Learning & Development Asia 2024
The employer's guide: Building an NS-friendly workplace
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The employer's guide: Building an NS-friendly workplace

Societal impact and maximising profit are not mutually exclusive considerations. Here’s how you can play your role in nation building by enabling the workforce’s National Service duties.

This article is brought to you by MINDEF.

You may recall seeing marching contingents from HP during past NDPs. What’s a technology company’s role in enhancing the peace and security of the nation where it operates, you may ask? There’s certainly more than meets the eye – and it comes down to the most important resource common to both defence and technology, i.e. the human resource.

“HP Singapore recognises the importance of peace and stability in Singapore; we have always been supportive of matters pertaining to nation building,” affirms Vivian Chua, Managing Director, HP Singapore (before 1 Nov 2022. Currently VP Market Services and Solutions, Greater Asia) (pictured above, and below).

Evidently, National Service, more commonly known as NS, is an important consideration for employers in Singapore. Progressive organisations, be they home-grown or multinational corporations such as HP, strive to be a contributing member of the communities in which they operate. This not only builds their employer brand, thus helping them attract better talent and retain their highest performers for longer, but contributes to overall business growth too.

Chua explains: “Singapore is home to HP’s APJ Headquarters and HP’s first Smart Manufacturing Applications and Research Centre in the world. The steady expansion of our local footprint since 1970 is largely thanks to Singapore’s political and operational stability.

“We recognise the importance of playing a part in sustaining this resilient and stable economy, by supporting and enabling our employees to fulfil their National Service responsibilities, while continuing to build an understanding and inclusive environment within HP.”

This isn’t just Chua’s experience as a C-suite leader, but has been definitively proven by research – employees today want to be part of something bigger than just daily goals and targets. In a 2021 PwC survey of 32,500 workers across 19 countries, three in four (75%) expressed a preference to work for organisations that will make a 'positive contribution to society.' It is evident employees today, buoyed by the entry of Generation Z, want to give back to society. They want to be part of an ecosystem where care for the nation, environment, and community is tied in to their jobs.

Fortunately, focusing on societal impact and maximising profit are not mutually exclusive, and being a purpose-led business can actually help boost your bottom line. Supporting the National Service obligations of eligible employees (known as NSmen) is one such way employers in Singapore are afforded an opportunity to contribute to nation building.

Building a culture in support of NS duties

In 2019, HP oversaw the setting up of a special interest group, NSSIG, made up entirely of volunteers. The idea was to make their employees’ NS journey as smooth as possible—all while reinforcing HP’s culture of embracing diversity; as such, this core team includes women and non-Singaporeans.

“The culture at HP welcomes and creates ample opportunities for interest groups to flourish. When advocates for NS stepped up within the company to support NSmen, we were wholeheartedly behind this cause,” Chua explains.

Since then, this volunteer group has continued to engage HP Singapore employees, including NSmen, through in-person events, camp visits, online activities/workshops, newsletters, and more —activities that persisted throughout the pandemic. Even the pandemic could not dent this momentum as events transitioned to virtual. Chua shares: “We continued to regularly engage our HP staff with newsletters and rolled out toolkits for managers of NSmen who want to know more about NS commitment.” Separately, HP also participates in the ‘We Support NS’ initiative regularly to offer discounts during SAF day periods on its online store.

Meanwhile, the hard work undertaken by the members has served as a foundation to build awareness, encourage positive behaviours, and take actions that support NS-active employees. The group’s annual anchor events are Total Defence Week and SAF Day rededication ceremonies, which see workshops (e.g., with Red Cross, MINDEF, SCDF or Digital Defence) and community emergency preparedness programmes (with SCDF).

What has also been important is reinforcing the position on how this platform can support upskilling, by helping members develop important skills and experiences in stakeholder engagement, event operational planning and execution, and communications.

Three useful principles in preparing for NS, as an employer

HP Singapore’s experience drives home the importance of preparing for NS – operationally, as employers. Some NS call-ups can, for instance, come at a critical time, possibly during the year-end closing or during a busy season. However, since the call-up notifications are received about six months prior to the deployment, employers are encouraged to make the necessary arrangements to cope with the workload.

