Balancing the Tightrope of Work and Life

 Lee Junior (BBA 2000)

 

Like other busy fathers, managing work and family life is by no means an easy task for Lee Junior (BBA 2000). He holds multiple challenging roles in life at work, play and home; and yet, is an exemplary master of this juggling act in the circus of life. He shares his philosophy on making his roles rewarding so that he can reap the invaluable dividends of healthy and happy children.

LeeJunior

What does having work-life balance mean to you?

Very often, when we ask someone who they are, they would describe themselves as a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer or whatever job they do, which gives them their sense of identity. To me, work is much more than an occupation or what we do for a living. We are all someone else’s child, perhaps someone else’s parent, and a member of a community and much more – all the same time. In order to play all these roles well, we have to work hard and put in effort to do so.

We may or may not always be paid for such “work” (and even if we do), the compensation that follows may not necessary be in tangible forms. On the other hard, some people might argue that if we truly enjoy what we do for a living, it becomes something enjoyable and fun. Thus, it ceases to be work, to which I fully agree.

Hence, unlike majority of the people in our mainstream society, I do not subscribe to or agree with the conventional notion that an individual needs to achieve a “work-life balance” because “work” and “family life” are two opposing forces in a zero-sum game, whereby one cannot co-exist in peace with the other without the risk of them overpowering each other and, so, an equilibrium needs to be achieved.

Share with us your strategies for achieving work-life balance.

Having revealed my views on what work-life balance means to me, I would also like to share a famous quote by Sir Winston Churchill that has influenced me profoundly. He said, “You make a living from what you get, but you make a life from what you give.”

The truth is, I do not have any strategies for achieving work-life balance simply because I enjoy what I do too much to ever consider them work. Secondly, because I do not measure success in the same materialistic way that most people do.

I feel very fortunate because I am rather simple-minded and consider myself successful as long as I know that I am loved by the ones whom I love. I feel empowered by a great sense of liberty and serenity, which allow me to choose how I would like to spend my time and efforts. One of the things that I enjoy most in life is actually spending time with my family, rather than spending time on making money to spend on materialistic things for them, which I believe will diminish in value over time no matter how much they get.

Apart from having very little regard for whatever material possessions that we own, my wife and I have a very strong sense of “attitude for gratitude” which we try to impart to our children. We are always actively cultivating a sense of altruism and willingness to give and share what we have with others, be it in terms of time, effort or other material forms.

What career sacrifices have you made to make time for family?

Not long after I learned that my wife was expecting our first child, I made the conscious but unusual choice of retiring from my full-time job of running a relatively successful incubator-cum-boutique M & A house that I had started with a couple of partners in February 2004. This was so that I could spend more time with my pregnant wife, who was working for my father, and also in anticipation of spending more time with my son after he was delivered.

After my son was born, I spent a great deal of time helping my wife look after him and I enjoyed the experience so much that I decided to only work part-time and become a stay-home dad. As an active social activist, an adjunct lecturer with several institutes of higher learning (including NUS Extension) and an avid triathlete, I naturally had to make adjustments to my lifestyle so that I could spend more time with my children. These included volunteering at places nearer to my place of residence, helping out at more sessions but with shorter time per session; bringing my son along with me for meetings, social gatherings and also for my training sessions; and even pushing him in a sports-stroller when I went running.

Having spent a lot of time with our children when they were younger, my wife and I have forged very close ties with them, having learned to understand them, and are able to communicate with them relatively well. Thus, we are able to maintain our close bonds with them, even though our lives have become more structures as we began working longer hours, and as they attend school or enter other childcare arrangements with their grandparents.

Nowadays, I have stopped devoting long hours to train for endurance races and have cut-down on attending meetings in the evenings, so that I can continue to feed, bathe and put the children to bed as often as I can with my wife on weekdays. On weekends, we will usually do something spontaneous that everyone enjoys before going for our weekly sushi or dim-sum feast at our favourite children-friendly restaurants; and we still travel overseas with the children whenever we can.

