DO NOT keep your employees on standby to respond to calls, e-mail and text messages, especially during weekends and when they are on leave.

This is the message that Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin has for bosses here.

"I think we have very poor work habits," said Mr Tan, who is also Senior Minister of State for National Development. "Is it healthy to work 24/7? Is doing work while on leave or vacation our desired work culture?"

Citing findings from a 2011 survey, he pointed out that 66 per cent of Singaporeans said they have to make themselves available in case an emergency crops up at work. "Unless you work with SCDF, what conceivable emergency can there be?" he joked.

The survey by recruitment firm Robert Half also found that 96 per cent of employers here expect staff to be "on call" while out of office or on leave.

Mr Tan, speaking at an awards event for work-life balance yesterday at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, said it is vital to respect one's personal time.

He suggested that if the matter is not urgent, bosses make it clear to staff that they are not obliged to respond immediately. "My message to my colleagues has always been - none of you are indispensable," he said.

"Don't think for one moment that if you are not around the whole company will collapse," he added. And if bosses are serious about work-life balance, they should lead by example and practise what they preach, he added.

Some 45 companies were recognised yesterday for making efforts to promote work-life balance. The biennial Work-Life Excellence Awards, organised by the Tripartite Committee on Work-Life Strategy, also awarded two business leaders for championing the cause.

In addition to work habits, Mr Tan also suggested bosses can consider offering flexible work hours.

Among those whose companies were given awards for work-life excellence is Mr Lim Meng Wee, who allows employees of his consulting firm to work from home.

Some 70 per cent of them do so, he said, and this has helped retain staff. Most of his staff have been with the company for more than 10 years, said Mr Lim, managing director of SP Consulting International. "Here, we are more interested in results than seeing their faces every day in the office."

But not every company has the luxury of flexible working hours, pointed out Mr Yeow Kian Seng, who runs Lucky Joint Construction. But this does not mean staff cannot enjoy a good work-life balance.

"As a contractor, our time is very limited," he said. "While we cannot have flexible hours, we arrange for other benefits such as family trips."

Mr Yeow said staff are also allowed to borrow company vehicles for their own use and request interest-free personal loans. "Employees are the pillars of the company. That is why we have to take care of them," he said.