Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Work-Life Balance

Update: 2 Nov 2013: Does WORK-LIFE BALANCE exist in Singapore

What's your definition of work-life balance?

"It's the ability to balance between the number of hours you work and the number of hours you play." "Leaving your office at the appropriate time." "Careful management of your time, making sure you have enough for leisure activities as well as making sure you're not compromising your work." "Ideally, work-life balance means more life, less work. And there is no balance with regards to that in Singapore." (Why not?) "It's mostly work."

Not true, say 11 out of 20 Singaporeans that RazorTV spoke to, adding that they clock in shorter work-days to get that perfect balance of work and play.

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Know trade-offs too, PM Lee says

It was also not clear if people knew the trade-offs, he said

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has sought to inject some balance in the national preoccupation with work-life balance, warning Singaporeans that competitors are out to steal their lunch

At a televised forum on Tuesday night, he said the idea of work-life balance has become so popular it is now a tag phrase.

"They call it a meme on the Internet," he said, adding that people who used the phrase did not seem quite sure what they meant by it except that they would like more free time and less stress.

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Majority want slow pace of life

Gan Kim Yong (standing, left), Minister for Health, speaking to participants at Our Singapore Conversation session on health care at SPH News Centre organised by Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao

While generally optimistic about the future, the majority of Singaporeans want a slower-paced life, a less competitive education system and fewer foreigners - and they are willing to trade off economic growth for that.

This was the picture that emerged from a survey of 4,000 citizens conducted in January as part of the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) exercise.

The full findings, released last week, had 65 per cent of respondents saying that they were optimistic about the future five years ahead, and 78 per cent saying that the Government was managing Singapore well.

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PM Lee on Work-Life Balance

From the ST two days ago but I was too busy to blog about it then 

A few are fortunate to have work-life balance. Many either have to live with a lot of Work or a lot of time for Life, but not sure if they have the life they want. 

More of us could have had good work-life balance if government policies were more farsighted and courageous as far back as GCT became PM. Now it is pointless to talk about what-ifs. We have to make the best of what we have. 

If you cannot achieve a happy work-life balance for yourself, give your children the means to do so. In a similar vein our parents lifted us from poverty. It is now our job to help them go the next lap.

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What is work-life balance or harmony?

In PM Lee’s opinion, work and life can be easily traded off.  There is a price to pay, especially our competitors will steal away our lunch. So, in his mathematical mind, it is a balancing act. You can’t have both and eat them all.

Before we discuss further, let take a look at Ministry of Manpower’s website for a clear explanation on work-life harmony:
[Providing work-life friendly workplaces will result in a win-win situation for both employers and employees. Work-life friendly workplaces enable employees to balance their personal and work commitments. Employers who proactively support a work-life friendly environment will stand to benefit from having a more engaged and productive workforce. This will also help in attracting and retaining talent, especially in light of the tight labour market.]http://mom.gov.sg/employment-practices/work-life-harmony/Pages/work-life-strategies.aspx
PM Lee seems to suggest there is no win-win situation.  Of course, as Prime Minister, he can overwrite the MOM statement and give each of the three parties (employers, union and government) #1 a slap by promoting work-life balance without deep consideration of lunch box issues.

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PM Lee Does Not Understand Work-Life Balance

PM Lee called work-life balance a tagline

Do you know what are bigger tag phrases than work-life balance in Singapore? I can name you same. How about, "More good years ahead", "Always here for you." or "Confidence for the future"? These taglines are probably as meaningless to Singaporeans as "Work-life balance" is to PM Lee.

Perhaps this hermit of Perth has been isolated from civilization for too long not to notice "Work-life balance" has became an Internet meme. Is it not clear if Singaporeans really understand work-life balance? Not sure but it is evident that PM Lee does not. Do you agree with the PM that work-life balance is an unrealistic goal for Singaporeans? If you do, let me explain offer you a fair definition of work-life balance and we'll take it from there. I pity folks who landed on this website regularly. Here asingaporeanson goes again, like a broken record, the pseudo-advocate for work-life balance. [Delete! Exterminate! Evacuate!] I'll spare you the ramblings. If you like to go through it again, read this [link]

