THE Singapore workplace has evolved quite dramatically over the past decade — laptops and mobile devices are used at the office and at home, hot-desking practices are common and open-plan offices are the norm.

But one tenet of corporate practice has held true — most workers still work five days a week, from Monday to Friday. However, we are starting to see a shift in this area, with more Singapore companies offering a four-day work week or other flexible working arrangements.

With work-related stress levels on the rise and burnout increasingly taking a toll on employees, companies are searching for new and innovative ways to keep their teams feeling balanced, motivated and productive.

Shares Mr Bob Grove, CEO of Edelman North Asia: “Far too many companies talk about talent as being their most important asset, yet inflexible policies blinker their approach to retaining talent and attracting people.

“If you can make it work for the person, and make it work for the business, then that’s the only policy that counts. It takes proactive imagination and communication that creates an understanding across all levels and sexes.”

According to the 2013/2014 Randstad World of Work Report, Singapore-based employees place an increasing importance on achieving work-life balance (up by 50 per cent in 2013 from the previous year), often considering it the main reason to stay with their organisation.


Flexible hours

For companies trying to recruit the best talent, offering flexible working hours could be the differentiating factor as the talent pool tightens at mid- to senior levels.

One tactic would be the offer of a four-day work week. Initiated in the United States, the notion of the four-day work week was introduced to help companies attract and retain employees who need flexibility to attend to family matters.

Global recruitment firm Prospect accommodates a four-day work week for some employees and allows them the flexibility to work from home in order to manage family life. From the company’s experience, this means higher productivity, happier staff and less staff turnover.

Ms Donna Liew, director and Asean regional leader at Ernst & Young Solutions, says: “Ernst & Young advocates a work-life integration culture to help our people better harmonise personal and career responsibilities.

“One of our initiatives, FlexPro, provides four different options to better connect with our employees’ lifestyle needs. Where the nature of their job allows, our people can choose to work at staggered start hours (FlexTime); work anywhere in the office such as hotdesk or share desk (FlexSpace); telework or home work (FlexPlace); and go on alternative arrangement (FlexWork) where the options of a seasonal work schedule or a four-day work week can be considered on a case-to-case basis.”


Good for business

Contrary to popular belief, flexibility in working hours can actually increase productivity. A shortened week means employees take less time off work to run family or personal errands, and focus more during work hours. With less time to complete work, there is also less time to waste.

When employees are better able to balance their work and personal lives, they are happier and more productive. For businesses, this means higher employee retention rates and an added edge against other companies looking to attract the same talent pool.


Key considerations

Of course, there are some key considerations for both employer and employee before agreeing on a four-day work week or any flexible working arrangement.

It is important that both parties understand what it means — whether the employer expects the same amount of work to be completed in less time, or whether the workload and thus the salary will be reduced. Are the employees expected to work from home and what sort of home-office set up will be required?

Employees may be attracted by the idea of more flexible working agreements but the reality might not be quite so rosy. Working a 10-hour day to compensate for having Fridays off is not going to appeal to everyone.

And some people find it unproductive to work from home with other distractions around.

For senior employees, who often work 10-hour days already, it might not be practical to try to squeeze their workload into fewer days and they may need to be available during normal working hours in order to manage their responsibilities.


Alternative structure

While not every employer is willing or able to offer flexible working arrangements, and not every employee would want them, we will continue to see more firms adopting alternative work structures.

Today, a work schedule based on a four-day work week or alternate flexible working times can be a reality. And often it is governments and public sector agencies leading the trend.

The Singapore Tourism Board operates on a five-day work week, but allows for flexible work hours, telecommuting and offers a part-time employment scheme.

As Singapore continues to experience a tightening of talent from mid- to senior level, flexible work arrangements might be the solution to attract and retain talented professionals.

However, flexibility needs to be ingrained in the organisation’s culture and there needs to be clear communication of ground rules and expectations.

With more high-value employees beginning to make good business cases for flexible work hours, employers who embrace the concept of flexibility will have a significant competitive advantage over those who do not.


Article by Emma Dale, co-founder and managing director (Asia) at Prospect, a global recruitment firm for the public relations and corporate communications industry. For more information, visit