Trust and communication key for flexible work arrangements, says Gan Siow Huang

05/07/2024

Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang stressed building trust and clear communication between employers and employees are essential for implementing flexible work arrangements effectively.

“It’s important that there is good trust between the employers and employees, and also employees respecting employers’ decisions which are made based on business grounds,” she said.

“The guidelines can help with communication between employers and employees. Playbooks on flexible work arrangements, knowing some examples of what other people do, understanding the possibilities, addressing the mindset. These are barriers. These are very real.”

New tripartite guidelines for flexible work arrangements will take effect from December. The guidelines, launched in April, outline how employees should request flexible arrangements and use them responsibly, and how employers and supervisors should handle such requests.

In an interview with Petir, Ms Gan said to achieve wider adoption of flexible work arrangements, we must identify the barriers to implementing them, and help employers and employees overcome these barriers. That would be more productive than mandating flexible work arrangements through legislation.

She added that some employers have said that their human resources (HR) are not ready. Others worry about tracking the performance of workers on flexible work arrangements.

As for employees, she noted, some are concerned employers may think less of them if there is a prevailing mindset that flexible work means working less or reduced productivity.

“We should look at the issues and root causes, and treat the root causes,” she said. “For now, the bigger barriers are companies’ abilities, capabilities to implement flexible work arrangements, and good communication and trust. Let’s work on these. “

Flexible work arrangements can be viable if they make business sense: Gan Siow Huang

There is also a need for some Singaporeans to change their mindset regarding flexible work arrangements, Ms Gan stressed. Flexible work arrangements do not simply mean working from home. They could refer to flexible schedules, workloads, she clarified. Such arrangements also do not mean working less or lower productivity. 

“[Flexible work arrangements] must benefit both the employer and employees,” she said. “They can only be viable if they make business sense. If they negatively impact the business, customers or colleagues’ morale and productivity, they cannot be sustained.”

With an ageing population in Singapore and more people having responsibilities to care for family, Ms Gan said flexible work arrangements allow people to remain employed instead of giving up their careers to provide care.  It can also bring homemakers back into the workforce.  

“We can do better by offering part-time work, shift work, staggered hours or hybrid work – different types of flexible work arrangements that allow women who have stepped away from work to return more easily,” she added.

Citing her resident – a seventy-year-old healthcare worker – as an example, Ms Gan said this worker enjoys working and hopes to continue part time, but she would have to quit because her workplace does not offer part-time option.

“She is healthy and active. She wants to contribute to healthcare. But she also realises that she is getting older. Working long hours is very tiring for her at this point. In her case, having some flexibility in work arrangements would be helpful.”

The govt works with partners to help employers and employees adopt flexible work arrangements: Gan Siow Huang

Gan Siow Huang / Facebook

The government works with partners like the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), Singapore Business Federation, the Association of Small & Medium Enterprises, Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to help employers and employees become more aware of different flexible work options and available support for implementing them, Ms Gan said.

“The Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP), SNEF, TAFEP are developing templates and playbooks to help employers implement flexible arrangements better.”  

There are also grants and resources that companies can tap on to facilitate flexible work arrangements, Ms Gan noted. Tan Tock Seng Hospital recently used the NTUC Company Training Committees grant to develop scheduling tools for more flexible shift work for nurses.

“They want to expand the number of flexi-shift models for their staff. More variations mean the supervisor or person scheduling will find it a nightmare or challenge to handle different requests and times. So, you need tools.”

“In Singapore and globally, if you want to attract talent to join a company, and you want to retain the good people in your company, flexible work arrangements matter.”