There’s something that is making news lately, and it’s about lesser time spent by employees in their office. Microsoft Japan implemented what they call ‘4-day work week’, and the results are shocking, but at the same time, encouraging. Yes, you heard it right. The IT behemoth had reported that when employees were put off work on all Fridays in the month of August 2019, the productivity of the office increased. Extended weekends with just four working days made Microsoft Japan’s staffers not just happier as compared to what they felt during a 5-day work week but also brought efficiency. To put numbers in perspective, they had reported a whopping 40 percent hike in productivity when all employees had to work just for 4 days in a week for the entire month. What more? Meetings turned efficient, and the shorter workweek also enabled savings on power, water, and other resources, including paper, as employees printed less.
The Singaporean Scene
The SMEs of Singapore, or for that matter of any country across the world, crave for efficiency. The ever-high competition, which has opened borders for foreign companies, calls for more productive workers that are at the same time high spirited and happy. Singapore has become the Silicon Valley of Southeast Asia is a well-documented subject. It means SMEs that form the backbone of the Singaporean economy can become the industry titans of tomorrow, given they focus not just on creativity but also on having a content workforce. Work-life balance is the talk of the town, and it brings with it great incentives for the employer. As established by the ‘Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019’ of Microsoft Japan, happier employees bring more revenues to their employers. It also cut other burdens, including recruitment due to high attrition and unplanned leaves, many of which get availed by being untruthful to the reporting manager.
In the city-state of Singapore, SMEs not only benefit from the above-mentioned pluses but also from the incentives that are given to them directly by the government. The programme ‘Enhanced Work-Life Grant’ has elevated the subject of employees’ work-life balance to another level with direct participation from the Singaporean government in rewarding encouraging businesses. The primary aim of this scheme is to incentivise those enterprises which implement flexible work arrangements, also called FWAs, for their workforce. The scheme is neatly divided into two components, FWA Incentive and Job-Sharing Incentive. It is for the companies to pick any or both and benefit from the grants that come their way. The only requirement for availing the benefits is that employees against whom FWA grants are sought are regular staffers and not casual or part-time workers. Although the scheme identifies FWAs in three forms, Flexi-Place, Flexi-Time and Flexi-Load, however, other arrangements can also be considered.
Flexible work arrangements (Flexi-work) globally is the need of the hour. World-renowned companies like Google, Dell, Humana, Intel, incorporate such practices to increase employee productivity and increase retention rate. And in Singapore, 82% of workers see flexible work-life as an integral part of their proposition, and millennials also view their careers differently.
State-backed Initiatives- What they Offer?
When one talks of the first component, FWA Incentive, the quantum of benefits is up to $70,000 over a period of two years, for any local staffer, $2,000 can be availed by the enterprise in one year. There are no harsh conditions attached, and the few requirements to meet include adopting Tripartite Standards on FWAs and sustaining robust work-life culture. As stated earlier, the employee for whom the incentive get sought must be a regular employee with a permanent job in the enterprise or a minimum contract term of 1 year. Flexible Work Arrangement Incentive is an excellent boost to enterprises since they reward them for being employee-friendly and has nothing to do with other things such as turnover or profitability of the business. SMEs that employ a small number of staffers or even those that have enrolled the services of 15-20 workers can make the best use of these FWA Incentives.
The second component, Job Sharing Incentive, involves an arrangement where two (and sometimes even more) people share job responsibilities of a single position. It gets done by having one person performing the job at one time and the other owning up the responsibility when the first one is off work. Job Sharing is a great concept given the needs of many sections of the society who cannot commit themselves to long working hours. For example, homemakers that need to raise their school-going children can opt for sharing jobs and can still manage to accomplish other tasks. The incentives here are up to $35,000 for a period of two years for any enterprise. The grant can avail concerning PMET (Professionals, Managers, Executives, and Technicians) employees, and for every single PMET employee, $3,500 is available. Job Sharing incentives, as is the case with FWA Incentives, come with a few conditions.
For enterprises to avail incentives, they must adopt Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements. The employees against whom the Job Sharing Incentive gets availed can be a Singaporean citizen or a permanent resident. Such employee is required to be employed permanently or at least on a contract term of at least 1 year. One important condition attached to this grant is that the PMET employee must be drawing a salary of a minimum $3,600 monthly. The government also states in the scheme that redistribution of workload must get done through formal arrangement. The remuneration must be following this arrangement. For enterprises to apply for any of the two components of the grant, they must approach SNEF, NTUC’s e2i, or Singapore Manufacturing Federation, the three agencies that are designated, partners. The application must be made directly by the company, and there are no charges to apply.
The Add-ons for SMEs
The Singaporean government has been enthusiastic in promoting flexible work arrangement in the city-state. Undoubtedly, the administration realises the benefits that accrue to the industry when labor force is happier and devotes complete attention to work when in office. The Ministry of Manpower announced in the month of March last year that the budget for Work-Life Grant Scheme will be hiked by a whopping $70 million, thereby taking the total allocation to this program to $100 million. Given that $100 million is no means an amount to enable enterprises in Singapore to implement flexible work arrangements in the workplace, the whole idea of work-life balance, to attain new heights in the country. What else is needed? The implementation of the scheme at the same time is so uncomplicated that any enterprise looking to avail the benefits has to make a few provisions in how employees get managed. The process of applying for the grant is uncomplicated too.
And the good news is that most of the businesses in Singapore have bought the idea with enthusiasm. The Ministry’s Conditions of Employment report released in the month of January last year has revealed a positive picture. As many as 72 percent of employees employed with businesses provide at least one formal flexible work arrangement. When ad-hoc arrangements taken into account, the number is as high as 87 percent. When it comes to employers, more than half the companies in Singapore are now offering formal FWAs to their employees, and ad-hoc FWAs take the proportion to 84 percent. The stats are encouraging, and with such phenomenal growth noticed in a short period, one can say that Singapore is on the cusp of becoming a country that has on offer the best employment arrangements for all employees. It is a win-win scenario for all stakeholders involved.
Do FWAs worth the attention?
As far as the subject of retaining employees is concerned, flexible work arrangements get set to deliver on this count. The Ministry of Manpower has shone spotlight on this subject and revealed that FWAs, combined with reduced workweek and leave entitlements, have had a positive impact on the retention of employees. When one views the broader picture, it can construe that FWAs are minimizing the expenditure on recruitment owing to a significant cut in attrition rates. Alongside, FWAs allowing people to work from home and spend less time in office are saving crucial resources of the economy of Singapore. Given that the city-state is not as blessed in terms of natural resources as compared to nations such as China, FWAs are playing a key role in saving up on the limited resources available at disposal.
For Singaporean SMEs, the government grants for implementing FWAs in the workplace are a significant driving force. Indeed, enterprises in different fields have to pick one FWA over another; for example, a company engaged in the Information Technology sector can implement a part-time work arrangement while on the other hand, traditional businesses can have job-sharing arrangements. The incentives given by the city-state’s government only complement the benefits that directly accrue to companies that pay proper attention to the work-life balance of employees. And lastly, as demonstrated by Microsoft Japan, the pluses of having FWAs are many. Increased productivity and the best use of resources play a key role in determining the long-term sustainability of any business. Having achieved these targets by allowing the employees a shorter workweek, Microsoft Japan has a lot to further the case of flexible work arrangements.