Change can be exciting, but at times, it gives us unexpected challenges. At the workplace, abrupt changes to job schedules and functions can cause confusion and anxiety. This eventually impacts family life as usual routines shift to accommodate a new reality at work. What employees need are robust work life balance structures to prevent changes from impacting their personal commitments.
What is work-life balance and why is it important?
Work life balance describes how working individuals divide time and resources between work and other aspects of their lives. The latter include family, social and leisure activities. Ensuring work life balance is important because it separates work from home life. This gives employees greater control over their focus – when they are with their families, their attention should be directed towards their loved ones and not work. This prevents stress and burnout caused by overworking when employees let their job encroach into their family and social life.
A 2019 work life balance study by tech company Kisi reported that Singapore is the second most overworked city, ranking 32nd among 40 cities for work life balance. This statistic is alarming. Imagine what happens when employees face unexpected shifts in the workplace.
While employees can set in place individual strategies to establish a better work-life balance for themselves in times of change, employers must take active steps to provide employees with the means to make this possible. We discuss three possible ways this could work.
1. End work week earlier
Long work hours does not equate to productivity. In fact, it leads to burnout which affects employee performance. Having an earlier end to the week lets employees take a longer break from work and spend more time with their families. Starting the weekend early can also give employees the motivation to focus on completing all important tasks for the week and then switching off for the long weekend. The Ministry of Design, for instance, lets employees end work at 3.30pm every Friday to give them additional time to rest before the weekend. The early release keeps them happy and productive.
2. Ensure flexible work arrangements for working parents and caregivers
Workplace changes can shake up family schedules, especially when workers have to perform different or more hourly shifts, follow split team arrangements or work from home. This becomes a challenge for working parents and other caregivers who must now reorganise their time to fulfil both work and care responsibilities. For instance, a working father who used to send his child to school every morning before heading to work in the afternoon will need to make new arrangements to match his morning shifts. Similarly, caregivers of seniors may have to reschedule doctor appointments to fit changed work schedules. Employees working from home for the first time have to manage work and care needs, leading them to spread tasks across the day or work even longer.
Employers must be empathetic towards such employees if they want them to continue working productively. To address these concerns, employers can set in place flexible work arrangements suitable to the nature of the job to accommodate employee needs during change. Some examples include staggered working hours or the fulfilment of specific hours of work per week. The Ministry of Manpower also provides Work-Life Grants to encourage employers to establish these arrangements and achieve a better work life balance in Singapore.
3. Offer paid time off and urgent leave when requested
Unexpected changes can lead to unforeseen events outside of work, which employees need to attend to immediately. These include last-minute runs from work to pick up a child from school because a previously planned arrangement due to a new shift failed to work out. In other cases, a senior at home may require urgent medical care and the employee needs to rush down to help. In these instances, employers can make paid time off or urgent leave more accessible to workers who may have to deal with such situations due to workplace changes. These are also beneficial for employees who become exhausted trying to keep a balance with new arrangements and need a break to prevent burnout. In both cases, having paid time off and urgent leave allows employers to protect employee well-being – employees are given time to attend to familial responsibilities with a peace of mind and have additional rest when required.