Time off work for training lets national bowler keep her job and sport

SINGAPORE - For national ten-pin bowler Jasmine Yeong-Nathan, 25, the flexi-work available at auditing giant KMPG Singapore is a knock-out success.

The management consultant benefits from a unique flexi-work scheme, Programme for Elite Athletes in KPMG (Peak), targeted at national athletes working at the firm.

The 2009 Sportswoman of the Year, who is the first Singaporean to win the AMF Bowling World Cup, has been on a sabbatical since April as she is training full-time for next year's South-east Asian Games. Before that, she worked on a flexible schedule that allowed her to leave at 5pm every day to attend training, and she could take time off for competitions.

"Without such a programme, I would have had to choose between bowling or a job," she says. "I would've probably chosen bowling, but I would also worry about what happens after my bowling career ends."

She adds: "As a national athlete, you don't have time for internships, so I would have entered the job market later than most people with limited experience in the working world. So it's incredible that I get to do both now."

KPMG Singapore operates in an industry notorious for its high turnover rate and a high population of young professionals, so several years ago it decided to get creative in order to attract and retain an ever-younger workforce.

"Flexi-work has been around in KPMG for a long time but in the past, people were considered for such arrangements on a case-by-case basis," says Mr Stephen Tjoa, the firm's partner for people, performance and culture. The firm is one of the largest professional services providers in Singapore, with over 2,300 employees.

"So what we have done is institutionalise these schemes, largely to address a new generation of workers with very diverse needs and aspirations both within their careers and outside, with the aim of retaining top talent."

It was a good call to start early - the company's average employee now is a 27-year-old female - young, ambitious, about to take on more responsibilities at work but also likely to have an active personal life or about to start a family.

Even so, the take-up rate of flexi-work schemes has been slow - fewer than 10 per cent of KPMG staff here are on some kind of special arrangement.

"People still have the mindset of not wanting to take it on because they worry that it might affect their careers," Mr Tjoa notes. "But as a firm, we are trying to push it across. All line managers are fully aware of the available flexi-work options for their staff and are given very detailed briefs."

One who has taken the plunge into flexi-work is senior tax manager Tan Teck Ming. Since January, he works from 9.30am to 6.30pm every day.

That sounds like a full week of work for most people, but not in auditing - auditors at KPMG tend to start earlier and finish work much later.

Mr Tan - a father of four children aged between six and 17 - says these hours enable him to adapt to the needs of a demanding professional life and equally busy personal life.

"I need the time to drop the kids off at school and avoid the crowd in public transport and traffic jams," he says.

This article was first published on July 19, 2014.
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