At Work

Work-life harmony: Part 4

With changing population demographics and attitudes towards work and the emergence of Generation X-ers and Y-ers in the workplace, many individuals are placing a higher premium on work-life balance.

Government and women’s groups have also been campaigning for more conducive and flexible work arrangements to encourage mothers to join or return to the workforce.

With globalisation and advances in technology, our lives have become more hectic and demanding. These present challenges to work-life harmony.

How then do organisations leverage on their only resource — human capital — to maximise productivity levels? Consider the following solutions:

1 Implement work redesign

Most people can spot a work process that needs improvement, but few venture to do it. This results in long hours and hampers work-life effectiveness.

Redesigning work involves changing the content and arrangement of specific jobs to improve productivity and the quality of work. Jobs and tasks can be integrated and simplified through automation, and jobs can be enlarged, enriched or staff can be redeployed through out-sourcing and in-sourcing options.

2 Adopt flexible work arrangements

Work can also be redesigned to provide for flexible arrangements. A survey of the top 200 organisations in Singapore conducted by the NTUC Women’s Development Secretariat in the first quarter of 2008 showed that the most common flexible work arrangements implemented are part-time jobs, flexible time and job sharing.

At Alexandra Health, the hospital business is a 24/7 operation. To meet the hospitals’ needs as well as provide work-life integration for its staff, Alexandra Health offers compressed work weeks, part-time arrangements or job-sharing.

Says its chief human resource officer Lynn Gan: “Productivity is not just about dollars and cents; it comes from a motivated and happy workforce. When we make these special arrangements for the staff, their needs are met and they feel happier.”

3 Foster accountability for productivity

Many middle managers hesitate to implement flexibility for fear of setting the precedent and facing performance management issues.

The ability to work flexibly is a privilege, not an entitlement. This has to be understood by all, and key performance indicators must be set to monitor and evaluate performance. Hence, the focus is on results and productivity rather than face-time.

4 Choose the right employee-support schemes

Organisations have implemented various employee support schemes such as health and wellness programmes and “Fruit Day” to show employees that they care.

Companies are also organising talks on a variety of themes, such as family education, that are popular with employees. For instance, KPMG has a unique Respect for Leave policy, which means that leave that has been booked by individual staff will be honoured.

Stephen Tjoa, executive director (People, Performance & Culture), KPMG Singapore says: “The Respect for Leave policy proves to the staff that the management respects their personal commitments and cares for their welfare.”

5 Create high engagement

Managers act as role models with their commitment to productivity and work-life harmony, ensuring that workplace meetings are kept short, circulating the agenda ahead of time and involving the right people.

They also examine how work is done, understand work expectations of staff, ensure job-role behavioural fit and equip staff with upgraded and relevant skills and knowledge to perform their jobs effectively.

6 Equip managers as work-life coaches

It might be a productive solution to consider equipping managers with work-life coaching tools which they can apply to themselves and their staff. These can range from working with employees to identify work-life stress factors, and vocational interests and aptitudes to assisting them to finding solutions and making lifestyle or career changes.

Meeting the work-life needs of employees will help to enhance their work performance, leading to higher productivity. — Singapore Straits Times/Asia News Network

Article by Helen Lim-Yang, a senior partner of OTi-SDC Consulting.