Employ flexible work arrangements to attract and retain employees: Amy Khor

PHOTO: Employ flexible work arrangements to attract and retain employees: Amy Khor

SINGAPORE - Accommodate the diverse work-life needs of employees now, or risk losing them tomorrow - that is what employers were told at the Work-Life Conference on Monday.

Employers who do not pay attention to work-life harmony and flexible work arrangements will find themselves losing the "global war for talent", Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower said. "The tight labour market means that employers have to find more innovative ways to tap on alternative sources of manpower," she added.

The biennial Work-Life Conference, organised by the Tripartite Committee on Work-Life Strategy, was attended by more than 450 CEOs, union leaders, HR leaders and employers across industries and Asia.

Mr Hawazi Daipi, Chairman of the Tripartite Committee on Work-Life Strategy and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and Education also encouraged employers to offer flexible work arrangements. Improvements in this area can help employees "harmonise work and personal commitments, which will in turn improve organisation efficiency and engagement," he said.

Visiting keynote speaker Ms Cali Williams Yost, CEO and Founder of Flex + Strategy Group, Work + Life Fit, Inc., added that flexibility must meet the unique needs of the business the increasingly wired and competitive global economy requires new employer-employee partnerships which allow individuals to perform their best, within and beyond their jobs.

During the conference, Dr Khor also presented prizes for the Employer Alliance's "My Work-Life Story" contest, which awards employees who have shared the best stories on how they have benefitted from their companies' flexible work arrangements and work-life strategies.

Top prize winner Kevin Goh, an Audit Manager from KPMG, had told of how KPMG has allowed him to fulfil his personal aspirations as a National Chess player through the company's "Programme for Elite Athletes in KPMG".

For more information, visit www.worklifeconference.sg

Here is an excerpt from Dr Amy Khor's speech on Monday:

This year's conference theme, "Flexibility: Transforming Workplaces for the Future", reflects the need for us to be more forward-looking. Our workforce is becoming increasingly multi-generational and diverse.

What does this mean in the current tight labour market situation where we are at the same time pushing hard for productivity improvements and scaling in back on our reliance on foreign labour?

For one thing, we need to pay greater attention to progressive workplace practices like work-life harmony and flexible work arrangements. Let me explain why.

Talent Attraction and Retention

The competition for talent will become more intense. But the mode of engagement goes beyond wages, and other benefits, pecuniary or otherwise. Increasingly, the workforce of the future will place heavy reliance on intangibles to give them fulfilling careers. A recent surveyof 6,000 local undergraduates found that having good work-life harmony was the top career goal for this gro up of people. This trend is not unique to Singapore.

As the next generation workforce starts to enter the labour market, employers who do not pay attention to work-life harmony and flexible work arrangements will find themselves at the losing end in this global war for talent.

Augmenting the Labour Force

The tight labour market also means that employers have to find more innovative ways to tap on alternative sources of manpower. In Singapore, one source that is often overlooked is women and older workers. Although Singapore has a higher female labour fo rce participation rates (LFPR) than developed Asian economies , our female LFPR at 57.7 per cent is still low compared to that of some European countries, such as Sweden at 68.3 per cent and the Netherlands at 59.5 per cent. A common complaint among women is the lack of meaningful part-time work and flexible work arrangements that can allow them to juggle work and family commitments effectively. Many have thus decided to exit the labour force completely because of this.

There are also older workers who may prefer a more measure d pace of work. Some of them may wish to work fewer hours as they reach the tail-end of their careers. There are also retirees who want to remain active and contribute to society, but desire shorter and more flexible work hours. I firmly believe that we can do more to introduce flexible work arrangements in our workplaces. Such arrangements can help retain workers, as well as attract those who are already currently not working to return to the workforce. I urge employers in Singapore to review their pr ocesses and design work around the tenet of flexibility, not just to benefit existing workers but also to attract new ones.

To this end, the government introduced the WorkPro programme in April this year. WorkPro was jointly developed with the trip artite partners, NTUC and SNEF, to encourage job redesign and adoption of flexible work arrangements to support better work-life harmony and increase the employment of mature workers and back-to-work locals.

The Employer Alliance, one of the co-organisers for this conference, also conducts regular development forums and training, and has made available numerous online resources including free self-help toolkits and case studies on flexible work arrangements. I strongly encourage all employers to tap on these resources to help you redesign your work practices.

Work-Life Harmony Drives Productivity

While Singaporeans put in very long hours at work, there is still room for improvement in our productivity. You've heard it said before that besides working hard, we need to work smart.

By that I do not mean cutting corners. But I do mean that we need to re-examine how best we can raise efficiency so that our output exceeds our input and that ratio will continue to grow. Some employers are concerned that encouraging work-life harmony would result in fewer hours being devoted to work. They are worried that workers' productivity would be hurt.

On the contrary, better work-life harmony and disciplined times of rest and recreation can improve employee engagement and satisfaction, which will in turn improve work performance. In fact, there are many studies which show that people on flexible work arrangements are actually more productive as they learn to manage their time at work better. A 2013 study on working from home conducted by Stanford University found that the performance of the home workers at CTrip, a 16,000-employee travel agency, actually increased. These workers also reported higher work satisfaction and experienced lower turnover.