WHEN the stem cell treatment for her son's leukaemia went well, one of the first things Ms Martina Ling did was to send a "thank you" note to her managers and colleagues at OCBC.

"Because of your support, you have contributed to Joshua's recovery," she wrote.

When her son, who is now 21, was first diagnosed, she thought of quitting. Her boss and colleagues convinced her that they could work out a way for her to be her son's primary caregiver and remain vice-president of quality service management at her bank.

The 48-year-old mother of two stayed on as a full-time staff member, but most days she worked from the hospital on her company laptop. Her colleagues volunteered to cover for her at meetings. They sent her mail to her home if it piled up.

"My colleagues were always very sensitive. I was never harassed by SMS or phone calls. Apart from giving me their work support, they were always concerned and asked how Joshua was doing," she said.

Ms Ling gained from social capital at the workplace, which lets an employee know she can count on help from her colleagues if she cannot do something alone.

That is how Mr Peter Ong thinks of social capital. He is chief executive of the Singapore Management University's Human Capital Leadership Institute.

He says employees are better able to manage their commitments both at and outside of work if they are in environments with high social capital.

"It is the same idea that makes a community or society work. It's neighbour helping neighbour. At work, it's colleague helping colleague," says Mr Ong.

Workplace social capital is linked to each employee's own sense of resilience, optimism, hope and self-efficacy. So when both are at a high level, employees feel more engaged and happier at work, he adds.

This leads him to suggest tracking engagement levels in companies and supporting those that do well.

Mr David Ang, executive director of the Singapore Human Resources Institute, says it is important to acknowledge team members who step up to fill a manpower gap when a colleague goes on maternity leave or other flexi-work arrangements.

"If a team of five people has to fulfil certain objectives and one person goes on maternity leave, if the four can fulfil them, let the group of four benefit from it through some added bonus," he suggests.

Another approach is to divvy up the cost of hiring a replacement, and pay that out to the team members who covered for their absent colleague.

On her part, Ms Ling made sure her output did not drop. She turned up for key monthly meetings and was on call at all times. "If calls came in during a time when I had to be with Joshua in an emergency, I would SMS my colleagues to let them know what time I would call them back."