Have your work arrangements helped you as a career and family man?

When a man’s priority – which rightfully should be his family – is in good order, his mind will be at peace. Once a man’s mind is at peace, and if his mind is free and open to endless possibilities, then he will not suffer from the proverbial tunnel vision, and his exposure and sensitivity to opportunities will be magnified multi-fold. Therefore, his ability to take advantage of these conditions to advance his career will definitely be enhanced exponentially, if he allows himself to do so.

What advice would you give to busy fathers who want to build stronger bonds with their kids

The earlier we realize that most material things are immaterial, and that things which can be counted may not be what really count, the earlier we can find happiness as a parent and a human being.

Finding the Fun in Parenting

Titus Yong (MBA 1999)

How does a busy executive who is also a parent find the time to do meaningful things with their children regularly? Besides ferrying children from class to class and bringing them on overseas holidays, what other impactful activities can they share together? Edupreneur Titus Yong (MBA 1999) shares his creative take.

af_titusyong_side

Tell us a bit about your family and how you spend time together.

We spend theme-based Sundays together. I’ve created a version of the 5C’s for families. We rotate through the following themes, in any sequence that fits our schedule.

1. Creating Sunday
we create art, robotics, clay sculptures, etc.

2. Challenging Sunday
we challenge our limits, such as improve on our own time record for jogging around a reservoir.

3. Connecting Sunday
we invite friends to our house for a meal; send cards to relatives, teachers and friends; and try out fusion food (connecting the east and west).

4. Charity Sunday
we do projects to benefit the underprivileged.

5. Celebrating Sunday
we camp overnight with nature; or eat at a nice restaurant to celebrate a birthday, our successes, or just best efforts in doing something creative, and challenging.

Sometimes we combine the themes. Recently we ran 10km to raise funds for charity. That would be Challenging + Charity Sunday. On another occasion, we climbed to the summit of a volcano together, which was highly-challenging and helped with character-building. Our children remember our memorable times together doing something worthwhile that inculcates good character values, and learn never to give up easily.

What is work-life balance? Does it exist?

To me, the term should be “work-life blend” rather than “work-life balance”. As a social edupreneur atlngenio, I do not see work and life as separate. My work is my “calling” in life.

To make a life count, I believe in a wholehearted passion and commitment to a worthwhile cause. I go around the world to meet and interview inspiring geniuses, get their insights about their lives and ideas, and think about what these insights mean for designing a good education. Our motto is “Fulfilling Creative Potential”, which has a double meaning: when our own children and our students fulfill their creative potential, they will feel fulfilled. A well-designed education can be one of the means to a happy, fulfilling life.

How do you attain work-life “blend” then?

I involve my wife and children in my work too. This is relatively easier to do as I am involved in education. We derive a sense of meaning when we see children benefiting from our education programs and interactive technology. My wife is involved in the marketing aspects and renovation. Every week, my wife and I go for an evening date, which is termed as “delightful companion” evening. No kids allowed!

My children were the guinea pigs of my company’s Moomba Music program when we first tried it. Both my children are enthusiastic about my Ingenio workshops, which are about creativity, character strengths and the lives of inspiring geniuses.

I also invite my daughter and son to be involved in the preparation of some of my work tasks, much like “interns” even though they are only six and eight years old respectively. For example, my daughter helps to reorganize my toolbox. My son learns Excel when he helps me to key data into the computer. Of course I have to check his work afterwards. He takes the assignment very conscientiously and is quite reliable!

On some evenings, they do their studying alongside me in my home office when I do my work. They see what it means to pay undivided attention at work. Once we are done working, we pay full attention at play. We make it a point to eat dinner together as often as possible. To foster a relaxing environment, they get to choose their favourite songs on my song albums or YouTube (my phone is also their jukebox). My son calls me his “best friend”, which is really heart-warming.

How do your kids feel about these work arrangements or benefits?

My children see the sacrifices that their parents go through, and they start to appreciate what it means to work for something we believe in, and to live a life with meaning. They see me work hard and, on multiple occasions, they sincerely offer to help me. These are nice gestures which make my day!

