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Bend the rules, so that workers don't break
DURING yoga class, I tend to ignore all the platitudes that my teacher spouts, especially when I'm trying to make it out alive. One of my very few takeaways from her class (aside from aches and pains) was a rather offhand remark she made as she watched us struggle.
"Bend, so that you don't break," she said. I'm sure she was referring to more than just our ability to touch our toes.
Flexibility is not something you really notice or appreciate, until it's no longer there.
You realise its value only when you can't reach for something without straining your back, or when you are unable to rearrange your schedule when your child falls sick.
And it's not just individuals who need to be flexible - employers should also take heed.
The debate about workplace flexibility, or the idea of a three-day week in the office (note: the other two days working from home), as recently suggested by veteran public servant Tan Gee Paw, distinguished adviser to the government think-tank Centre for Liveable Cities, is not a particularly new one.
Back in 1930, economist John Maynard Keynes had even loftier ambitions for the future of work, predicting that future generations would need to work only 15-hour weeks, thanks to productivity gains from technology.
Fast forward to today: While it seems on paper that employees are working less (Singapore residents worked 43.2 hours a week in 2017 compared to 46.6 hours in 2010), I can't say in good conscience that workers now have more leisure time than ever.
In fact, most people I know still need to clock their second or third shifts after their full-time job - not just family commitments, but skills upgrading so that they won't become irrelevant, as the national narrative goes.
And with a rapidly ageing population, I see instances where workers are torn between caring for their elderly parents and going to work.
If Singapore wants to take its manpower shortage seriously, it's about time we push for flexibility at work. We may never get to a three-day work week, but a three-day work week in the office should not raise eyebrows.
Flexible work practices can help solve many issues that are present in the workplace today, ranging from employee engagement to burnout to family commitments. With fewer commuters will also come less traffic and congestion, which is a win for everyone.
To be fair, more employers are taking steps to introduce some measure of flexibility. For example, working mothers are sometimes offered a flexi-work arrangement to keep them in the company.
Frankly, no matter how many schemes are dangled, it is how the message is filtered down to the rank and file that counts. HR might have a list of flexi-work options in its manual somewhere, but if one's boss is against it or if the department has a culture that emphasises facetime, then such arrangements are unlikely to be taken up even if available.
On the other hand, even if the company has no official policy on flexi-work but has a progressive manager, then there is certainly more room for give and take.
In most organisations, work-from-home arrangements are on a needs-only basis to be agreed upon by supervisors. This usually means people with childcare or parentcare issues.
Would it be so bad if that was scrapped to allow staff to simply work from home on days when they want to focus on their tasks without being interrupted? Till today, managers still care more about facetime than the end result.
In an age where everything can be done online instead of in an office cubicle, we need to throw out the idea that we just want warm bodies in the office, never mind whether they are functional or not.