The Great Resignation — or the Big Quit — is one of the major disruptions faced by organisations today, regardless of their company size, location or industry.
A survey by jobs portal Indeed indicated that nearly half (49%) of Singapore workers are unsure if they would stay in their jobs in the first half of this year, with 24% planning to leave their current employer in the same period. Top reasons for wanting to quit include realising that they do not like their current job, increased stress levels, heavier workloads and feeling burned out and isolated.
Working parents’ woes
The shift towards flexible working arrangements has also perhaps made employees reconsider what they want out of life and what is important to them. They realise that “workism” or the hustle culture — wherein work is the centrepiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose — is not sustainable and can be detrimental to their well-being. As such, they expect employers to offer more than just a competitive salary to retain them.
Being working parents is no easy feat as they must balance work deadlines and meetings with family time and household responsibilities. Although remote work — which was the default for many during Covid-19 lockdowns — provides more time for them to spend with their family, it also presents challenges.
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“Working parents have to deal with home-schooling, quickly-assembled home offices and family time 24 hours a day. It can also be challenging to get through the work day without interruptions,” says Ben Thompson, CEO of human resource (HR) solutions provider Employment Hero.
Working mothers, in particular, are feeling more exhausted, burned out, and pressured than working fathers during the pandemic as they are often the primary caregiver, according to the Women in the Workplace 2021 study by consulting firm McKinsey and non-profit LeanIn.Org. “[It doesn’t help that] the lack of family-friendly company policies — such as parental leave and flexible work arrangements — continues to be an issue for the region.”
Thompson continues: “Companies that do not adapt to supporting working parents may risk losing talent. Our research found that Millennial employees aged 25 to 34, who may have young children at home, are leading the employee exodus, with 71% looking for a new role in the immediate future. This is why we believe it is essential for companies in Singapore to promote flexible working, a company culture that supports parenthood and empathetic leadership.”
Besides working parents, other employees also faced issues as they adapt to remote — or hybrid — working arrangements.
The ease of setting up online meetings and events, for example, has led to “Zoom fatigue”, which is mental fatigue caused by frequent and multiple video calls. Workers might also feel pressured to constantly check and respond to emails and communication apps like Slack or Microsoft Teams — even beyond working hours — to show that they are working. Putting it simply, the unhealthy trends of “presenteeism” and “always-on” have moved from offline (or in offices) to virtual.
These issues have ultimately taken a toll on employees’ mental health. A survey by tech giant Oracle reveals that 68% of Singaporeans found 2021 to be the most stressful year at work. More than half (58%) were also struggling more with mental health in the workplace in 2021 than the previous year, with 26% citing that they were suffering from declining mental health.
Since employees are key to business success, it is important for Singaporean organisations to put their people’s well-being as a top priority. The good news is that most organisations have taken steps to raise awareness and acknowledge the importance of mental wealth. For instance, they have sent out reminders to take breaks or delivered gift baskets to boost morale. Even so, it takes more than that to become a workplace of choice for workers today.
So what does an ideal work environment look like?
Thompson says it is one that recognises people as humans before they are employees.
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Companies should implement the core pillars of flexible working, a culture of celebration and empathetic leadership.Ben Thompson, CEO of Employment Hero
"The more employers respect and make room for the personal lives of their workers, the happier everyone will be, the more engaged they will feel, and the more likely they will be to stick with your business for the long haul,” he adds.
Enabling flexible working arrangements can also help organisations improve inclusiveness and diversity within their business. He explains: “Essentially, they are broadening their candidate pool beyond those who can easily attend an office five days a week. This creates more equitable employment opportunities for those who may not have them otherwise — including parents, carers, people with disabilities, neurodiverse people and those unable to commute to the office due to their geographical location. These groups have often been excluded from the full range of career options.”
Jean-Guillaume (JG) Pons, senior vice president and general manager of the Client Solutions Group for Asia Pacific, Japan and Greater China at Dell Technologies, agrees. “The experts we spoke to in our Leading the Next Hybrid Workforce insight paper advocate for three key imperatives that guide successful hybrid work. The first is intentional and empathetic leadership to steer the organisation in the right direction. The second is a thoughtful structure to hybrid work that allows employees to work effectively and efficiently. Finally, the deliberate direction of resources towards building culture and preserving learning, development, and innovation,” he says.
“[It is important to note that] in times of change and uncertainty, the human connection is ever more important to keep employees happy, secure and engaged. Leadership teams need to prioritise trust and empathy by showing support for employees and their families, and creating similar opportunities for managers and peers to connect and reach out to more people.”
Stephen Canning, chief executive officer at growth consultancy firm Jcurve, adds that businesses should also have robust and clear policies that support their employees’ mental health.
Those policies need to be created collaboratively with employees and be clearly communicated to ensure understanding. [They should be explicit] such as ensuring employees take all their annual leave allowance or operating a no-emails policy in the evenings or during weekends.Stephen Canning, chief executive officer of Jcurve,
"Supporting mental health and well-being is not only good for the workforce but also for the growth of the business in the long run — through better employee engagement, performance, and staff retention,” he adds.
Overcoming the hidden pitfalls
Although Singaporean employees expect flexible or hybrid working arrangements, organisations should embrace them carefully to avoid introducing unwanted challenges.
“A very real risk in a hybrid work environment is the rise of ‘split cultures’ between home-based employees and those who work regularly in the office. There may be perceived uneven odds for promotion given that [those in the office] might have more face time and proximity to their bosses than others,” cautions Pons.
Canning echoes his sentiment. “Research by Stanford University published before the pandemic found that people were more productive working from home but less exposed to new opportunities, with 50% less likely to be promoted. This indicates that work evaluations are not just about job performance, technical skills or leadership potential – they are also about building relationships and trust through employee engagement. [As such, organisations should ensure] no form of discrimination between those who work from home and those in the office,” he says.
To overcome split culture or unfair promotions, Singaporean organisations need to recognise that work should be focused on outcomes.
Managers and leaders need to be mindful and sensitive to those risks and take steps to ensure fairness for those not working in the office and prevent an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ situation.Jean-Guillaume (JG) Pons, senior vice president and general manager of the Client Solutions Group for Asia Pacific, Japan and Greater China at Dell Technologies
Adds Pons: "One way is for organisations to create a fair system where all employees — no matter where they work — have dedicated face time and opportunities to demonstrate growth and managerial skills. Promotions also must be results and outcome-based, and not tied to hours spent at the workplace.”
Additionally, businesses should make the criteria for promotions clear and transparent to every worker and encourage employees to work towards those goals. “They can also have more regular performance reviews to encourage communication about employee performance, and provide an avenue for managers to work on a plan for the employee to move towards the stated requirements for promotion,” suggests Thompson.
He also encourages organisations to offer ways “for employees to share feedback or complaints anonymously without fear of disrupting work relationships and putting a potential promotion in jeopardy”.
Another pitfall of hybrid working arrangements is that it might widen skill gaps. Canning explains that while digital-savvy workers are more likely to find new opportunities, more traditional workers have fewer avenues to turn to. “To address this, businesses need to provide strong support to their employees who wish to upskill or re-skill by providing training opportunities and technological infrastructure so that they can gain more experience working with digital channels and tools.”
Pons continues: “In a hybrid work future, the role of employers is to provide employees with the tools they need — from productivity to HR support to training — and offer flexibility, as a permanent fixture where jobs allow, [to enable innovation to happen anywhere].”
As employees reassess their priorities, organisations in Singapore must put their employees’ well-being first in order to retain existing employees and attract new talents. This makes good business sense as engaged employees are usually more motivated to innovate and help their companies remain resilient.