Teamwork is, after all, the backbone of corporate values.

With Singapore being such a melting pot of diversity, some organisations or their expatriate colleagues may not be aware of NS obligations. As such, it is recommended that all people managers are made aware of the importance of their team members discharging their NS obligations so that the roster, and more importantly, motivation remain unaffected.

Finally, and possibly the most important, we need to reinforce a culture and leadership that walks the talk on National Service. At HP, for instance, the cause has always seen active support and participation from the top down. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion are woven into the HP DNA; we always strive to ensure that our staff, including NS-active members, continue to thrive, with the support of their peers and managers,” says Chua.

She assures: “This allays fears of any prejudices or obstacles when our employees are fulfilling their NS commitments, giving them the confidence to thrive in and out of the office. This is aligned with our culture of non-discrimination and thus helps build the morale and active engagement across all levels.”

Resources available to employers

Introduced in 1967, the institution of NS is critical to national defence. With every able-bodied male Singaporean and second-generation permanent resident putting up their hands to serve National Service, this policy is clearly playing its role in Singapore’s defence and national security.

BG(NS) Kenneth Liow, Director of National Service (NS) Affairs, shares: “Over the years, more and more employers support and advocate for NS. This strengthens commitment to defence and ensures that Singapore remains strong, safe, and prosperous.”

In fact, many employers are going beyond understanding the necessity of NS for Singapore. They have also adjusted to the disruption that may come with this obligation, with many taking the extra step than simply releasing their employees for call-ups to organising proactive in-house programmes to support the agenda.

In doing so, employers are encouraged to tap into the NS Matters portal, a goldmine of resources, tools, and templates. From the Employer Handbook to a Template for Certificate of Recognition for NS Achievements, the team has anticipated employers’ needs and strived to solve them holistically. You can even download a checklist for acts of support to track your journey.

Efforts made by the most progressive employers do not go unnoticed. The NS Mark, launched in 2016, is a national-level accreditation scheme that recognises businesses and organisations with policies and HR practices that support National Service and Total Defence. Recipients of the NS Mark are lauded for commitment and conviction which, in turn, inspire their peers to step forward and pledge their support for NS as well. NS Mark (Gold) is reserved for those flag bearers within the community who support NSmen in better balancing their family, work and NS commitments.

To tie the journey together, the Total Defence Awards (TDA) were established in 1986, and has since become the highest accolade to recognise a wide array of stakeholders’ support for NS.

This year’s edition of the Total Defence Awards took place on 10 November 2022. Click here to find out the companies and individuals recognised for their work as NS advocates.

aditi nov 2022 vivian chua hp awards

Key takeaways

One of the many benefits of being part of Singapore’s employment ecosystem is the amount of learning that goes around. In addition to HP Singapore’s experience, it is clear from industry conversations that employers in the nation are keen to enable their workforce to fulfil their National Service responsibilities. C-suite leaders see this as an important way for employers to contribute to their communities and society – almost an extension of their ESG (environmental, social, and governance) responsibilities.

However, building momentum for NS-friendly people policies requires sustained effort, volunteerism, and most importantly, a culture that celebrates D&I (diversity and inclusion). Among the NS-friendly policies that employers can inculcate include recognising the leadership & technical skills employees have developed during NS as part of their performance evaluation, offering alternate work arrangements or dividing employees into teams so they can cover each other’s duties whenever a staff member needs to attend NS training, and for those NSmen who excel in their IPPT and NS training, they can be given incentives such as movie tickets or a sponsorship to a learning course.

We are confident this mini-guide sets you on the path to re-strengthen the talent framework in your organisation, and infuse it with a further focus on National Service. All the best for your journey!

All images / Featuring the interviewee, Vivian Chua at Total Defence Awards 2022

Follow us on Telegram and on Instagram @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region! 

Follow us on Telegram and on Instagram @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region!

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