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Speech at Work-Life Excellence Award 2014 Gala Dinner

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister for Manpower, Marina Mandarin Singapore

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

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen, 

  1. Good evening.

  2. Work-life harmony is an issue which I hold close to my heart. I think I have shared before that this is one of those areas where I think we are ranked quite high on – not in work-life harmony but in the number of hours worked. This is one statistic that frankly I think we don’t want to be at the top. We really should bring it down. The fact of the matter is that many of us work longer than we should. This is one area where I feel we really should try to transform our practices.
  3. I would suggest that work-life harmony is not about working or less, it is also about doing meaningful work, having progressive workplaces, and being engaged. Many of you here would agree that when you find work purposeful or meaningful, your work becomes very much part of your life. We all face a very fast paced work environment and everybody faces trade-offs between work requirements and their personal lives. We need to create flexibility at work, so that employees can take charge of their personal work-life fit while meeting the organisation’s business needs.
  4. Let me illustrate the flexi-work part with an example. When Mrs Priscilla Goh, a manager from Ernst and Young, had her first child, she was allowed to telecommute. This reduced her commuting time for more time to bond with her baby girl. This flexibility to work from home allowed her to spend time with her family, without compromising her work quality. Obviously, I fully recognise that not all jobs allow us to do this, but we can explore variations along these lines.

    Importance of Workplace Flexibility
  5. Progressive employers like our award winners here tonight instinctively understand the value of work-life strategies and the importance of building a work culture where employees can balance work and personal needs. The benefits of workplace flexibility are also well-supported by research. Studies have shown that flexible work arrangements allow companies to build a more engaged and productive workforce, with higher talent retention rates.
  6. This is where having champions to push the way forward really matters. As these leaders do well on that front, they would become employers of choice, which in turn creates pressure on competitors to do likewise. The key is how we can have lead champions who are prepared to explore this journey. Then we can have more people willing to do this, and slowly create pressure to move in the right direction. The government also has a part to play. It is really about leading by example. Being a large employer, you can also set the tone and standards.
  7. More Singaporeans are expressing a desire for family and personal time. And we should really try to facilitate that because it is important. In our own small ways, it would be our own contribution toward building a better society. Technology has also moved on in a big way. Now, it is 24/7 and when you think about it, it is actually a little scary. At the same time, we need to leverage technology to allow greater flexibility, so that we can interact and still deliver the work on time.
  8. In today’s tight labour market, work-life strategies are no longer just good-to-have, but an important edge for companies to recruit and retain talent. Flexible work arrangements allow companies to first and foremost attract and retain staff, manage their needs, and tap on retirees, back-to-work women and part-timers who need flexibility with their other commitments.

    Findings from the Straits Times-Employer Alliance Survey on Work-Life
  9. According to a survey jointly conducted by Employer Alliance and the Straits Times early this year, more than 80% of employers agree that work-life initiatives are important for improving employee satisfaction and productivity. The same survey showed that more than half of employees felt that they had the flexibility to integrate work needs with their personal and family life.
  10. These results show that we are moving in the right direction. However, more can and should be done. The survey also revealed that employers and supervisors faced challenges in managing employees on flexible work arrangements while ensuring work outcomes. On the other hand, employees are concerned about how they are perceived when they request for flexible options while others are unaware of the available options. Management and leadership thus need to set the right tone and climate.

    Tripartite Advisory on Flexible Work Arrangements
  11. Tonight, I am pleased to announce the release of the new Tripartite Advisory on Flexible Work Arrangements. The Tripartite Committee on Work-Life Strategy formulated this advisory precisely to address the concerns which I mentioned earlier. While Tripartite Guidelines1 on the topic were issued previously, the new advisory provides consolidated and updated information on flexible work arrangements. It will guide supervisors and employees on how to handle and make requests for flexible work arrangements, and outline key success factors and practical steps for employers to implement flexible work arrangements effectively.
  12. The advisory also includes some success stories. For example, Rockwell Automation Singapore, a Work-Life Achiever Award winner, has successfully implemented flexible work arrangements and put in place policies to manage employees. In particular, it implemented a compressed work week option for employees. During school holidays, which are coming, employees can leave at 12:30pm on Fridays to spend longer weekends with their families. Rockwell also clearly communicates policies on flexible work arrangements to all employees via channels such as town hall sessions and e-newsletters.

    Work-Life Week
  13. In addition to the tripartite advisory, the TriCom is initiating a Work-Life Week this year. The objective is to raise awareness of the benefits of work-life strategies, in particular flexible work arrangements.
  14. The Week begins next Monday with a sharing by professional services company Towers Watson on the findings of its Global Workforce Study on Engagement and Work-Life. Events go into full swing the next day when my colleague Hawazi Daipi, graces the CEOs’ Breakfast and Dialogue on Culture Transformation. In addition, dialogues, workshops and sharing sessions for employers and supervisors to improve their understanding of flexible work arrangements and best practices will be held during the week. There will also be a job fair for employees interested in jobs with flexible work arrangement options.
  15. These efforts from the tripartite partners would not succeed without your active participation. I am happy to hear that many of the events are already fully subscribed, and registrations for the rest are filling up fast.

    Roles of Senior and Middle Management to Build a Sustainable and Supportive Work-Life Culture
  16. Besides the new initiatives which I have shared, I would also like to highlight the roles of senior and middle management in building a sustainable and supportive work-life culture.
  17. Work-life harmony cannot be a one-off effort. It is a journey. It is going to take time. To create a sustainable work-life culture, companies need to regularly review and update work-life strategies to respond to dynamic business and employees needs. Work-life needs to become part and parcel of a company’s ethos and culture.
  18. One of the companies that have managed to do this is Sheraton Towers, a winner of the newly introduced Work-Life Sustained Excellence Award. They believe that work-life programmes that take care of their associates’ well-being and work satisfaction will enable the hotel to reap business benefits. Even though the hotel industry faces a labour crunch and high turnover, Sheraton has seen a reduction in their labour turnover rate and an increase in productivity in the past two years.
  19. The other newly introduced award, Work-Life Star Award, is an individual award to recognise middle management and supervisors. Mr Muhamad Hamim, senior teacher from Boon Lay Secondary School is the first to win this award. Hamim heads two committees in his school to promote work-life initiatives and equip staff with knowledge and skills to manage their work and personal life. His passion to promote work-life harmony in the school is truly commendable.

  20. We all make choices, and our choices reflect what is important to us. The things that we say is important, but the true reflection of what we think is important is manifested in our actions. Senior management need to recognise that your choices as employers have a ripple effect that goes beyond your organisation and its bottom-line. It will have an effect on your employees’ families, and even on society at large.
  21. I would like to urge everyone here to think about the role you can play to achieve work-life harmony – whether as employer, supervisor, employee or co-worker.
  22. I am glad that we are starting early today so that we can finish on time and to go home to our families while they are still awake. Small attention to details like these, matter when they add up. I wish all of you a pleasant evening. Thank you.

1Two sets of Tripartite Guidelines were issued previously, namely, Best Work-Life Practices (2003) and Family Friendly Workplace Practices (2004).