 

Titus Yong (MBA 1999) is the founder of Ingenio Pte Ltd.
He can be contacted at titus@ingeniolearning.com

Pathways to Work-life Success

Family-friendly practices are clearly not just on the wish lists of married mums who need to take care of their children. Executives of all profiles desire them for there are always exigencies of the family or for themselves that may call for flexibility and understanding on the part of employers. Our alumni share their thoughts on the sort of family-friendly practices they currently enjoy and/or would like to see being implemented at their workplaces.

 

 CARING FOR PARENTS

Michelle Tan (MBA 2010):bvp_pathwayworklifesuccess_side

While my company does not currently practice Family Leave, I am grateful that my employer is understanding of my urgent family priorities from time to time. I reciprocate the flexibility given by completing my work offline so projects are not affected by my absence.

I value manpower as an asset in every organization. I also understand that everyone has unique family needs that may require time off work occasionally to take care of such priorities. As such, I strongly believe that to retain good staff, a company with a broader view of their needs and implements family-friendly or flexi-work practices will be better appreciated. For myself, with an aged mother to take care of, I would very much appreciate it if my company offered Family Leave – similar concept to Childcare Leave – or flexible working hours like starting or ending work earlier on certain weekdays. This will make fetching my mother back from elderly care activities much easier.

RAISING CHILDREN

Eunice Loke (BBA 1999):

In my current workplace, staff are entitled to Childcare Leave – unconditional – Child Sick Leave and Elderly Care Leave. Childcare leave had allowed me to accompany my youngest girl on her first few days at the Childcare Centre. Seeing that she blended in well with her classmates and adapted to the new environment puts my mind at ease.

Flexi-work practices – such as part-time work, or work-from-home arrangements on certain days – for the first couple of years into motherhood would definitely allow the mother to manage both her newborn and her work back in the office. The mother could work whenever her kids are asleep or in school. Extended to the father, it allows strong bonds between parents and children.

Tan Boon Chin (APEX-E MBA 2003)

Families mean everything to our staff; what happens in the family certainly impacts staff performance and productivity. Hence, at NEC, we hold dearly to family-friendly practices. It makes a lot of business sense for us. Those with young children can work flexi-hours or from home, allowing them more time at home with their kids. For those with grown-up children, flexi-hours allow them to spend quality time with their children – these staff often need to fit into their children’s busy schedule. I happen to belong to this latter group.

Heading a business unit, I am in a privileged position to determine our work-life balance practices and tenor. Our staff have clear KPIs, and are judged based on their performance – not on the hours they clock in at the office. Furthermore, most of us work in teams; any slip in performance is quickly noticed and corrected. With the proliferation of mobile devices, it no longer makes sense to talk of working from a specific fixed location; work can now be done from anywhere, anytime. This means staff can attend to work matters and family concerns at their own discretion. In effect, we can look at such an arrangement as “work-life integration” – another buzzword, and something which we are already practicing.

THE FAMILY AS A WHOLE

Adrian Lim Boon Cheong (BBA 1994)

I have worked from my home office for five years now. This is one of the best family-friendly practices I know of. It allows non-office bound staff to work and enjoy time with the family. However, the personnel involved must be mature and realize that their contributions to the organization remain imperative; and the privilege must never be abused. They must be willing to go the extra mile when required.

In today’s connected world, there are fiber optics connections, Wi-Fi, BlackBerry, iPhones, smartphones, tablets, laptops, Skype, video conferencing – all these allow us to be in touch 24/7. This means that any downtime can be spent with our children or parents instead of looking busy in front of the boss. Time spent commuting to and from work is also saved for productive work or for the family.

Of course, I have had to attend essential and sales meetings with customers. However, with flexi hours and the home office, my family dies bit feel the pinch even when I have to work overtime or travel overseas.

But I must, once again, stress that this privilege is very much dependent on the individual employee. The trust placed on him or her must not be abused. If they are responsible enough, it will make for a much closer family relationship and more productive work time!

