As Singapore's society has changed, so too has its workforce.

Many older workers are seeking to reduce their working hours as they move towards retirement.

Many younger people are choosing to leave the corporate world to start their own businesses.

Still more are seeking to gain control over how, when and where they work so they can meet their family and personal commitments.

These changes represent both a challenge and an opportunity for employers. If employers do not respond accordingly, they risk losing many talented individuals from their team and may struggle to replace them in a tight labour market. 

During the last five years, an increasing number of organisations have recognised the critical role that work-life integration programmes and a flexible workplace culture play in retaining top talent.

Mobile working is now an organisational driver, providing employees with control and choice over how they get their work done, while meeting the needs of the business, the customer and their co-workers.

Flexible work culture

While some companies understand the benefits of such a proposition, many companies struggle to create an environment that rationalises and sustains a more flexible work culture.

A recent study commissioned by the Employer Alliance found that middle managers often face a dilemma when they are expected to marry short-term expectations of increased productivity with the long-term merits of work-life integration.

Many have idealised notions of “regular” work and preconceptions of the “ideal worker”.

Most of these preconceptions centre around a full-time employee doing office-based work — where the middle manager can supervise them.

Organisations in Singapore often find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place — battling an established corporate culture that works against employees on part-time or flexi-work programmes, while struggling to recruit and keep talented employees whose needs require more flexible arrangements.

The unfortunate result is the inability to recruit talent or retain key employees, leading to stress among other employees as responsibilities get spread across fewer staff members, and project deadlines and sales targets become harder to meet. 

The manpower landscape in Singapore offers employers abundant opportunities to consider part-time or flexi-work arrangements as part of their work structure. And employers who have taken steps to support the work-life needs of their employees have been rewarded with the increased loyalty, commitment and productivity of their employees.

Interim employees 

Another concept that has become increasingly widespread in America, Britain, Australia and other parts of the world, but is less common in Asia, is that of the interim employee.

These employees may be engaged to fill a critical gap at the senior executive level, in middle management or to supplement the rank-and-file workforce. They may be brought in for a fixed term or engaged to manage projects.           

Organisations benefit from the maturity and experience of interim workers. Without being drawn into the complexities of the day-to-day issues that permanent employees usually get embroiled in, they are able to focus and contribute effectively. 

While it may be challenging to find the perfect permanent employee to fill an existing vacancy, especially for executive-level roles, it is often easier to find an interim employee to bridge the gap or implement a project.

In some cases, interim employees may subsequently be offered a permanent position. 

Embrace changes

So what does this mean for organisations struggling to get and retain the best talent?

Engaging interim employees and professionalising part-time work are just two good options that organisations can consider as they review their human capital strategy and adjust their hiring practices this year. 

The first step is for organisation leaders to re-examine established corporate norms by asking:

* Who defines the corporate culture and value system?

* What factors influence recruitment policies and practices?

* What are the performance appraisal and reward systems based on?

* Do notions of “regular work” and the “ideal worker” take into account the rise of technology that enables greater flexibility, mobility and individual choice? 

The smart workplace of today cannot retain its traditional norms, work expectations and a culture that sustained business operations 20 years ago.

To thrive in a climate with shorter economic cycles and greater uncertainties, leaders must recognise the need to rethink traditional ways of working.

This means embracing the changes brought on by technology and to recognise the personal needs of their employees.

By creating more flexible work arrangements and encouraging employees who want to take advantage of them to do so, employers can ensure they keep their best talent doing what they do best — delivering for the company.