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Managing Work-Life in Singapore

By Melissa J. Anderson

Recently the workplace diversity benchmarking organization Catalyst released a series of reports on work-life management in Asian countries. While this issue has been examined at length in China and India, the organization also featured a study on Singapore, which report author Laura Sabattini says, is unique in the region.

She explains:

“Singapore presents a unique case when it comes to work-life culture and experiences. Some demographic shifts are similar to those of many Western countries including, for example, the aging workforce and limited labor supply. These trends have led the local government to emphasize particular policies, such as programs for older workers, increased retirement age, and family incentives for women.”

On the other hand, she continues, the city-state also features many similarities to other countries in Asia, such as hierarchical workplace structures and the expectation of working long hours. Additionally, the culturally diverse workforce displays “a mix of Chinese, Malay, and Indian customs.”

This makes for a singular work-life situation in one of the fastest growing economies in the world. How can companies better address this unique workforce’s work-life needs.

Gender Differences in Career Aspirations

This report focused on the answers of 300 men and women employed by US or European headquartered companies operating in Singapore. The report shows that, by and large, high performers are satisfied with their ability to manage work and family demands, as well as with the work life programs offered by their companies. On the other hand, they also say that flexible working initiatives are not meeting their needs.

One interesting factor to note that is particular to Singapore is the governmental focus on work-life effectiveness. For example, the government funds the “Work Life Excellence Award,” that recognizes employers committed to work-life effectiveness. Specifically, Sabattini says, “those who 1) recognize the business case for work- life effectiveness; 2) ensure that senior management, direct supervisors, and employees are all committed to promoting positive work-life experiences within the workplace; and 3) implement their work-life strategies effectively.”

Additionally, new mothers receive a minimum of 12 weeks of maternity leave, with an additional eight weeks for women who have been employed at a company for 180 days. Pregnant women are prohibited from working night shifts as well.

In fact, although 57% of individuals polled overall said their focus was on their jobs rather than their families, women in Singapore were more likely than men to say they were focusing on their family (22% to 12%).  The report continues, “Men (64 percent) were more likely than women (51 percent) to say their current focus was on their job. Notably, no gender differences were found among respondents who reported having a ‘dual’ work and family focus.”

Additionally, although most respondents said they aspired to higher levels in their organizations in the next five years, about twice as many women than men (16% to 8%) said they planned to stay at the same level. Men were also more likely than women to say they aspired to CEO roles (62% to 40%).

Work Life and Flexibility

The vast majority of individuals surveyed (96%) indicated that work-life fit was very important to them. Most of the individuals surveyed said they were satisfied with their ability to manage work and home responsibilities. “Fifty-five percent of women and 61 percent of men found managing work and personal demands ‘easy,’” Sabattini writes.

But, she continued, there was a discrepancy in satisfaction with work-life programming and whether it actually meets employees’s needs.

“Despite the high levels of satisfaction with flexibility, the gap between respondents’ flexibility needs and their ratings of what their companies offered remains significant in this group. For about 80 percent (averaged among both women and men) of respondents, there was a gap between the amount of flexibility their companies provided and the flexibility they as employees needed to achieve a good fit between life on and off the job.”

More precisely, 83% of women surveyed said their workplace does not meet their work-life expectations, and 78% of men said the same. This is curious, considering measures of work-life satisfaction were relatively high. It could point to a cultural belief that work-life needs are never going to be fully balanced.

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