EVIDENCE suggests that many employers in Singapore are still wary about embracing work-life integration as a business strategy. This could be due to misperceptions about flexible work arrangements and the realities.

Part 1 yesterday discussed three common perceptions, their realities and the proposed bridges to make flexi-work viable for employers and employees alike. Today’s article looks at the remaining four perception gaps:

4. Companies are generally not opposed to offering flexible work arrangements

Reality: While it is true that companies will offer flexible arrangements to existing employees, they are less inclined to hire new employees on such arrangements.

Therefore, what Singapore really needs is a genuine flexi-job marketplace where a broad range of flexi-work jobs, across a broad range of industries, covering a broad range of roles, offering a broad level of responsibilities, are made available to both exiting and new employees.

The bridge: Establishing such a marketplace will not only be a boon to women of different abilities and qualifications, among them back-to-work mothers, but also to anyone, working dads and retirees included, who has taken a break and wants to return to work on a flexi-time basis.

5. Flexi-workers have flexible commitment and flexi-working is a lifestyle choice

Reality: More often than not, an individual opts for flexible work arrangements because of family commitments. For example, he may be the primary caregiver in the household. In such cases, a flexi-worker often works harder to make time to meet KPIs (key performance indicators) around an equally hectic home schedule.

Of course, there must be give and take on both sides of the table. The employer should regard the flexi-worker as part of the team, and must find ways to educate full-time workers to regard their flexi-colleagues as assets.

The bridge: It is therefore important to include and engage flexi-employees not only in loyalty programmes but also team-building events.

6. The onus is on companies to make it work

Reality: Flexible working is based on mutual trust — abusing this trust will undermine the credibility of intentions as well as reputations on both sides of the hiring table.

In fact, flexi-workers must recognise that flexi-arrangements do not mean working when one feels like it and, in fact, the onus is on the flexi-worker to produce results.

The bridge: Clear guidelines on deliverables and frequent progress reports will minimise misunderstandings and maximise the chances of establishing a successful working relationship.

7. A top-down policy is a surefire way to successfully establish flexible working strategies in the workplace

Reality: In fact, middle-manager support is often the difference between success and failure. He pays the price for the success or failure of adopting such policies and many feel the risk to his own career is too great. What if he has to shoulder the blame for any shortfall?

The bridge: Ms Cali Williams Yost, CEO and founder of the Flex+Strategy Group and Work+Life Fit Inc, feels that the answer is to establish a partnership model where employees have as much responsibility for the its success as the managers.

According to Ms Yost, this means “the employee works with the manager to ensure their job is getting done. And, if the flexibility is not succeeding, they figure out a solution together, or they agree to end it”.

Time to change the rules of the game

Perhaps the next step is to bridge the gulf between letting a job vacancy define the skill-set to be hired and allowing a skill-set to define the vacancy to be created.

Let’s change the rules of the game and create a marketplace where the willingness by individuals to openly broadcast their wish to work on a flexi-time basis is matched by a willingness in companies to hire for key roles on a consultancy or contract basis.

Already, rapid technological and IT advances have made flexible working convenient, practical and possible. Now if every player in the community believes that flexible working is a legitimate option rather than an opt-out clause, then the creation of what is essentially a skill auction platform is not just a possibility; it is an eventuality.

This brave new world would mean gainful employment or re-employment for anyone — women, men, young or old — on reasonable flexi-terms as long as he has a relevant skill-set to offer.