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What Hong Kong employers can reflect on: Singapore's new guidelines on flexible work arrangements

What Hong Kong employers can reflect on: Singapore's new guidelines on flexible work arrangements


Speaking exclusively to HRO’s Tracy Chan, Stephanie Yip of Deacons Hong Kong, and Professor Christy Cheung of Hong Kong Baptist University, share insights on the effective implementation of FWAs.

As a continuous effort to attract and retain talent with better employee experience, Singapore has recently introduced a new set of non-legally binding guidelines on flexible work arrangement (FWAs) requests, which will come into effect from 1 December 2024.

Under the guidelines, employees who have completed their probation will be able to make a formal request from their employers for FWAs, including four-day work weeks, more work-from-home days, and staggered work timings.

Employers, on the other hand, have the prerogative to reject employees’ FWA requests based on reasonable business grounds, such as cost, negative impact on productivity or output, and feasibility or practicality. However, management's lack of belief in FWAs, the supervisor's disagreement with the employee’s reason for the request, or the organisation’s tradition or custom to not have FWAs, are not going to be considered valid reasons.

With Hong Kong often stacked up against Singapore, there are discussions around whether Hong Kong should follow its counterpart.

Speaking exclusively to HRO's Tracy Chan, Stephanie Yip, Corporate Commercial Associate, Deacons Hong Kong, indicates that, in fact, the Labour Department of Hong Kong has already issued a “Flexible Work Arrangements” brochure addressing the issue back in December 2022.

However, unlike Singapore's guidelines, there are no requirements for employers in Hong Kong to set up formal processes for employees to request flexible working, which Yip believes is worth considering for Hong Kong employers.

“Given many employees in Hong Kong have gotten used to different degrees of flexible working since COVID, and many continue to vocally request such a benefit post-COVID, if employers do not already have such policies in place, they should consider introducing formal flexible working policies and request mechanisms in a way that does not interrupt business continuity, while allowing employees a good level of flexibility, so as to help strengthen the relationship between employment and employee, and therefore talent retention,” she says.

In a separate conversation with HRO, Professor Christy M. K. Cheung, Department of Management, Marketing and Information Systems, Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU), sees the key behind Singapore’s guidelines is the understanding that both employees and employers can benefit from properly implemented FWA policies. Therefore, employers all over the world, including Hong Kong, can find valuable insights in these new guidelines, particularly in recognising the need for resource customisation.

“With the aim of building up an effective and harmonious workplace culture, employers can maintain a regular evaluation of their capability of building and investing in FWA implementation,” suggests Professor Cheung.

“Resources and educational training to build capabilities on FWAs should be allocated and modified based on different sectors and the nature of work. The evaluation process can be a reviewing tool that allows employers to identify areas for improvement and productivity.”

What should employers consider when implementing FWAs?

While flexible working can bring many benefits, such as enhancing employee attraction, engagement, satisfaction and retention, it also comes with a set of challenges that employers need to deal with when putting such arrangements into practice. If not properly managed, FWAs can instead bring counterproductive impacts.

Work-life balance, for example, is often considered a perk of flexible working. However, Professor Cheung states that the use of digital communication tools in the workplace, especially under a flexible working mode, can possibly blur the lines between work and personal time, leading to work-family conflict.

As shown in her previous research, employees’ mental health, family relationships and workplace ‘technostressors’ (stress induced by workplace technologies) are linked by an intricate relationship, which can negatively affect their wellbeing. She therefore emphasises that it is essential to establish clear boundaries or guidance between work and personal life.

On the other hand, how to manage and keep track of employees’ working time to ensure that business efficacy is not in any way negatively impacted by FWAs, is another important consideration highlighted by Yip.

“For example, employers may want to consider whether there are core hours during which all employees must be working, including even if the employee is working remotely,” Yip explains.

Professor Cheung continues that when implementing FWAs and evaluating work-from-home applications, employers need to create a supportive and inclusive work environment, and consider the preferences and needs of individuals.

“It is important to recognise that different employees have varying preferences regarding work modes – some may appreciate the flexibility of a remote work setting, while others may prefer the focused environment of working in an office,” she elaborates.

Apart from individual preferences, equality and equity could arise as another consideration – as not every employee necessarily benefits from such arrangements.

As such, Yip suggests the first consideration for employers would be whether all categories of employees could participate in a flexible working arrangement.

“Businesses which rely heavily on frontline customer-facing staff may find it unfeasible to formally introduce a flexible work scheme, where only a few employees in practice could benefit from it, which could then make the frontline staff feel disgruntled.”

Mutual understanding and trust are key

After all, the success of flexible working depends on the efforts of both employer and employee. Yip believes it all ultimately comes down to honest and upfront communication between both parties, eventually establishing mutual trust.

“When devising their flexible work arrangement policy, employers may want to consult their employees at different levels to understand their needs to see what degree of flexibility the employer could accommodate,” she says.

“Simultaneously, employers should let employees know what the employers’ concerns and expectations are regarding flexible work arrangements.”

“If an employer chooses to offer such a benefit, the employee should also respect the rules that the employer has in place in such regard, e.g. being readily contactable during working hours,” she adds.

Echoing Yip, Professor Cheung also believes in establishing an open and transparent communication channel to share information, updates, and feedback related to FWAs regularly.

“Besides providing the employees with clear guidance and useful training, employers should also schedule regular check-ins and assessment sessions, encouraging employees to express their needs, concerns, and ideas regarding the work arrangements,” she shares.

By doing so, employers can have an opportunity to discuss progress, challenges, and successes with their employees, allowing them to make necessary adjustments and improvements.

“These interactions will help further strengthen relationships and ensure ongoing alignment between employers and employees, which can foster a positive and productive work environment that benefits both parties,” Professor Cheung concludes.


FAQs on Singapore's upcoming guidelines on flexible work arrangement requests

Divergent expectations seen between Hong Kong employers and employees towards hybrid or remote work

Interviewees' photos / Provided

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