FOR WELL-ROUNDED LIFESTYLES

James Loh Aik Hong (BBA 1995)

Personally, I really appreciate the work place and hour flexibility which allows me to start work later at around 10am, and to leave earlier at 5pm to continue working from home from 9pm. This suits my job schedule as it allows me to get in touch with all three major regions which I cover – Asia, Europe and US which have very disparate time zones. Personally, this allows me to beat the rush hour traffic, be at home early to spend time with my kids, do some exercise and have a proper sit-down dinner with the family.

It is my belief that family-friendly / flexi-work practices are in the process of becoming a basic standard for companies in Singapore in the war for talent. What used to be a great differentiator some 5 to 10 years ago starting with MNC companies has now gained rapid adoption in many companies today. Work place and work hour flexibility really enhances my productivity and work life balance.

CATERING TO SHIFTING PRIORITIES

Richard Ang (BBA 1989)

I am not exaggerating when I saw that I appreciate my company, a local SME in the ICT industry, for being an early-adopter of flexi-work arrangements such as flexi-time, mobile working and telecommuting.

In the past, this arrangement gave me the flexibility to concurrently re-arrange my work schedule – be it meetings with clients or engaging operational staff – and align my time with two growing teenagers’ schedule. Now that they are older, I do not really need the flexi-work arrangement. but I continue to enjoy it nonetheless. And having the flexibility to manage my own work hours and the environment that I want to be working in are very strong incentives for effective and efficient work. The arrangement has allowed me to stay engaged, focused and productive as I have the time to think and not just do. In our “rush-to-get-results” world, thinking time is so lacking that we often end up spending more time undoing what we have not done right in the first instance.

With cloud computing gaining momentum, coupled with myriad of collaboration platforms, there are more opportunities now than before for companies to practice flexi-work arrangements. Today, mobile working continues to provide employees with the means to stay connected with their organizations without being physically present. Telecommuting is no longer a fashionable idea but a viable work alternative for employees who need to attend to family matters and yet are still available to work, though not within the confines of an office.

Regardless of employee age group, companies should encourage more of their employees to tap into modern technology to improve both personal as well as organizational productivity. Flexi-work practices are here to stay. In fact, more and more employees are bringing their own telecommuting devices to work. Many companies are now formulating BYOD (bring your own device) polices to manage and govern these devices. With computing power growing at an exponential pace, the call for enterprises to adopt more family-friendly practices will only continue to grow.

DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE OF TIME-OFF

Ajay Pathania (MBA 2005)

Running my own business, I have more flexibility with my time than when I was working with other organizations. I take short time-offs to attend to my kids or home as, most of the time, these things do not allow me to work away from home all day.

In my previous organizations, there were a few family-friendly policies. For instance, Childcare Leave, Spouse Sick Leave – about two days per year – and the occasional approval to work from home. At one organization, employees could accumulate hours by working one extra hour each day in exchange for alternate Fridays off. It was a great practice, but most bosses were opposed to that as employees worked extra hours each day anyway, and the bosses felt that the arrangement would hamper work.

I also find that policies at work are not synchronous to employees’ varied life stages. A more robust policy would be to allow different duration of time-off rather than the current half-day or full-day. A half-day deducted from one’s annual leave seems a lot to bargain for when weighed against just a little extra time with the kid where an hour or two is all that is needed. This would also allow for one day’s worth of leave to be stretched across three to four different occasions, which would be great for the employee – and for the organization which would then not experience a significant downtime at each instance.

Tune Up for Success in Work and Life

The concept of work-life balance is certainly not a novel one given the hectic pace of life in Singapore. Research has shown that workplaces that champion work-life balance in their employment practices generally have employees that are more loyal and committed because they feel that their needs are being taken care of. What are the positive work-life practices your workplace can implement? What would it entail for both employers and employees? Yeo Miu Ean (BBA 1985), a champion of work-life balance through workplaces, shares.

bv_tuneupsuccessworklife

“An individual who is unable to handle work, family and personal challenges is likely to face stress mentally and physically. When I look at these consequences, I see the importance of urgency of enabling others to be able to work towards work-life harmony,” explains Yeo Miu Ean (BBA 1985), Chief Success Officer and founder of work-life consultancy and training agency Charistal Pte Ltd.

