Going to work in a Singapore SME can be like entering into a battle of wills between employer and employee, in which your bosses try to squeeze as much face-time out of you as possible.
Unfortunately, despite the government’s attempts to encourage local companies to offer formal flexi-work arrangements, the take-up rate has been dismally low. This despite the fact that the government actually dangles cash incentives in exchange for companies setting up flexi-work arrangements.
There are many reasons local companies are still reluctant to allow their employees to work staggered hours, or work from home a few days a month, most of them being ideological—despite studies to the contrary, many employers still believe it’s best to have their employees sitting under their noses for long hours.
So, if the Work Life Grant hasn’t borne results, what can actually be done to encourage Singaporean companies to put in place formal flexi-work arrangements? Here are three suggestions.
Offer incentives that can make telecommuting easier or more convenient
While the Work-Life Grant offers businesses cash incentives to put in place flexi-work arrangements, one reason the take-up rate has been so low could be that businesses simply don’t know how to make arrangements like telecommuting work, or think the cost of doing so would exceed the amount they receive from the government.
This isn’t so far-fetched when you consider there are many SMEs who have websites that aren’t mobile-friendly and look like they were created by a 12-year-old kid on GeoCities in 1990.
The government may need to do some spoon-feeding in order to convince companies that allowing telecommuting isn’t going to cause their businesses to fail.
Sure, a Developmental Grant is already one component of the Work-Life Grant, but it seems that telling companies they’ll get help to “implement work-life strategies” is too vague.
The government could offer incentives that enable companies to put in place specific infrastructure that can make telecommuting possible.
This could come in the form of cash to purchase videoconferencing equipment, mobile phone lines and laptops, not unlike the hugely popular PIC scheme. The catch is that companies will need to show that they are actually using this infrastructure to put in place flexi-work arrangements, and not just so the boss has a new iPad to play with.
Reward companies for lowering their turnover rate
Despite the recent news that offering flexible work arrangements can help to lower a company’s turnover rate, many employers are still skeptical.
Unfortunately, many are not aware of how much it costs them to have to constantly retrain employees, and believe it or not some employers think a high turnover rate can actually help them save money by letting them getting rid of more experienced employees and replacing them with cheaper fresh grads.
To make businesses start thinking a little harder about how their policies affect employee morale, the government could start to offer incentives to companies for lowering their turnover rate. Cash incentives could be doled out to businesses that manage to keep their annual turnover rate below a certain threshold.
That may get employers to start thinking seriously about employee welfare and how flexibility can improve the lives of the people who work for them.
Place limits on the number of hours spent on-site
Many people are unaware of the fact that the Employment Act actually places an upper limit on the number of hours an employee can work, beyond which the employee is required to pay them overtime pay.
Unfortunately, PMETs are not covered by the Act, which also means that there is no limit on the number of hours they can spend in the office. 12+++ hour days are the norm in many industries like banking and accounting.
Now, let’s not fool ourselves by thinking the government will ever try to limit the number of hours worked by employees. What they can do, on the other hand, is to place limits on the number of hours physically spent at the office when the work can be completed remotely.
An employee who could be doing some of his work remotely could for instance be allowed by law to work no more than 10 hours per day at the office. Many employees are already taking work home at the end of the day. Such a rule would protect them from being forced to spend unreasonably long hours in front of their desks just because the boss doesn’t want them to leave before he does.
What do you think could be done to encourage more companies to offer flexi-work arrangements? Share your suggestions in the comments!