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3 Reasons Singapore Companies Are Still So Reluctant to Offer Formal Flexi-Work Arrangements

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Joanne Poh

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The Baby Bonus isn’t the only cash incentive that doesn’t seem to be working. The government’s Work-Life Grant, which attempts to persuade businesses to put in place formal flexi-work arrangements, doesn’t seem to have borne much fruit.

While a recent report showed that more firms were offering ad-hoc flexi-work arrangements, the number of companies offering formal flexi-work arrangements remained unchanged from the previous year at 47%.

Ad-hoc arrangements involve allowing an employee some flexibility when emergencies and unexpected events pop up, such as taking time off in the middle of the day to go to a medical appointment. On the other hand, formal flexi-work arrangements require a lot more acceptance on the company’s part, since they’re not one-off events, but designed to allow employees more control over their time.

So why are companies so reluctant to offer formal flexi-work arrangements despite the fact that a lot of work can now be done remotely thanks to the internet, and despite the cash incentives the government is dangling? Here are three possible reasons.

 

Employers don’t trust their employees

It all sounds very primary school, but the fact is that many employers still take a paternalistic view of their employees. These employers tend to assume their employees will take advantage of flexi-work policies to slack off, and so insist that their workers sit under their noses where they can be supervised.

What these types of employers don’t realise is that, at least in the case of knowledge workers, long hours spent sitting in the office do not mean higher productivity—in the case of excessive working hours, productivity actually falls dramatically as employees fiddle with their phones or work as slowly as they can. Office workers are not doing factory work, and the amount of time they spend on the job is a poor indicator of actual productivity.

Employers also need to realise that shifting the focus from the amount of time spent at work to the actual results produced encourages employees to complete assigned tasks as efficiently as possible, whether they’re at the office or working from home.

 

Employers choose their own convenience over employee morale

There are many employers who know that flexi-work would improve employee morale—because let’s face it, who wouldn’t be happy they get to avoid the peak hour MRT crush?–but they choose not to deny their employees such flexibility simply because it’s more convenient for them as employers to know exactly where their workers are.

Sure, most bosses know that can reach their employees immediately just by shooting them an email or calling them on their mobile phones. But they still prefer knowing they can instantly see their employees in the flesh when they’re seated at their cubicles, or dump documents on their desk without having to first scan them.

Ultimately, there will always be a trade-off when it comes to offering flexibility—if you allow your employees to work staggered hours, there’ll always be one or two hours during the day when the boss is in but their workers aren’t.

What employers need to understand is that technology can go a long way towards mitigating these disadvantages, and the rewards—a more motivated workforce and higher employee morale—are great.

 

Employers do not associate high turnover with lack of flexibility

It is often nothing more than staggering how little some managers in Singapore understand about what factors demotivate employees and cause them to leave a company.

Some managers tend to think the key to employee retention is to dole out better salaries and good bonuses. Conversely, Singaporeans are starting to place a much higher premium on work-life balance and flexibility.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that a lack of flexibility and an unwillingness to promote work-life balance can really destroy employee morale. For instance, some companies fine latecomers for arriving at work after 9am—a friend of mine who works in one such company was recently fined $5 for coming in at 9:03am, despite the fact that he seldom saw clients and most of his work was done on the computer.

While this might further the company’s aim of eliminating tardiness, at some point they should ask themselves if it’s worthwhile doing so if it means employees are unhappy and the turnover rate is high—if employees routinely work past 6pm, they are likely to be resentful that the company does not also acknowledge the fact that they leave late.

Singapore SMEs know very well that a low turnover rate is difficult to achieve. Young Singaporean employees have a reputation for being job hoppers who’ll walk out if they don’t like their jobs.

What they need to understand is that offering flexible work arrangements can go a long way towards lowering their turnover rate, as shown in a recent report.

If employers are serious about stopping their workers from quitting in droves, they need to do some soul-searching and ask themselves whether they’re willing to tighten their grip on their employees if it makes them more fulfilled at work and less likely to leave.

Does your workplace offer formal flexi-work arrangements? Tell us in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.