PM Lee knows that Singaporeans want more free time and less stress and he was quoted saying so. But he does not believe Singaporeans should have more free time, citing the competition from Vietnam, China and India will "steal our lunches" if we let up. At the moment, if you have work for 8 hours, play for 8 hours and sleep for 8 hours, congratulate yourself because you are achieving work-life balance though strictly speaking, you don't actually play for 8 hours. Unless commuting to work for 1-2 hours a day is your kind of fun. I'll leave it as that, for the benefit of some people who love driving a lot or enjoying rubbing at the bums of office ladies in a jam-packed MRT train

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Ask the Prime Minister: Really?
The unwillingness to criticise social media - and the fact that the show was facilitated by its presence - showed that there was a relatively refreshing change of tack - one that started from the National Day Rally

But there was a few aspects which I felt relatively uncomfortable with - like his comment on how “the willingness to sacrifice individual concerns for broader national goals “is probably less” when compared to the previous generation.”

Is it really pertinent that we have to focus on the nation first? We have our own aspirations and desires - a comfortable standard of living, academic and career advancements, a better relationship with our significant others… All these varying individual desires are certainly not pertinent to our nation’s survival, but they are still as important - the wellbeing of a nation’s people is arguably that of the nation. Perhaps that’s what different for the people for my generation - we believe that the government is here to serve us, not vice versa, and we no longer see ourselves as subservient to it.

Case in point: we have not reacted well to the government telling us what to do - a recent example being how Singaporeans online slammed Dr Yaccob Ibrahim explaining the new regulations on news sites as rules that would allow Singaporeans to 'read the right things'.

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Work-Life Balance?

While we talk about time and space in class, I am oddly reminded of how time is never sufficient in Singapore, especially for a working adult.

I feel really strongly about having a work-life balance. All because I know that work-life balance essentially does not exist in Singapore. I took a year off from schooling to work full-time in Singapore and while it was not my happiest period, it was definitely the period when I was forced to grow up quickly. Really quickly.

I worked in the events industry for a full year and had almost no social life to speak of during that duration. My life was consumed by work – which is a common situation with most Singaporeans. Being in the media industry, I expected longer work hours. What I did not realise was that, it was normal not to ‘have a life’ (as what my friends called it) at all. 

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Who are We Kidding? – There is No Work Life Balance

I just had to reprint this article in the Straits Times by Alan Tan, because it’s a reflection of what Singapore is becoming. It’s the key reason why the quality of life is low here even though Human Resources always talks about the virtues of Work Life Balance. Sadly, in most cases, it seems to be just talk.

This topic is close to my heart and please excuse me while I have my angry rant.

When I was working I had to put in hours till 10pm and the central air-conditioning would be turned off at 6pm leaving me with a splitting headache and nausea at the end of each night. When I instead took home my work to do, my boss wasn’t happy as she physically couldn’t see me working. This made me so mad. We were not being managed by the actual work done, but by what was perceived to be done. This is the case for my friends today as well. I used to be so frustrated when I had to work weekends as well without any time off. How can you still wonder why our birth rates are low and that Singaporeans are too uptight. It’s all due to stress. Not the healthy kind of stress, but distress which leads to illness and injury.

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Work-Life Balance In Singapore – PMO’s Views And Plans

PM Lee touched upon the subject of work-life balance in Singapore during his National Day Rally speech. Here are some relevant extracts, in which he shares a few stories, views and plans.

Recently I talked to one young lady, a teacher, she has four kids, young ones from the age 14 to the age of one, and she has gone back to work as a teacher and she appreciates the schemes we have for working mothers, paid maternity leave, flexi-work arrangements and so on but she says but if I took all these schemes, then I am pushing my load onto my colleagues, other teachers and furthermore when it comes to assessment time, my head of department and my principal will not know what grade to give me. So even if you are giving me more of these leaves and perks, it will not help me with my career which was important to her. So I asked her what is the one thing that would encourage Singaporeans to have children and she said “work-life balance” but then she added “but that is not in your power to give”. She understands. We want work-life balance, we encourage people to have work-life balance, but finally it is the attitudes of the employers, it is the attitudes of the individuals who are pursuing their careers, it is a social norm, everybody is working, so I feel I have to work long hours too and so we are stuck in that position.

So what more can we do? NPTD is studying this very carefully as part of the population issue, they are consulting widely and we will work out a package which we hope will be ready by the time our White Paper is published around January but meanwhile tonight I will just share with you some broad ideas which take in some of the views which we have received so far, please think about it and please try to change our mindsets and our norms and behaviors.

