MUCH has been written about why companies should implement flexible arrangements and how to make it work from both the employers’ and employees’ standpoint.

There are many incentives offered by the Government but anecdotal evidence suggests that, despite the tightening labour market in Singapore, many employers are still wary about embracing work-life integration as a business strategy.

Perhaps what is required is not so much a mindset change as a bridge to span the Perception Gap.

Common perceptions about flexi-work:

1. Flexible work = part-time work

Reality: Flexible work arrangements, in fact, refer to any alternative working arrangements or schedules to the regular “9 to 5” job.  These include:

* Part-time work;

* Job sharing — where two or more people share the responsibilities of one job;

* Compressed work week — where the employee works his full contracted time in fewer days than the normal five- or six-day week;

* Annualised hours — where a yearly-hour contract replaces the typical 44-hour-a-week option;

* Telecommuting or home-based — where employees can work from a location other than the office;

* Project consultancy — employees are contracted to specific projects with defined start and end dates;

* Consultancy — typically a fee-based arrangement which could be long- or short-term; and

* Freelance — where the individual is actually self-employed and is contracted without a long-term commitment.

The bridge: If a flexi-job is a full-time job but on a flexible arrangement, then KPIs (key performance indicators) for the employee on that work scheme, who performs the same role as a full-time employee, should not differ and nor should remuneration benefits.

2. There are plenty of part-time jobs in the market

Reality: Part-time work only represents a small part of the full menu of flexible work structures. While there are enough rank-and-file options on offer in Singapore, meaningful flexi-jobs paying real salaries are scarce.

For many, the decision to undertake flexi-work is often not made lightly. Opting for a flexible working arrangement is generally a result of accepting that personal sacrifices have to be made to perform one’s expected duty to the family.

The bridge: Given this backdrop, the monetary consideration must be appropriate and commensurate with the employee’s ability in order to make the hard work of balancing both worthwhile.

3. Flexible work arrangements are a “women’s issue”

Reality: It is an issue about economic competitiveness. Here are compelling statistics:

* Women: According to a paper published by the Ministry of Manpower, about 51 per cent of Singapore’s workforce is made up of women. Out of this, only 52 per cent of Singaporean women aged from 40 to 49 years work compared with 71 per cent in Japan, 62 per cent in Korea, 76 per cent in the United States and 79 per cent in Britain.

* Retirees: The other figure of note is that 53.7 per cent of Singaporeans aged between 55 and 64 are working. By 2015, this number is expected to be 55 per cent of the total workforce.

The GMP Group, which compiled the statistics, concludes that working in what were traditionally “retirement years” is the new reality.

However, the other reality is that while mature citizens may want to continue working, they may prefer to do so on a flexi-work basis.

* Generation Y: A Harvard Business Review article notes that 89 per cent of Gen Y workers say that flexible work options are an important consideration in choosing an employer. These figures are from a US survey but it heralds the inevitable change in Singapore as Gen Ys push flexibility to the top of the workplace agenda.

The bridge: It is not a one-size-fits-all solution.  Yet it is important to find the nuances, as keeping each group engaged and employed is vital to the future economic success of Singapore.

The bottom line is for employers to treat time as currency. This means accepting that the provision of remote work options, staggered hours, part-time and shared-job arrangements and mini-sabbaticals is a given. Going forward, flexibility will be one of the most important aspects of being a competitive employer.

Next: Perceptions 4 to 7