Speech at Employer Alliance Annual Event
Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and Education, Singapore Marriott Hotel Ballromm III, Level 3
Ms Claire Chiang,
Chairperson of Employer Alliance
Members of the Employer Alliance Executive Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning. I am pleased to see so many like-minded employers and individuals today united in our common cause – to champion work-life harmony.
- In Singapore today, all of us work very hard, especially in this increasingly face-paced business environment. Businesses face shorter cycles, and products have shorter life-spans. More often than not, employees have to deal with greater work demands and shorter turnaround times. In 2009, the International Labour Organisation’s Global Wages Report Update found that employees in Singapore worked the longest hours.
- Today in 2012, we are all still working very hard. This year’s Hudson Employment Trends Report1 on companies in the Asia-Pacific found that 61% of employees in Singapore experienced an increase in workload and nearly half of them now worked 51 hours a week or more. In fact, Singapore also had the highest levels of employee burnout in the region (33%). Just last week too, Jobstreet.com’s survey findings also echoed these findings. Nine in 10 employees surveyed worked beyond their official hours. Employees who participated in the study cited overloading of work and high-pressure deadlines as the main reasons for their lack of work-life harmony.
- I am sure we understand that overworking our workers leads to an undesirable lose-lose situation. Not only do employees’ well-being and productivity suffer, employers also lose out when talented workers resign or take extended leaves of absence when they burn out. Also, upon their return to work, such employees may require familiarisation and re-orientation. And high turnover and absenteeism add to business costs.
Part-time Arrangements as a Creative Solution to Ease Manpower Shortage
- Employers have also been telling me about the challenges they face in today’s tight labour market, especially the difficulties of finding and retaining good workers. The reality is, with unemployment at a 14-year low of 2.0%, this situation is unlikely to ease anytime soon. However, employers can tap on this situation as a good opportunity to come up with creative “out of the box” solutions.
- I believe part-time work arrangements – if we give sufficient thought to it – can be one such ‘creative’ method to ease the manpower crunch. For example, by breaking a job into smaller tasks, employers can attract job-seekers who may not be able to commit to full-time work, but are able to take on part-time jobs. Home-Fix DIY Pte Ltd, the largest home improvement retail chain in Singapore for instance, offered permanent part-time arrangements to attract applicants from a larger manpower pool for their retail assistant positions, including housewives who would previously not have considered working for them.
- Similarly, from the employee perspective, a common misperception is that part-time work is only available in the service industry or for administrative positions. The reality is that, as research commissioned by the Employer Alliance has revealed, companies in Singapore do offer part-time jobs, including for professional, managerial and executive positions. I am happy to hear that employers such as Khoo Teck Puat Hospital allow their professionals such as doctors or nurses to work part-time. This has helped them to attract and retain highly-skilled talent, which is a key competitive advantage for them in the manpower-scarce healthcare sector. Wildlife Reserves Singapore is another good example of an employer that offers part-time positions in areas ranging from ticketing to F&B outlets in its award-winning attractions such as the Jurong Bird Park, the Singapore Zoo, and the Night Safari because it saw the business benefits of doing so. More learning points from the research study will be shared later today.
- Notwithstanding these success stories, I understand that employers may be hesitant to offer part-time work because to them, it means restructuring work processes which can add to business costs. Also, I can imagine that employers would prefer managing fewer full-timers to managing more part-time workers. But sometimes, we may need to go out of our comfort zone in order to reach what is beyond. MOM’s Conditions of Employment Survey done in 20102 found that some three in 10 employers offered part-time working arrangements. While this is an encouraging figure, I believe there is scope for even more companies to try out part-time and other flexible working arrangements, and the Government is prepared to help companies who are willing to take this step.
- We have funding schemes available to help companies put in place flexible working arrangements to attract a wider pool of manpower. Some of you may have heard of the Flexi-Works! scheme. It is intended to facilitate the return of back-to-work individuals. It has been around since 2007 and to date, over 350 companies and their employees have benefitted from it. We also have the Work-Life Works! Fund or WoW! Fund, which is meant to defray costs incurred by organisations while introducing work-life measures such as flexible work arrangements. The Fund has helped over 840 companies through the WoW! Fund since its launch in 2004. We hope even more companies will come forward to tap on our schemes and benefit from adopting part-time and other flexible work arrangements.
Mainstreaming Flexible Work to Meet Employees’ Diverse Work-life Needs
- Government schemes can only go so far in getting employers to come on board. For flexible work arrangements to be mainstreamed and become a sustainable part of our work-life culture, employers need to recognise for themselves that employees have diverse needs, and that to a significant group of them, flexibility in itself can be as valuable as job satisfaction or welfare benefits at different stages of their lives or careers. That is why research3 has shown that there is a link between being able to take up flexible work arrangements and employee engagement. This makes sense: employees who can work flexibly to better manage their work-life needs would be more willing and able to give their best at work. Employers who offer appropriate flexible work arrangements would thus have an edge over their competitors. They will have access to a wider manpower pool, a more engaged workforce whose work-life needs are better met and, in many cases, lower absenteeism, and better staff retention. The consequent improvements in retention and productivity, and business profits are also actually very tangible and valuable outcomes for employers.
- The research report the Employer Alliance will be sharing later tries to answer the question, “Are we there yet?”. I think it is useful to ask ourselves a broader question: “How do we create an environment and culture that supports work-life harmony?” I think we can do more to allow for implementation of part-time work and other forms of flexible work arrangements. As Acting Minister for Manpower Mr Tan Chuan-Jin said at the Work-Life Excellence Award last month, employers need to build a good work-life culture as a first step towards attaining and sustaining work-life harmony. I agree totally, because to me work-life harmony is not a destination; it is a journey, a journey that I hope we can all embark on.
- On this note, I would like to thank the Employer Alliance for commissioning the research on part-time work in Singapore. I hope all the employers here today as well as others can give serious thought to this subject, and take concrete steps to avail ourselves of the various help and resources the Government as well as partner agencies have put together to support this cause. To the Employer Alliance, thank you for another year of good work, and also for your efforts over the years in promoting work-life friendly workplaces and growing your membership in a diverse range of industries. I would also like to thank all of you here for being with us on this journey to help more employees in Singapore to achieve work-life harmony.
- Thank you for your dedication and support.
2 These were establishments in the private sector each with at least 25 employees and the public sector. Around 3,410 establishments employing 1,047,300 employees responded to the survey.
3 The National Work-Life Harmony Study by MCYS in 2007 showed a positive correlation between an employee’s work-life harmony and employee engagement and retention, as well as an organisation’s productivity and its bottom-line. A SNEF study in 2004 also found that the return on investment was $1.68 for every $1 invested in work-life programmes.