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Work-life balance? It’s a two-way street

  Saturday, 28 l 08 l 2010 Source: The Straits Times   
By: Cassandra Chew

Managers’ trust and workers’ responsibility are key: Gan Kim Yong

THE perk of a company car is usually reserved for senior executives, but this is not the case at Lucky Joint Construction.

This local medium-sized enterprise, which has a staff strength of 321, has allotted cars to 50 of its employees based on need.

These employees work on location but do not have cars of their own. So the company has stepped in to provide them with cars, which they are free to use both for work and to ferry family and friends around, at the weekend as well as on weekdays.

The company also foots the bill for fuel, repairs and road taxes.

Lucky Joint’s managing director Yeow Kian Seng is a firm believer in helping his employees to meet both work and home commitments, boosting their morale and helping them to become more productive.

The firm, which specialises in laying underground cables, won its second Work-Life Excellence Award last night.

It was among 13 local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that received the award, up from eight in 2008, the last time that these awards were given out.

work life balanceManpower Minister Gan Kim Yong called this increase an encouraging sign that SMEs are adopting and benefiting from work-life initiatives.

However, multinational companies and public sector organisations still made up most of the 70 winners last night.

Addressing 450 employers and unionists at the Resorts World Convention Centre in Sentosa, Mr Gan highlighted the growing importance of providing a work-life balance in attracting and retaining talent.

He cited a global study of 50,000 workers in which work-life balance was ranked as the second most important workplace attribute, after compensation.

The study was carried out last year by The Corporate Executive Board, a network of Fortune 500 companies that spans 50 countries.

Mr Gan said that in a globalised economy, where businesses make decisions 24/7, effective work-life initiatives are necessary to help employees manage their work and personal commitments.

He praised efforts by award winners IBM and Rajah & Tann to enhance mobility and flexibility at the workplace for their employees.

At IBM, all employees are empowered with tools that allow them to work wherever and whenever they want – a strategy that has boosted the firm’s business performance and helped it weather the difficult times over the past few years.

And at law firm Rajah & Tann, employees are equipped with BlackBerries and remote Web mail access so they can work from home.

They also have the option of taking two-hour leave, if they need a short time off work to take care of personal matters.

However, such arrangements work only when managers trust their workers and workers take responsibility for their performance, Mr Gan stressed.

“Managers need to nurture an open and responsible culture to complement such practices,” he said.

“For example, if managers need the assurance of physically seeing their staff working at their desks instead of trusting them to work from home, employees will not feel comfortable taking up work-life programmes.

“On their part, employees must take responsibility for their performance when they are entrusted with such flexibility.”

As a demonstration of what is possible when trust between employers and employees is strong, Mr Gan highlighted the unusual move by United States DVD rental company Netflix to stop tracking the work hours of its 2,000 staff and their vacation leave.

Another factor in successful work-life strategies is the tailoring of practices to suit an increasingly diverse workforce, Mr Gan said.

Award winner Singapore General Hospital designed a special programme to keep its long-serving staff informed about new work-life initiatives, which incoming staff would be briefed on during orientation.

With just 30 staff, local charity Focus On The Family has rigorously implemented flexible work arrangements, which it views as a useful
staff-retention tool.

Mr Gan urged more SMEs to take a leaf from the book of the charity so as to nurture a culture conducive to work-life integration.

How 3 winning firms take care of staff

THREE award-winning employers share their work-life strategies:

 u At outdoor advertising production house BusAds, the focus is on results. The company, with 45 employees, does not monitor how its sales staff spend their time outside the office.

“We will follow up on their client meetings to find out how they went, but we won’t track how they spent their time,” said corporate affairs director Alvin Yapp, 40, who believes everyone deserves to be trusted.

When workers are empowered and trusted to handle their responsibilities, they feel like they own a piece of the company, and will act in the interest of the company, he added.

Since the firm implemented its work-life plans four years ago, absenteeism has fallen and fewer have chosen to leave.

 u When human resources director of Sheraton Towers Singapore hotel Francis Tan, 50, discovered that many of his middle-aged colleagues showed signs of high cholesterol in their medical tests, he sought to reverse the trend.

“In the hospitality industry, food is provided for staff, but there was lots of unhealthy food – like fried food or seafood,” he said.

He introduced healthier meal options with more salad choices, daily fruit offerings and special events such as Sandwich Days.

The hotel also sponsors and rewards workers who quit smoking.

 u Employees at Lucky Joint Construction are a diverse bunch, so work-life strategies differ from group to group.

To support older Singaporeans who place an emphasis on their children’s education, the firm introduced bursaries in 2007. Young employees keen on upgrading themselves through courses can take examination leave to study.

Men are encouraged to stay fit at the company’s fully equipped gym, and are rewarded when they pass their national service individual physical proficiency test.

Foreign workers are not left out. The firm has set aside a recreation room for workers to interact and relax. They also celebrate different festivals together.

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