In today’s corporate jungle, leaders are expected, more than ever, to provide guidance and deliver results in all aspects of their business. These increased expectations often put a strain on leaders and the people around them.

An effective leader is one who is able to manage pressure well, build an innovative culture, and maximise the value of the company’s human capital.

New challenges

Long hours, tight resources and low margins can take a toll on leaders and cause them to burn out quickly.

According to a recent report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Singaporean workers put in the longest hours at work, even surpassing the Japanese, Koreans and Taiwanese. At the same time, productivity has been declining, with the Department of Statistics reporting a 14.7 per cent year-on-year drop in the first quarter of 2009.

For leaders, taking a break from work is a good opportunity to test the resilience of the company and the abilities of their deputies while ensuring that they will be better prepared to deal with new challenges when they return.

Similarly, encouraging employees to take paid time-off after the completion of a major project or taking sabbatical leave helps them to be more productive.

Hence, leaders need to set the tone at the top to accept and support employees as individuals who have priorities beyond the workplace by coming up with creative ways to cater to individuals’ needs.

Research has shown that about 10 per cent of large companies in the United States have formal sabbatical programmes to attract and retain talent.

Innovative culture

Building an innovative culture begins with proactive human resource strategies and doing things differently. Anticipating and creatively addressing the unique needs of one’s workforce can help a leader gain an edge over competition.

For example, Sakae Holdings, which owns the local Japanese restaurant chain, Sakae Sushi, has a substantial number of elderly people in its workforce. Hence, elder-care leave is offered to older workers to attract and retain older workers.

To nurture an innovative workforce, leaders need to develop their employees. They can start by encouraging employees to take ownership and offer suggestions on how they can better organise their own work priorities and work patterns.

Enjoying small successes in innovation will also encourage employees to be more creative in other aspects of their work. For example, the shift patterns in one local hospital were initiated by the nurses themselves. As a result, they were more committed to ensuring the success of the scheme and more engaged in the process.

Optimising performance

A company’s human resources are the most dynamic assets it possesses. Only employees can contribute to the business in a continuous and sustainable manner, provided they are given a conducive environment for optimal performance.

Leaders need to recognise that employees have chosen to invest the bulk of their time at work. Granting them the occasional time-off or providing flexibility to employees to better address their personal priorities will go a long way in increasing their commitment.

At OTi-SDC Consulting, staff takes turns to visit the Women’s Prison during working hours to conduct mini Personal Effectiveness workshops to pre-release inmates.

This corporate social responsibility (CSR) project has garnered positive feedback from its staff, and the programme has been extended to the Men’s Prison too.

When a CSR project fits in well with what staff members find meaningful, they feel they are contributing more significantly to the company. Work-life is not just about work. It’s about how people contribute and how their lives are well balanced and integrated.