Flexible Work Arrangements: How to Build a Case for Work-Life Balance

In a pivotal move aimed at enhancing work-life balance and boosting workplace productivity, Singapore has announced the institutionalisation of Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) as a permanent fixture in the employment landscape. Announced by the Ministry of Manpower, in collaboration with the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation, these guidelines are designed to offer employees greater flexibility while ensuring operational effectiveness.

From 1 Dec 2024 onwards, all employers in Singapore must fairly consider formal requests from employees for flexible work arrangements (FWAs). Employers have to reply to the request within two months of the date the request was made, and they are encouraged to discuss alternative arrangements if the one sought is not feasible.

Under the new policy, employers are encouraged to adopt FWAs, which include options such as telecommuting, flexible hours, and job-sharing. The initiative not only targets improved employee satisfaction and retention but also positions Singapore as a forward-thinking player in global employment practices. The public sector is set to lead by example, implementing telecommuting guidelines that allow eligible employees to work from home for an average of two days per week.

This strategic reform reflects Singapore’s commitment to fostering a supportive and adaptable work environment, ensuring that both businesses and employees thrive in a rapidly evolving global economy. However, the policy is met with mixed reactions from both employees and employers.

Employers are saying that the policy will push them to hire more employees overseas instead of in Singapore. In a recent news interview, a SME employer voiced her worries that “the requirement to consider requests for other arrangements could affect how contactable her employees are and their response speed.”

At the same time, when I look at comments from friends in my social circle who are employees, it felt like their interpretation of FWA means being able to working 3 or 4 days a week. In reality, FWA offers a much broader and diverse ways of working.

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What Is Flexible Work Arrangements?

FWAs refer to variations from usual work arrangements. These include:

  • Flexi-load (e.g. part-time or job-sharing)
  • Flexi-time (e.g. staggered hours and compressed work week)
  • Flexi-place (e.g. telecommuting)

Here is a list of flexible work arrangements options that employees can think about.

Part-time Work*An arrangement in which employees work reduced hours on a regular basis. Part-time employees normally work less than 35 hours in a week, including those who work less than a full day all week or only some days
per week.
Staggered TimeAn arrangement where employees can vary their daily start and end times to suit their work and personal commitments.
Compressed Work Schedule*An arrangement in which an employee works full-time hours, e.g. 40 hours in a week, in fewer than the normal number of days per time period. There are various types of schedules used for compressed work schedule.
TelecommutingA flexi-place arrangement in which the job is performed at a location other than the workplace using information and communication technologies. It may be on a situational or episodic basis, i.e. need-based; or core, i.e. a routine, regular and recurring basis.
Job Sharing*An arrangement that allows two or more people to share the responsibilities of one full-time position, with each of them working part-time. They usually work at different times during the day/week or alternate weeks, and may have a time of overlap to maintain continuity. The work may be divided by function, geography, time or workload etc., depending on the arrangement.
Creative SchedulingThis refers to a work schedule or roster which is a deviation from the industry norm. It may be implemented to accommodate existing employees’ personal and family needs and/or to attract potential employees with life stage needs that do not fit into the traditional work schedule or roster practised in that industry.
Employee Choice of Days OffAn arrangement that allows employees to plan their own work schedules and determine their day(s) off. Balloting may be used to ensure that the daily operations run smoothly and to determine fair allocation of day(s) off for employees.
Flexible Hours (Flexi-Hours)An arrangement where employees are contracted to work a certain number of hours over an accounting period, e.g. a 20-hour workweek, and they can work at any time of the day, as long as they complete the stipulated hours within the work week.
Flexi-ShiftThis refers to an arrangement in which employees specify the days and/or hours they can work, and are scheduled accordingly, e.g. some caregivers of school-going children may opt to work specific hours in the day, i.e. 3-4 hours in the morning or afternoon while the children are at school, or during weekends when other caregivers are available.
Interim WorkThis refers to hiring an employee on a part-time or full-time basis for a specific period of time, or to complete a specific project. Interim workers cut across all levels from senior management to rank-and-file employees. Seasonal work and project-based work are some examples of interim work.
Phasing In Or OutAn arrangement in which employees who are joining or leaving an organisation move from a part-time position into a full-time position or vice versa. In some cases, employees are given the flexibility to determine how many hours and when they work to ease their transition into/out of a full-time position.
Phased RetirementAn arrangement to meet the needs of employees nearing retirement age who want to continue working but in a different capacity.
Project-based WorkAn arrangement in which someone is engaged to complete a specific project. The contract may be based on a set time frame/duration, or task/KPI-based.
Retirees Cover for Workers On LeaveAn arrangement in which organisations engage their retired workers to return to work on an ad hoc or short-term basis when they require manpower.
Seasonal WorkThis refers to hiring staff during peak seasons to supplement existing staff strength, or hiring part-time staff to work over a certain period of time to cover the work of existing staff, e.g. hiring more retail staff during festive seasons, or hiring staff to work on weekends to relieve existing staff.
Shift-SwappingAn arrangement that allows shift-workers to trade shifts with one another when the need arises. This enables shift workers to arrange their schedule to meet their personal needs and family responsibilities.
Time Bank*An arrangement in which the employer and employee agree on a fixed number of work hours over a specified time period (weekly, monthly, quarterly), e.g. 24 hours a week. Additional hours are accumulated in a time bank and taken as time-off in-lieu.
Weekend WorkThis arrangement optimises the use of part-timers who may only be available on weekends, e.g. homemakers or students, and is helpful for industries that have difficulty finding staff to work on weekends.

