TOP-LEVEL management are big supporters when pro-family measures are announced, but it is often the middle managers who are the stumbling blocks.

They tend to be more cautious about manpower matters because they have to deal with the day-to-day operations. There is also the difficulty of following through on decisions from the top.

Said managing director Christopher Fossick: "It is hard for me to be everywhere, at every single level, to make sure that supervisors practise company policies."

This difference between management thinking and the reality on the factory floor was one of the problems raised at the Chief Executive Officers Breakfast Roundtable, a dialogue session organised by the National Family Council (NFC) to encourage top executives to put into practice family-friendly measures at their workplaces.

Some 250 participants ranging from company chairmen and chief financial officers to chief executives and managing directors, took part in the two-hour dialogue at Fairmont Singapore.

Mr Fossick was one of the six guest speakers on the panel (see box) who led the discussion, which was facilitated by radio personality Mark van Cuylenburg, also known as The Flying Dutchman.

They talked about problems and what worked in their companies.

Unsupportive supervisors, maternity leave, the difficulties smaller firms face and the lack of trust within companies emerged as some of the main topics at the dialogue.

Panel member Tay Jih Hsin, married with a nine-year-old son and who runs a small- and medium-sized enterprise made up of over 40 people, acknowledged that smaller firms may not be able to afford as much "family time" but said they could "win the hearts" of their employees by giving them a few hours off a day now and then to attend to family matters, or allowing staff to take telephone calls from their families during meetings.

Another speaker, Ms Janet Ang, a managing director who is a mother of four, said a firm's productivity is higher when it is supportive of the needs of its staff. "Businesses need people. It is a war for talent, and we must understand the needs of these talents so we can retain them," she said.

The dialogue is the first of its kind to be organised by the NFC, which was set up to promote family-related policies. Mr Lim Soon Hock, chairman of the NFC, urged the audience of leaders to think about the family: "It is the business of business to think about the family."

For Mr Bert Lim, 50, managing director of Cams Design, a design and building consultancy with 25 employees, the event was an eye-opener.

"There is potential to implement some of the ideas discussed during the dialogue, like working from home and having flexi-hours," he said.

Who's in the panel

PANEL of familiar faces at the Chief Executive Officers Breakfast Roundtable:

  • Ms Janet Ang, managing director of IBM Singapore
  • Mr Douglas Foo, CEO and founder of Sakae Holdings
  • Mr Christopher Fossick, managing director of Jones Lang LaSalle in Singapore and South-east Asia
  • Mr Irving Low, partner and head of risk consulting at KPMG Advisory
  • Mr Richard R. Magnus, chairman of Casino Regulatory Authority and former judge, who retired in 2008
  • Mr Tay Jih Hsin, managing director of Swee Hin Power Systems