Culture changes needed before Singapore can accept a 4-day work week

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Stressed at work/Youtube screengrab

For Singaporeans, who work some of the longest hours in the world – the highest in 2016 with 2,371.2 hours per average worker – long hours are seen as a marker for hard work and success. But with more Singaporeans searching for a better work-life balance, flexible work schemes are becoming more relevant to companies.

Before Singapore can accept something as radical as a 4-day work week, some serious cultural changes are necessary.

For most working adults around the world, a typical workday happens from 9AM to 5 or 6PM, Monday to Friday. For many Singaporeans though, the work week is much longer.

In a controversial move, an estate planning company called Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand threw caution (and convention) to the wind earlier this year when it decided to experiment with a 4-day work week. Employees were paid for a full 40 hours of work despite having to work only 32 hours.

The two-month trial period went viral after it the findings of the experiment were released-  employees were more focused, happier and worked harder. Interestingly, they produced the same amount of work that they would during a regular 5-day work week despite working for only 4 days.

The 4-day work week trial came from a growing desire around the world for a better work-life balance through reassessing work culture and placing emphasis on work done rather than the number of hours worked.

Singapore has also explored the idea of more flexible work schedules in order to achieve a healthier work-life balance for the average Singaporean.

A recent survey by global specialist recruitment firm Robert Half noted that 1 in 4 (25 percent) Singaporeans would leave their current organization for a better work-life balance. The survey also found that 24 percent would leave for higher pay, better financial rewards and 23 percent would be driven to leave in search of better career development.

Human resource (HR) experts and recruitment managers in Singapore report that work-life balance and flexible work schemes are becoming increasingly pertinent within companies, even though no Singaporean company has yet tested the 4-day work week.

Director of talent, rewards and performance at HR solutions company Aon Singapore, Mr. Vikas Verma says that work-life balance is one of the five most important things to employees, coming after salaries and career advancement.

“Though a lot of companies are now catching on to this, the feedback we get from employees is that companies need to provide more support and investment to back up their flexible-work policies, so that employees can actually enjoy more work-life balance,” he said.

Many companies in Singapore have already begun to allow and offer flexible work scheduling, such as the arrangement of letting employees work from home one day a week.

Mr. Manick Singh, who founded his own IT consultancy two years ago, has been experimenting with flexible work times. He allows his staff of six to work outside of the office at least one day a week, as long as the rest of the team is informed properly and in advance.

“We try and schedule all our team meetings in the early part of the week so that everyone has the option of some free days when they can work from home and are not forced to come into the office,” said Mr. Singh.

HR consultant and freelance financial planner Shan Li says that while it is a good start,  inherent changes need to happen in Singapore’s culture regarding the way Singaporeans view work.

“Unfortunately in Singapore, working long hours is often considered the marker of working hard, even though most people are productive for only a few hours a day. For a shorter work week to be successful, you need middle and upper management to rethink the way they manage teams, such as looking at productivity over absolute hours.”