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.
“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.”