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Singapore offers third best work-life balance in Asia

According to the 2013 Regus Work/Life Balance Index, Singapore improved to 128 points to place third overall in the Asia region, behind China (136) and India (139). It edged out previous third-placer Malaysia this year as the country dropped roughly 20 points to 121 in 2013.

The Regus Work/Life Balance Index, an annual survey of 26,000 professionals in 90 countries, calibrates a number of different factors to produce an index value that reflects overall levels of personal-work life harmony. Among other factors, independent researchers asked respondents whether, over the past year, they were spending more time away from home, whether they enjoyed work more, whether they were achieving more at work, and whether they had taken on additional work duties.

Regus noted though that while Singapore and Taiwan saw modest gains compared to last year's survey, mainland China saw a sharp 13-point drop from 149 index points last year to 136 now. While still one of the highest scores in the region, this also represented one of the steepest falls between surveys. Seventy-two per cent of mainland professionals reported that they spend more time working than they did last year – but 69 per cent also said they enjoyed work more now.

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Singaporeans want 'compassionate meritocracy'

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Desire for work-life balance a sign of true maturity

Mrs Marietta Koh Ai-meng's concerns about the young people of today are largely unfounded, primarily because she has mischaracterised their desire for work-life balance as a lack of hunger ("Where's the hunger?"; last Saturday).

The two are not mutually exclusive - a desire for work-life balance does not demonstrate a lack of hunger, drive or even ambition.

In fact, a proper balance between time dedicated to work and recreation empowers one to continue working optimally over a longer period.

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Work-life balance starts with knowing roles in life

The workshop was a chance for (from left) contestants Shiying Gan, Ye Yingyi, Michelle Lim and Alvin Yeo to discuss the challenges they face in finding work-life harmony

PUBLIC-RELATIONS consultant Aaron Tan knows what it's like to have too much on his plate.
With two young children to support, and a third on the way, the 24-year-old, the youngest of the 16 finalists in this year's My Paper Executive competition, recently found himself neglecting family to bring home the bacon.

He told My Paper: "I really wanted to excel in my career to give my family a better life, so I was very focused on my job. I didn't know how to balance work and life."

When his wife, a stay-at-home mum, brought up the matter, he realised he had some prioritising to do.

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Work-life balance spells success for S'pore women

The majority of female professionals in Singapore define success as being able to maintain a balance between their work and personal lives, a study by LinkedIn has found.

The 'What Women Want @ Work' study found that 58.3 per cent of women regard having a work-life balance an indication of professional success.

This definition of professional success appears to be a recent phenomenon. According to LinkedIn, only 33.2 per cent of women prioritised work-life balance as a determining factor of success a decade ago

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PM warns S'poreans that overseas competitors seek to steal their lunch

"If you look at other countries: Vietnam, China, even in India, they're not talking about work-life balance; they are hungry, anxious, about to steal your lunch. So I think I'd better guard my lunch."

Work-life balance was also on the minds of Singaporeans the last time PM Lee participated in a similar forum run by Singapolitics. As part of an exercise dubbed "Ask the PM" last year, Singaporeans had voted to ask PM Lee if work-life balance was possible in Singapore. He said that while technology had changed working styles, people do have to find a sustainable rhythm.

"You have to work hard. When you're young you have to do perhaps more than your fair share. But it has to be on a sustainable way and there has to be time for family, for taking care of yourself. (SEE PM LEE'S FULL ANSWER HERE: Work-life balance - You finish from 9 to 5, 9 o'clock to 5am. That's only a slight exaggeration")

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Call for body to help work life balance

An independent commission should be set up to look into finding work-life-balance solutions, said Member of Parliament Lee Li Lian.

She was among several MPs who yesterday highlighted the need for better work-life balance. To ensure an integrated approach, Ms Lee said that the commission should comprise members from all levels, such as the Government, employers and regular Singaporeans.

She proposed that it could lead public discussions on family-friendly work practices, research best practices, and develop pro-family business-practice resources.

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The truth behind attaining work/life balance

So is work/life balance really attainable? We asked the question in an online survey and 42.53 percent of Singaporeans think it is but say a flexible employer is key. A further 36.02 percent said work/life balance is attainable, but that it is up to them to make it work. 21.46 percent feel work/life balance is not attainable.

As our survey results show, most Singaporeans do believe work/life balance is achievable, provided they either find the right employer or they take matters into their own hands.

This is good news for job seekers because the recent conversations we’ve had with them shows that work/life balance has shot up their priority list. It’s replaced job security now that we’re seeing such strong jobs numbers.

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