Most people would just cynically laugh off the concepts of work-life balance and harmony as modern fantasies that cannot be materialized in the local context of Singapore. But not Miu Ean. As the previous Director of Employer Alliance at the Singapore National Employers Federation, she has actively championed the notion of work-life harmony by sharing the benefits of work-life strategies and their contributions to business results with hundreds of companies for the past three years, so as to inspire them to overcome challenges and, likewise, write their own success stories of work-life harmony.

Miu Ean had in fact experienced part-time work with flexible hours and telecommuting while with the regional headquarters of the MNC she was previously employed in, when her younger girl was born 17 years ago. The arrangement continued for five years, during which she had enjoyed the satisfaction of a challenging career with regional exposure and exciting projects while having time to take her two daughters out for fun activities after school hours to bond with them during those precious times. It was only years later that she then understood the terms work-life harmony and Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs), and realized how she has truly benefited from such. She advocates working smart rather than working hard – the productivity gives her more time to pursue her dreams and interests beyond work, yet allows her to spend ample time with her family.

It Takes Two Hands to Clap

Quite simply, Miu Ean attributes the success of work-life programs to the presence of mutual trust between employers and employees. On the part of employers, Miu Ean believes that they have to trust their employees to produce the best results and not abuse any work-life programs such as work-from-home. That said, employees as well, need to trust their employers that their performance appraisal and rewards will be fair and not dependent on merely working long hours in the office. This is especially so when employees are forced to take out time and effort to meet their personal or family needs.

Miu Ean fondly recalls that her last two jobs over the past five years, she has managed to attract stay-home-mums to return to work by offering part-time work and providing them with the flexibility to plan their work schedules. As a result, her employees have been able to work in the offices when their children are in school, and return home in time to accompany them when they are back home. These FWAs have worked well for these employees and they have continued to work in the companies while enjoying work-life harmony.

As an employer and manager, knowing the importance of work-life harmony has also helped Miu Ean to be sensitive to the needs of her staff. She takes the effort to discuss regularly with her staff about work-life challenges beyond their projects and work. In return, her staff members appreciate the concern shown and flexibility given, which has motivated them to be more engaged in their work and to deliver beyond what is expected. In trying to attract some talented women back to work, her proposal of FWAs has been a major draw, helping her to attract the right talents.

Calibrating the Work-life Success Formula

Miu Ean recognizes that one of the reasons behind most employers’ unwillingness to try out work-life program is that they fear the incidences of abuse by a select minority of employees, especially those who are the poorer performers. To avoid this pitfall, Miu Ean recommends that employers “be clear about the needs of talented employees which they hope to retain and engage, and also those whom they are trying to attract”. This certainly doesn’t happen overnight and without clear and constant communication between employers and employees with regards to the work-life program that are available and their mutual expectations about the programs. Miu Ean believes that for these communication pathways to be successfully developed, there has to be strong commitment from both the employer and employee to make work-life programs work for the benefit of the employee and the business. Or as we often advocate, a “win-win situation” for both parties. In fact, Miu Ean goes as far as sharing that both employers and employees need to be educated and aware of the various types of work-life programs available, especially FWAs; and be willing to develop new programs over time – try them out and regularly calibrate them for their desired outcomes so as to reap the maximum benefits of such programs.