* Employers administering these FWA would have to take note on the compliance to the Employment Act– Time banking, compressed work week, Part-Time, JSI, annualised hours.

How Should Employees View Flexible Work Arrangements?

In my opinion, employees should view Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) positively, as they offer a unique opportunity to balance work and personal life more effectively. FWAs can lead to increased job satisfaction and reduced stress by providing more control over work schedules and environments. Additionally, being able to work from home or adjust work hours can help manage family or personal commitments more efficiently. It’s important for employees to communicate openly with their employers about their needs and to use FWAs responsibly to maintain productivity and meet job requirements.

To make the most of Flexible Work Arrangements, employees should consider these strategies:

  1. Set Clear Boundaries: Define specific work hours to maintain a clear separation between work and personal time, even when working from home.
  2. Communicate Effectively: Keep open lines of communication with managers and teammates. Regular updates and virtual check-ins can help in aligning tasks and expectations.
  3. Stay Organised: Utilise tools and apps to manage your time and tasks efficiently. Keeping a well-structured schedule can help you meet your professional responsibilities while making time for personal activities.
  4. Optimize Your Workspace: Create a dedicated workspace that is conducive to productivity, which helps in mentally distinguishing between “work mode” and “home mode.”

Examples of Useful Flexible Work Arrangements

FWAs can be useful for employers to retain talents who may not be able to commit to a regular full-time employment but are exceptional in their work. Here are a few examples of FWAs that I believe would make a lot of sense.

Parent with young children can make use of FWAs to start work earlier in the day (since parents start their day earlier, sending their children to school) and using flex-time to accommodate picking the children up after school can be immensely beneficial. This arrangement allows the parent to fulfil work commitments without compromising on family responsibilities.

Companies that are located in non-central areas like Tuas and Changi can innovate their internal operations to allow employees to opt for telecommuting to reduce travel fatigue and increase productivity, thereby increasing productivity and employee happiness.

Employees who are great at their work but are managing their chronic health conditions could request for FWAs like flexi-hour or flexi-shift to schedule work around medical appointments or manage energy levels by working during times they feel best, ensuring they remain productive and maintain their health.

How Employees Can Build a Strong Case for Their FWA Requests?

Employers are still very new to FWA requests and HR teams are still creating new processes meet government guidelines. To build a strong case for FWA approval, employees should consider adopting these steps before making their FWA requests.

Document Your Performance

Showcase a history of high performance and reliability. Provide evidence to your employer to demonstrate that you can manage your responsibilities. This will effectively assure your employer that productivity will be maintained even after approving your FWA request.

Propose a Detailed Plan

Present a clear and structured plan that outlines how you will manage your tasks, communication, and deadlines under the FWA. Be sure to include specific hours of availability and how you will handle stakeholder and team interactions. This allows your employer to understand that you have properly thought through your FWA request.

Highlight Mutual Benefits

Explain how the FWA can benefit the organisation. For example, the team could benefit from improved productivity and wider work hour coverage due to staggered work hours. From a real estate standpoint, your employer could save costs with reduced office space needs. Intrinsically, your employer benefit from enhanced employee well-being and higher employee retention that reduces the need to buy loyalty with higher salary increase.

Suggest a Trial Period

FWA can be very new to employers who have never offered employment flexibility before. Being uncomfortable with changes, some employers may be very resistant towards approving FWA requests. To lessen your employer’s resistance, offer to implement the FWA on a trial basis to demonstrate its effectiveness and address any concerns your employer may have.

Prepare for Flexibility

Often as employees, we tend to look at FWAs from our point of view, thinking that our requests are reasonable and beneficial to our employers. Sometimes, that may not be the case because we may not see the full picture. Be ready to negotiate and adjust your proposal based on feedback, showing flexibility in finding a solution that works for both parties.

It Takes Two Hands to Clap for FWA to Work

In order for Flexible Work Arrangements to become mainstream and benefit everyone in the long term, it takes both employers and employees to make this work.

Employees should be think through in detail before making their FWA requests and be committed to ensuring that their productivity remains the same or increases with the new flexible work arrangements. Following the steps I have mentioned above can help employees clearly articulate to their employers that their request is logical and sound, and would not impact the organisation negatively.

Likewise, employers have to be serious when considering FWA requests. It can also be an opportunity for employers to improve their HR processes, organisational tech stack, reduce employee churn and widen their workforce talent pool beyond Singapore. Employers who implement FWA for the sake of doing it, risk losing their employer branding in the long run.

I personally believe that in this FWA process, it is possible that the “local premium” of a Singapore workforce could be eroded and employers may consider hiring more remote workers overseas after improving their processes and organisational tech stack to support and manage a geographically-independent workforce. But at the same time, I also believe that Singaporeans should be willing adapt towards becoming part of the global workforce and competing for remote work instead of simply thinking about jobs within the geographical constraints of Singapore.

What are your opinions about the Flexible Work Arrangement policy recommended by the government? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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