Skip to main content

Opening Speech by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Acting Minister for Manpower and Senior Minister of State for National Development, at the Work-Life Excellence Award 2012 Gala Dinner, 12 October 2012, 6.55pm, Ritz-Carlton Millenia

My Parliamentary colleague Mr Hawazi Daipi,
Chairman of the Tripartite Committee on Work-Life Strategy,

A very good evening to all of you.

  1. Yesterday evening, I was speaking to about a hundred or so students at SMU. I asked them if they lived to work, or if they worked to live. I also asked if it is possible for your work to be your life? Because if it is so, then life is perfect since all is harmonized!
  2. For us as individuals, positive work-life is really about finding work purposeful. It is about personal mastery and being clear about how we find meaning in what we do. It goes a long way in helping us ensure that our work and what we do, is part of our life itself, and not just something functional and separate.
  3. But tonight, I’d like to focus more on our responsibilities as employers, as well as how we as a society should look at this. We all know that our people are our most important strength. They are our key to success in whatever we do. They are not a resource to be used and maximised. Rather, we need to nurture our people and care for them. We all know that great organisations are built on strong values and the people factor. When our people are engaged and committed, what is there that we cannot do?
  4. Work-life harmony is about finding the equilibrium between work and our personal life. It is not necessarily about doing less work. Nor does it imply an equal weight between the two. It is about creating an environment that will allow each individual to find his harmony, whatever that may be. In Singapore, we all work very hard. But we must also recognise that each and every one of our employees is a unique individual, with his or her diverse work-life needs. One may be a young parent with a new-born infant; another may have just started his or her career. Some have to care for both elderly parents and young children.
  5. The better we are able to show genuine care for our people’s well-being and their work-life harmony and to provide meaningful work, would our people not be more engaged? Will they be more committed and loyal? Will this have a bearing on productivity as well as recruitment and retention?
  6. Let me be quite straightforward on this matter. Nothing that I am sharing with you tonight is new. There is enough literature and write up on this topic, and many ideas are available. The key is to reiterate and to put it into practice; to walk the talk. How do we do it as individuals, corporations, government and society?

    A sustainable culture to enhance work-life harmony
  7. We need to translate our ideas into a workable plan and to grow a work-life culture1 that sustainably empowers our people, our staff, and our colleagues to pursue their personal work-life goals.

    Work Habits.
  8. One part of the answer, I think, lies with work habits. A survey by Robert Half in 2011 showed 66% of Singaporeans citing the need to be available in case of any emergency at work, and 96% of employers in Singapore expecting their staff to be available or 'on call' while out of the office or on leave. Is it healthy to work 24/7? Is doing work while on leave or vacation our desired work culture?
  9. While discussing about tonight’s event, I asked if we could start it earlier, keep it tight and try and end as early as we can. We all have many official functions to attend and often, they start after office hours, say at 7 p.m. or later. I guess the logic may be to let people have time to come over after work. But since it is a formal function, why can’t we start earlier, ‘force’ people to leave their office early, keep it compact and let our people go home and catch up with their children and family before they sleep?
  10. I would suggest that much of our poor work-life harmony is a result of poor work habits. Do we ensure that our people consume all their entitled leave? Are we conscious about our staff’s important dates such as their birthdays or anniversaries and encourage them to take that day off? Could we avoid scheduling key meetings on Children’s Day where possible so that parents can take leave and spend the day with their young children? How about not SMS-ing or emailing your staff after work or over the week-end unless it is really urgent? Or if you do, to establish an understanding that they need only respond on the next working day? The list is endless. It is really about respecting the space we provide our people and allowing them the flexibility to use it responsibly.

  11. Another part of the answer lies with leadership. While we might not always be able to reduce workloads, can we better prioritise? Can we also reduce work-related stress by setting realistic expectations? Can we communicate clearly and succinctly to remove uncertainty and provide clarity? Can we also build teams and create a climate where people do not waste precious time second guessing and to also build up greater cohesion and camaraderie? Strong leadership on this front is also about walking the talk by actively creating the environment for good work-life practices.

    Work Processes.
  12. Having enlightened work processes matters too. Do we allow greater flexibility in working hours and arrangements? Our WoW! Fund was introduced in 2004 to help employers defray the costs of implementing work-life strategies. We also have Flexi-Works! that offers a grant of up to $100,000 for companies to hire new workers on part-time or flexible work arrangements. Such funding helps and we will continue to support employers on this front. In fact we hope to do more and will be open to ideas. As we continue to tighten our labour market, we believe that introducing more of such flexi-work arrangements can draw back more people into the workforce - those who are seeking not to do work full time, but who want to work and yet balance with their other responsibilities.
  13. I’d just add that it is one thing for you to have flexible work schemes, but it is another to have a culture that truly embraces it. This means that people can use it confidently knowing that workflow has been adjusted to accommodate such arrangements. And to do so without a sense that it may put one at a disadvantage compared to another who does not.

    Everyone has a part to play to achieve work-life harmony
  14. Individuals must establish their own sense of purpose in order to enable them to find the balance they seek. Employers must foster a positive work-life culture. And Government must try and shape the environment by promoting strong work-life practices and values, as well as to also incentivise where it makes sense. Many of you here do embrace these beliefs. Without the Government needing to intervene or mandate, each Award-winner came up with your own winning ways to help its employees achieve work-life harmony. Network Express Courier Services, a first-time Award-winner, is an SME that has taken steps to do so. Its employees can work from home or adopt flexi-hours. The company also allows its employees to take extended lunch breaks when they need to take care of personal matters. This may be one of those little things that companies can do that could make a big difference to our employees.
  15. HDB believes that it can only succeed when its employees work in an environment which enables them to be at their best. HDB employees can apply for time-off for eldercare, which provides them with much-need flexibility to deal with family demands together with work responsibilities. This is especially important with an ageing population. And both organisations have part-time employees, which is a smart way to deal with the tight labour market.
  16. I want to challenge ourselves one step further and ask each one of us here to be a catalyst of change. I think we recognise that work-life programmes are effective only if those in management believe in them and act on them, and in so doing allow staff and colleagues to also practise them. Without the wholehearted support of the management, the best-intentioned programmes will fail. So I ask all of you here who are in senior management positions to lead the change at your respective workplaces. Be understanding of your employees’ needs and lead by example.
  17. Also, let us not forget that this call extends to all levels of managers and supervisors, whose support is critical for effective implementation of work-life programmes. It’s twice as difficult for many – they not only have to help their more junior colleagues manage diverse work-life needs; they also face pressure from the top to deliver outcomes and KPIs. But everyone can make a difference. You just have to keep at it and to really believe that this is an important responsibility to undertake for our people.

  18. Tonight, many of you here will receive the Work-Life Excellence Award. The Award, which is into its 4th edition this year, is one way we recognise and showcase employers and individuals who have helped to foster work environments in Singapore supportive of work-life harmony. I would like to congratulate all our winners, whether you are Excellence Award Winners, Achiever Award winners, or Leadership Award winners, for your exemplary efforts in promoting work-life harmony. We need more champions in this area so go spread the word! Keep up the good work and thank you all once again for looking after our people.
  19. I wish all of you a pleasant evening.

    1 Work-life culture can be defined as the set of beliefs and values shared within an organisation regarding maintaining a healthy and sustainable work-life harmony.