HRBoss Blog

Workforce Flexibility: An Essential Human Capital Strategy

The first speaker to present at the 2013 HR Summit in Singapore was Claire Chiang, Chairperson of Employer Alliance & SVP of Banyan Tree Holdings. Claire is an inspiring and passionate advocator for work-life integration and flexible work strategies to create a highly engaged workforce and thus advance business competitiveness.

Claire humourously likened the characteristics needed to adapt and respond to the new millennium to that of an octopus. The octopus has 8 arms with 300 suckers which enables it to have an heightened sense of touch, create stability and blend into the environment like a chameleon. Interestingly Woman particularly have spinal neurons which heighten their sensitivity and ability to multi-task like an octopus.  

The participation of women entering the workforce has increased in the last 10 years to 86% but unfortunately a large percentage leave the market due to family responsibilities, mainly to start a family or look after aging parents. Claire sees this as a waste of women’s talent, as they are being underutilized. Ironically though in Singapore, we are struggling with labour shortages.

A 2012 survey found that business at least offer their workers 1 form of flexible work arrangement, part time work being the most common. Unfortunately though this is not enough and Claire feels more companies should offer more choices for all their staff.

The Singapore Government recognises the importance of work-life flexibility in creating highly engaged workers to advance business competitiveness and has been developing various initiatives for employers. Such initiatives include:

  • Recognising the bigger role men play in co-parenting
  • Fostering progressive work practices like work life balance and flexible work strategies

The Employer Alliance, which Claire is currently the chairperson of, facilitates thought leadership, insights and research to enhance personal and professional goals of Singaporeans. They believe that organisations, CEOs and HR professionals should set the tone by creating a corporate culture and architecture that enables work-life integration. Middle managers are however thought to be the key implementers in ensuring these programs are successful.

Individuals are encouraged, through the Employer Alliance, to explore creative opportunities to get themselves to the top. These include taking career risks, not just having a seat at the management table but also speaking up and initiating change, rather than just following what they think is expected of them.  

A recent Towers Watson research revealed that the main drivers for sustainable development were leveraging technology, creating a new architecture for work and providing an enabling environment.
Engagement is not just how much you pay people, but more about how you respect and engage their needs, contribution and effort in the workplace. By understanding employee’s lives outside of the office, providing lots of work-life flexibility options and mutual trust, organisations create an opportunity to adopt an attitude for change.

There are 480,000 inactive Singaporean workers who want to work but aren’t sure where to start. How can we tap into this talent pool, introduce them to jobs, and set up the relationship with agencies to solve Singapore’s talent shortages?

Singapore is a technology city with all the means possible to make this work. All Singapore needs is consistent leadership values and HR to be advocates not just administrators in the workplace. People want meaningful work and a balance with the importance of their personal life responsibilities. We need to develop new skill sets to work smarter, not harder, as Singaporeans work the longest recorded hours in the day (11 hours), but only ranks 17th most productive nation in the world.

People no longer have the option to work, as life in Singapore is too expensive for them not to work. But with an aging workforce or a new family to take care of, it’s no wonder fertility rates are dropping as workers are conflicted over how take care of them and work to earn a living.  

Work-life integration is the ability to exercise control and choice to manage work alongside personal and family needs. By enabling trust relationships between employer and employee, setting the tone from the top to lead integration and leveraging technology, Singapore businesses can make a difference in the workplace.

PHOTOS: HiringBoss action from the HR Summit in Singapore

VIDEO: Live Update from Day 1 at the HR Summit in Singapore