does not. We also urge employees to reciprocate such efforts by tapping on the arrangements responsibly.

I certainly hope that the slew of measures in this M&P package will help more Singaporeans achieve their aspirations of a better work-life balance, so that you can pursue your careers alongside your goals outside of work and to enjoy more family time. I look forward to hearing more wedding bells and receiving even more invitations to baby showers in the (hopefully not too distant) future.

Minister of State for Manpower
Dr Amy Khor
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