Building Capacity in Work-life Programs

The question then is: “Who should take the lead”? Miu Ean proposes that the Human Resources and Operations managers be equipped to implement work-life programs such as FWAs by attending training or support from work-life consultants. This way, employers will be in better positions to anticipate possible disengagements from employees and quickly remedy them. From Miu Ean’s experience, these pitfalls could include employees reducing their commitment and engagement at the workplace when faced with family and personal needs or on choosing to go on an FWA, or employees becoming, conversely, unwilling or afraid to share work-life challenges with their supervisors, thus continuing to be stressed. This, in turn, adversely affects business performance and, in some cases, the employee may choose to resign, causing a loss of talent to the company. Hence, the employers really need the relevant skills and training to effectively manage this balance with fitnesse. That said, Miu Ean also adds that employees could be encouraged to develop their personal work-life effectiveness through training and other resources as well. In a nutshell, Miu Ean strongly believes,
There is no instant perfection in a work-life program, but consistent fine-tuning will certainly bring about work-life success for the employee and outstanding results for the organization.”

 

The Financial Tides Ahead

cover_financialtides

We ask two faculty members and an alumnus to share their opinions on the financial tides ahead. They are Professor Joseph Cherian, Director of the Center for Asset Management Research & Investments (CAMRI) and Chairman of the CAMRI Advisory Council at NUS Business School; Professor Duan Jin-Chuan, Director of Risk Management Institute at NUS Business School, and Cycle & Carriage Professor of Finance; and Srinidhi Raghavendra (MBA 2006), Chief Operating Officer at Straits Financial Services Pte Ltd.

Globally, we see gold prices fluctuating, Merkozy “recipe” in the recent EU Summit working together to ensure the 27 EU members sign up on a treaty to overhaul fiscal rules, and how, now, Greece debt restructuring is the talk of the Eurozone Crisis; the Fed keeping interest rates low for maybe until 2014 (hinting the possibility of QE3); and Bank of England’s (BOE) direction towards the expansion of the bank’s asset purchase program (possibility of another quantitative easing).

It has been a few years since the onslaught of the stormy financial situation in 2007. Now, with waves of Eurozone Crisis hitting and the daunting headwinds of US’s QE3 blowing, will the global market finally be able to cross the financial storm and move ahead in the financial tides? What would be the global economic out look for 2012? What direction will the market take? How would this affect Singapore? We sought views from industry academics and players in our midst.

Excerpts from “The nagging Eurozone crisis and its implications”

cover_financialtides_joseph

Professor Joseph Cherian
Director, Center for Asset Management Research & Investments (CAMRI), NUS Business School; and Chairman, CAMRI Advisory Council, NUS Business School

Overleveraging and overspending is the main cause of the Eurozone crisis unfolding in front of our eyes, and a period of belt tightening from the West is to be expected. However, even to the casual observer, only a few concrete decisive moves to mend this crisis have been taken to date. Growth in the Eurozone based on November 2011 data was about 1.4% which is similar to what US is experiencing. Both US and Europe are expected to be in economic doldrums for 2012.

Most Asia (ex Japan), on the other hand, … Read more

The European Sovereign Debt Crisis and the World Economy

cover_financialtides_duanjinchuan

Professor Duan Jin-Chuan
Director of Risk Management Institute, NUS Business School and Cycle & Carriage Professor of Finance

With the second rescue package of €130 billion for Greece, the world seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. But is the sovereign debt crisis really over?

The Greek rescue package is a combination of some austerity measures, a financial assistance of €130 billion, and a 53.5% haircut, presumable voluntary, on the private sector bondholders. The “voluntary” nature of haircut was designed in the first place to avoid triggering the credit default swaps on Greece (about US$70 billion worth in notional). As such institutions have both bought and sold credit default swaps, the net amount is belived to be … Read more

Global Economy Predictions for 2012

cover_financialtides_srinidhi

Srinidhi Raghavendra (MBA 2006)
Chief Operating Officer
Straits Financial Services Pte Ltd

“Economists make predictions only so that the weather guys have someone to laugh at.”

Making economic predictions is never easy and in a volatile global market, the task is ever more complex. For 2012, some of the following headwinds blowing against global economy will significantly dictate its outcome.

A US election year will leave little room for any significant legislative decisions boosting economic growth. While the Euro area appears to be somewhat settled following a 3-year ECB loan, new sovereign or bank crisis in the region could revive Euro contagion, having an adverse spillover effect on … Read more