SINGAPORE: 84 companies applied for government funding to set up flexi-work arrangements last year.
The Work-Life Grant was launched in April 2013 in a bid to create more supportive workplaces for Singaporeans, and raise the country’s low birth rate.
Falling under the WorkPro programme, the grant offers cash incentives of about S$1,500 – S$2,000 for every flexi-work employee in the company’s books.
There is also a one-time developmental grant of up to S$40,000 to fund infrastructure changes to the workplace.
Singapore’s total fertility rate slipped to 1.19 last year, from 1.29 the year before.
Some companies and individuals are taking their own initiative to achieve a better work-life balance.
Mabel Loo does not go to work alone.
She chose not to put her one-year-old son Aaron in infant care, and was lucky enough to find a part-time accounts job that allows her to bring him to work three times a week.
Mrs Loo, who is an accounts assistant at Cooking Art Industries, said: “Definitely I‘m very grateful to them (my employer and colleagues), and of course that has further enhanced the relationship, for me to be able to call them friends and family.”
Her employer, a local cake business with about 30 employees, set up Mrs Loo’s flexi-work arrangement without any government funding.
Claire Sim, director of Cooking Art Industries, said: “It was really something we decided to do out of our own initiative. We wanted to do something for mums and kids, or even dads and kids.
“Creating a family-friendly environment, it’s a little challenging… but it’s not impossible. Having mums and kids, or dads and kids — some are even single dads now — come in, what you create is a long term value to the company.
“So to us it’s really a strategic investment, and you create trust amongst the employees, knowing that hey, this is a company that cares.”
Mrs Loo is not the only family-friendly hire at Cooking Art.
The company has a single dad in its kitchen production team, and is in the midst of working out another family-friendly sales role for a young mother.
Cooking Art said every company can have a family-friendly culture, and what can be done depends on the type of work.
But this is clearly a minority in the landscape of Singapore companies, so what hope is there for the majority of Singapore workers?
A group of undergraduates from the Nanyang Technology University (NTU) said the answer lies in “tweaks”.
They have started a campaign to get people to take charge of their own work-life balance.
Low Sieu Ping, a student at NTU, said: “Tweaks are small, attainable changes that every individual can do, depending on your priorities and circumstances. They need not be big changes or a big career change or anything like that, but a simple change, a small change in your life, will do the trick.”
Work-life consultant Ean Yeo said a lot of effort has been put into convincing senior managements of the benefits of work-life programmes.
But the take-up rate among employees is often not high.
Ms Yeo, who is the president of Women Empowered for Work and Mothering, said: “Many individuals, when asked what their priorities are, would say family and relationships are important.
“And yet when we ask them to reflect on how much time and effort is put into their families and relationships, we find they realise they’ve over-invested in career, and under-invested in their family and relationships. And many of them, at one in point in time, would regret that journey.”
The key to work-life balance, experts said, also lies with individuals.