Look around you and ask someone what work-life balance means to them, and they’ll think about achieving balance between their work and life responsibilities. In line with that, in the August edition of Human Resources (Singapore), we explored a newer concept - work-life harmony, with a special feature  on what integrating work and life really means. 

In this article, we hear from the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) on exactly how the work-life landscape has evolved in Singapore over the past five years.

Evolution of the work-life landscape in Singapore

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), in collaboration with The Straits Times, conducted a survey on work-life harmony and flexible work arrangements (FWAs). The survey results, released in June, captured the responses of 511 employers and 1,000 employees.

This survey, which was first conducted in 2014, aimed to understand the current state of work-life harmony in Singapore, the challenges of implementation, and to gain insights of views and concerns of both employers and employees.

What has changed in the past five years?

An ageing and shrinking population is having an impact on the workforce.
Juggling work responsibilities while managing caregiving duties of both children and ageing parents can take a toll on the ‘sandwiched’ generation in the workforce.
Many of them rely on external resources for support such as childcare centres for their children, or senior centres for their parents, due to fewer or no siblings to share the responsibilities with.

Meanwhile, extended families have also shrunk, further straining alternative caregiving resources.

The multiple responsibilities, as an employee, parent and child, will also intensify time stress and possibly increase mental, emotional and financial pressures as well. All these can lead to burnout if not managed properly.

These factors point towards a much greater need for work-life harmony among employees today. As all employees juggle multiple roles, their needs cut across different age groups, genders and life and career stages.

Note: Work-life harmony is defined as a state in which an individual is able to achieve both personal and professional goals in a combination that is uniquely satisfactory. This differs across individuals as different people have different needs, responsibilities, values and priorities. 

What are the key findings from the survey?

Shift 1: Work-life programmes are being implemented more strategically and formally, resulting in greater alignment between employers and employees.

Employers are increasingly recognising the value of work-life programmes in managing manpower needs – 82% agreed they enhanced their company image and 80% agreed they were important in attracting and recruiting top talent, up from 68% and 74% respectively in 2014.

The survey also showed a shift towards formal channels in communicating available work-life programmes to the organisation, suggesting that policies and practices are becoming more structured and formalised.

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These shifts have resulted in employers and employees being more aligned in their views towards work-life harmony.

The survey revealed that 83% of employers, up from 80% in 2014, believed that employees should have the flexibility to manage their time and schedule as long as they were able to meet work targets, converging with 82% of employees, up from 76% in 2014, who believed their supervisor provided them the flexibility to do so.

Shift 2: Middle managers recognise their role as facilitators

The results showed that a growing proportion of supervisors are beginning to understand and accept the role they play in facilitating the organisation’s work-life strategy. In fact, 72%, up from 64% in 2014, saw it as their responsibility to ensure their employees achieve work-life harmony.

Meanwhile, 81% of supervisors were aligned with the organisation’s communicated policy on work-life harmony, up from 68% in 2014. Their increased support is felt by employees, where ‘support from supervisors’ was highlighted as the top key enabler that helped employees achieve good work-life harmony.

With the implementation of FWAs becoming more prevalent among workplaces today, supervisors are managing teams who may be on a combination of flexible work arrangements within their team, resulting in greater operational concerns. Supervisors were concerned about equity in workload in their team when a team member requests to be on a flexible work arrangement.

Notably, the percentage of supervisors who were concerned that employees were not getting his or her job done fell from 56% to 28%, which indicates that supervisors might be putting in place more effective ways to measure performance.

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Shift 3: A more inclusive approach in work-life strategies

Organisations are adopting a more inclusive approach towards employees. While working mothers with young children continue to be key beneficiaries, working fathers with young children are now utilising FWAs as much as working mothers with young children, and are expressing their need for work-life harmony. They are not afraid to highlight the value and impact a pro work-life organisation has on them.

A significantly larger proportion of them also leverage on FWAs, such as staggered start and end times (34% in 2018, up from 15% in 2014) and telecommuting (26% in 2018, up from 15% in 2014).

Working mothers with young children continue to receive strong support – 82%, up from 69% in 2014, agreed their supervisor provides them with the flexibility to manage their own time and schedule as long as work targets and deadlines are met, and 78%, up from 66% in 2014, feel their supervisor is open towards FWAs when required.

As dual income families in Singapore become more common, both genders increasingly have to deal with the interests of both work and family. An equilibrium in parenting, where both father and mother are actively involved in parenting, has strengthened the need for work-life harmony, regardless of gender.

Shift 4: FWAs as a sustainable option

FWAs have been recognised as a means to manage employee work-life needs more sustainably, as indicated by an increase in the provision of FWAs and a drop in leave benefits in TAFEP’s survey results.

There seems to be a growing understanding that some work-life needs, especially those that are longer term or life-stage related, can be more sustainably managed through the use of FWAs. For example, providing an employee with the flexibility at work to deal with regular or chronic medical needs of a family member is likely to be more effective in the long-run, as opposed to a day’s leave or a few hours off intermittently.

These findings are validated by the employee respondents themselves, who ranked FWAs as more beneficial than leave benefits. Likewise, the results showed an increase in the utilisation of FWAs and a decrease in the utilisation of leave benefits.

And it seems organisations are moving in the right direction, as the results showed that employees with various caregiving needs expressed greater satisfaction with work-life programmes provided by their organisation.

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What does this mean for Singapore’s workforce?

The changing employment and demographic landscape calls for new perspectives and a change of mindset from the way we approached work-life harmony before.

As the need for work-life harmony becomes increasingly urgent, the importance of work-life programmes cannot be understated.

When used strategically, it becomes a powerful and effective attraction, retention and engagement tool that enables you to facilitate employees’ needs through different life stages, regardless of age, gender or stage of their career. Only then can we remain agile and thrive in the ever-changing employment landscape.

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Visit TAFEP’s website to find out more on the Tripartite Standards.


This feature has been published in Human Resources magazine. Read the August edition of Human Resources, Singapore:

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Lead photo / iStock Infographics / TAFEP