When the government starts offering money to people to do something, you know there’s a problem. Just as the Baby Bonus is a sign that Singaporean couples refuse to procreate, the Work-Life Grant is an indication that Singaporean employers are still unwilling to offer flexi-work options—or they make them available in principle but staff are too afraid to use them.
But perhaps the problem is that companies just keep thinking of the same few arrangements-staggered hours and working from home. And if they can’t envision such schemes fitting into their day-to-day operations, they insist that flexibility isn’t possible for them.
Here are three flexi-work arrangements we’d love to see Singapore firms implement. Hey, one can always dream.
Have two shifts, one in the morning and one in the afternoon
Remember the good old days when schools in Singapore had a morning and afternoon shift? Well, it might make sense for some companies to run two shifts, too.
Running two separate shifts might help a business squeeze more employees into less office space, thereby saving on rent. The earlier shift could start earlier than the usual 9am, perhaps at 7:30am or 8am, and end by 4 or 5pm. The evening shift could run from 2 or 3pm to 11pm. The few hours during which the shifts overlap would be when meetings are held.
Each desk can thus be shared by two employees, one from each shift. And during the hours when the two shifts overlap (or for employees who are doing OT), communal spaces like meeting rooms or an enlarged pantry could be used—many employees these days work on laptops anyway so this shouldn’t be difficult to facilitate.
Employees can be given the chance to choose which shifts they want to do and be able to swap shifts amongst each other in order to accommodate their personal lives. For a parent who has to pick his kid up from childcare at 6pm, the morning shift would make a lot of sense. And I think I speak for a lot of non-morning people when I say that working in the night is often preferable to trying to stay awake on the MRT at 8am.
This would also alleviate company’s worries that they won’t be able to keep tabs on employees if they’re allowed a completely flexible schedule. They still get to force them to clock in and out at a specific time, and they’ll still know when they’re supposed to be at the office.
Of course, one problem in Singapore is that there are some long-suffering employees who often work the equivalent of two shifts, starting early in the morning and ending late at night. The split-shift would eliminate such crazy working hours, which would work wonders for the country’s birth rate and reduce employee turnover.
Replace official working hours with strict monthly performance reviews
One reason Singapore employers are so reluctant to allow their employees flexibility is the simple fact that they don’t trust them. And to be fair, there are many employees who do crappy work simply because they can get away with it.
The solution to this is for employers to conduct strict monthly performance reviews, and to get rid of underperforming employees.
This could actually improve management at many companies. Young employees often complain they don’t get any valuable feedback from their bosses and have no idea how they’re doing.
The bosses, on the other hand, are often more concerned about how many hours their subordinates spend in the office than the actual quality of their work.
This is a lose-lose situation as the company ends up with an unproductive hire who hangs around the office late just to show his face, yet they have no idea whether they should get rid of him because they aren’t focusing on his actual performance, but rather how well he wayangs in front of the boss.
If companies come up with a great system for monitoring their employees’ performance, they’ll be able to do away with fixed working hours altogether.
This is often observed in sales environments: for instance, some recruitment firms let their headhunters come in and out at any time, and assess them based on the number and value of the cases they manage to close each month.
Of course, some effort on the part of companies is needed at the start. They’ll have to come up with KPIs for each role, and a system that enables them to assess their employees’ prospects. They’ll also have to go through the trouble of doling out monthly performance reviews.
But a key benefit is a motivated, efficient workforce. Since people no longer need to spend a set number of hours at the office, you can bet they’ll be working as efficiently as they can, since they get to leave when they’re done. On the other hand, those who don’t perform can be weeded out early and let go, rather than allowed to idle in the office for years under the traditional 9-6 model.
And if employers are afraid of firing employees because they might not be able to replace them, rest assured that the lack of fixed working hours will make them much more attractive to many job seekers so long as the pay is decent and the workload reasonable.
Provide childcare facilities at the workplace
Part of the reason the government is even harping so much on flexibility at work these days is the fact that long hours at work and inflexible work arrangements have pretty much decimated the birth rate.
People need to pick their kids up from childcare at 6pm, and that’s pretty much impossible when work itself officially ends at 6pm and thanks to the ubiquitous OT many people don’t get out of the office till much later at night. You still need to factor in travelling time from the office to the childcare centre and then back home.
In addition, many parents complain about the lack of affordable childcare facilities close to home. If the commute from home to the office is already one hour, any extra time spent taking the bus to the childcare centre and back is a huge sacrifice. And companies suffer too, because exhausted, stressed out employees rarely do their best work.
One solution could be for companies to provide their own childcare facilities. They can charge parents a fee for depositing their kids there in order to cover the costs of the space and the people who are paid to look after the kids. It also alleviates parental guilt about only reaching home when their kids are asleep, since they’ll be able to spend time with them during lunch.
What work-life schemes would you like to see in Singapore? Tell us in the comments!
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