SINGAPORE - Only half as many companies signed up to take part in this year's Eat With Your Family Day, compared with two years ago.
Some 196 companies had pledged to let their staff off work early yesterday, the last Friday of May and set aside as a day where families are encouraged to eat together. Last year, 354 firms signed up. In 2012, 403 did so.
"Some don't know that they have to sign up every year - they think they have to just sign up once, and some think that there is no difference if they sign up or not since they are doing it anyway," said Mr Peter Quek, chief executive of Centre for Fathering which started the initiative 12 years ago.
"We started the initiative to encourage fathers to bond with their families. Often, they are the breadwinners, but it is ironic many don't get to eat with their family regularly because of work."
There was no incentive for companies to sign up, he conceded.
But he is not too concerned about the decline in numbers, as this does not necessarily mean that firms have stopped observing Eat With Your Family Day.
Asked if he thought the initiative has been successful, he said: "If companies are releasing staff earlier on that day, even if they didn't sign up with us, then yes I would say it is successful."
He added that he has noticed more companies taking it upon themselves to release their staff early yesterday, to let them spend time with their families.
One of the companies that released its staff early for Eat With Your Family Day on its own initiative, for instance, was debt collecting company Milliken and Craig. The company has for the past 10 years, allowed its 45 employees to go home early once a year to promote family bonding. In fact, it hopes to make Eat With Your Family Day a monthly occurrence.
But it had also signed up formally a few years ago. Ms Christina Pek, an operations support manager, said a large part of the employees' work involves making calls to debtors.
"It can be a very unpleasant and stressful experience for our staff, so we hope to give them something to look forward to, not just once a year but once a month," said the 32-year-old.
All employees - including those who work the 11am to 9pm shift, started work at 9am yesterday and ended at 5pm.
Dinner was also extra special for career coach Clement Ong last night. While he has dinners with his family at least twice a week, he wanted to make Eat With Your Family Day a memorable one.
He held a cooking contest at home yesterday, pitting himself against his wife Cheryl, 44, an accountant and their two teenage children. The children's grandparents from both sides served as judges.
Each contestant had to prepare a dish for dinner, and give it a name reflecting family values they believe in. Mr Ong, 47, whipped up a heart-shaped pork chop, named Hearty Pork Chop - to remind his family to "approach things from the heart, and not the brain". But he did not win - his wife did, with a jelly topped with cookies and ice-cream called Sweet Moments.
This article was first published on May 31, 2014.
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