5 things bosses and staff don't see eye to eye on

Nearly one in two bosses do not expect employees to clock the full eight hours in office. Yet most workers believe they have to. And while bosses frown on employees bringing work home, they also want them available when duty calls after office hours.

A new survey on work-life integration commissioned by The Straits Times and work-life advocacy group Employer Alliance has revealed that employer and employees are often not on the same page on several key issues. The study, conducted by market analysis firm Degree Census, involved 1,000 employees and 500 employers here. The Sunday Times highlights five gaps in understanding between bosses and staff.

You don't need to be in the office

Think twice if you feel clocking eight hours every day in the office makes you a star employee. Of the bosses surveyed, 45 per cent said their staff did not need to be in the office during business hours, or were neutral about the issue.

But workers disagreed, with three in four believing that they are expected to be around during office hours.

Human resource experts said this mismatch is because workers believe that putting in long hours is a way of showing commitment. Ms Cheryl-Ann Szetoh, a manager at human resource firm RobertWalters, said: "The joke going around offices is that if you leave at 6pm, you are taking half a day off. Workers will avoid going home early to avoid being seen as skiving."

Bosses are flexible, or are they?

Employers believe they give plenty of freedom but some workers disagree. Overall, 80 per cent of bosses said they allow staff to manage their time as long as targets are met. The sentiment is even stronger among chief executives and those in senior management positions, of whom 94 per cent said workers should have flexibility.

But only 76 per cent of workers feel that their bosses give them such flexibility.

Some employees also point out that they hesitate to use flexi-work schemes because they do not want to leave a poor impression. Senior business analyst Esther Wong, for instance, was unsure about asking her boss to let her work from home to care for her three young children when their pre-school was closed for a day.

"I had just recently joined the company. I did not want my boss to feel that I was not serious about work," the 38-year-old said. "In the end I went ahead and my boss said yes. But it was still difficult."

Mr Mark Hall, the vice-president and country manager of recruitment company Kelly Services, said employees can build trust in their employers by providing regular updates on the progress of their work.

"This helps them reach a position where they are given the responsibility to plan their own time."

Bringing work home a no-no

Working till the wee hours, either at home or in the office, has been the norm for lawyer Sharon for the past six years. That was why the 30-year-old, who declined to give her full name, was surprised when told that just 6 per cent of bosses surveyed said their staff should take work home after office hours.

Chief executives and senior managers preferred if no one did work at home.

In contrast, 13 per cent of workers said they are expected to bring back work, with the proportion increasing to 18 per cent for higher-skilled employees.

The reason why they "work- round-the-clock" is that their bosses are doing the same. "My boss would reply my e-mail at 3am. How can you not work when your bosses are working too?" said Ms Sharon, who quit her job at a big law firm earlier this year.

Bosses admitted it is up to them to draw the line.

Madam Hasliza Hashim, the managing director of training course provider N-Rich, lets her staff plan their time according to their needs. They can also work where it is convenient, including at public library work spaces which the company rents from workplace solutions firm Regus. However, work starts at 9am and stops at 4pm sharp. "I tell my clients to contact me and not my staff if they need to reach us after work hours. I don't want them to be disturbed," the 32-year-old said.

Duty after work

While bosses do not want their employees bringing work home, 54 per cent feel they should be able to call on them after office hours if there is a need. However, many workers will likely balk at this suggestion. Only 37 per cent said they are expected to meet business needs regardless of time.

One boss who feels it is only right that workers chip in is 38-year-old Tan Wei Leng, South-east Asia head of marketing at video-conferencing tech firm Polycom.

"Bosses give workers flexibility. So workers need to be there for the company too," she said. Her company allows staff to work from home, take a few hours off to settle family matters or even go to the gym during office hours. In return, staff work on weekends and at night when necessary.

However there are bosses who go overboard, said investment banker Andy, who declined to give his full name. He said his boss has driven to his house on a Sunday morning to pass him work.

"I had already worked from Monday to Saturday and was hoping to sleep in," said the 29-year-old who quit earlier this year.

The office grapevine

Most bosses - 73 per cent - feel they have a role in educating workers on work-life integration policies. But 71 per cent of workers find out by word of mouth instead of official channels.

Human resource experts say some workers may not feel comfortable approaching their bosses and rely on the grapevine instead. However, they warned against this because the information may get distorted. Mr David Leong, managing director of recruitment firm PeopleWorldwide, added that human resource departments in some companies are reluctant to inform workers on flexi-work options because their work will get harder. "Tracking the performance and paying a worker on flexi-work is more complex than dealing with full-time workers," he said. "We need better trained human resource staff and more approachable bosses."