When a Philippines company offered paid leave as a Christmas party raffle prize, responses were overwhelmingly positive on TikTok. This doesn’t come as a surprise, says employment law specialist Clarence Ding.
File photo. Give employees more protected time-off so that they can invest in what is truly important to them. (Photo: iStock/celiaosk)
SINGAPORE: “How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn!” So wrote that well-loved philosopher Dr Seuss. The sense of astonishment, perhaps even despair, at time’s stealthy and relentless march, is one most of us can relate to. Time, after all, is the one commodity we all have that is irreplaceable.
In these waning days of the pandemic, it is also apparent that priorities have changed. Where once employees might have accepted the demands of an all-consuming job unquestioningly – in return for a generous remuneration package, in most cases – employees these days are far more circumspect in their attitude to work.
According to a LinkedIn report on global trends, employees now rank work-life balance and flexible work arrangements as their top priorities when it comes to jobs. A Randstad survey released in August 2022 also showed that two in five workers in Singapore will not accept a job if they are unable to work remotely or have flexible work hours.
There are several reasons for this. Principally, COVID-19 has brought the issue of mental wellness into focus. A recent article by CNA reported that 57 per cent of respondents in Singapore identified burnout as the leading factor affecting mental health during the pandemic.
Such is the concern over mental health that the Government in 2020 took action by issuing a tripartite advisory to promote mental well-being in the workplace.
REMOTE WORK A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD
This experience is not unique to Singapore. Employees who are granted flexible work arrangements are generally more likely to work longer hours.
In a survey of Los Angeles employees conducted by Robert Half, 68 per cent of professionals who worked remotely during the pandemic reported working on weekends, with 45 per cent working more hours during the week than pre-pandemic.
Part of the issue stems from the fact that remote work is ultimately a double-edged sword. While it provides employees with greater flexibility and control over their lives, it also makes disconnecting more difficult. This often results in employees inevitably putting in longer hours to keep pace with colleagues and to support the business.
Consequently, employees are increasingly voting with their feet in pursuit of a more sustainable career. In its 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, Willis Towers Watson reported that more than half of employees surveyed in the US were either actively looking for new opportunities or were “at risk” of leaving. It is little wonder that employers are concerned.
To stem the tide of the Great Resignation, companies have resorted to rolling out a raft of incentives for employees. These tend to be financial in nature and run the gamut from outright pay increases to bonus payouts and employee share option plans.
This is consistent with the findings from Mercer’s 2022 Total Remuneration Survey: Singapore companies have turned to higher promotional increments of up to 9.6 per cent, as well as retention bonuses, in order to attract and retain talent.
While the rationale behind such a move appears sound – employees are more likely to stay if they are well-remunerated – there is a growing consensus among senior human resources experts that this is actually the wrong response.
GIVE EMPLOYEES PROTECTED TIME OFF
In fact, if we accept that a root cause of this post-pandemic employee dissatisfaction stems from employees having recalibrated their priorities (which is also what the data suggests), the solution might actually be just that – to give employees more protected time off so that they can invest in what is truly important to them.
To their credit, many employers have already recognised this and have implemented policies designed to enable employees to have a life outside of work.
Netflix was a trailblazer in this regard when it implemented its policy of unlimited paid leave, and this has been adopted by corporations such as Sony and Evernote, as well as local companies like SYNC PR and Fixx Digital, in recent years. Other entities such as Carousell and LinkedIn have instituted company-wide shutdowns during the festive period to enable all employees to switch off simultaneously.
In the UK, selected companies have trialled a four-day work week since the summer, and the preliminary indications suggest there has not been any decline in productivity.
Even law firms seem to be getting in on the action, with one magic circle firm instituting a “do not disturb” policy which exempts lawyers from checking emails between 10pm and 8am. Exceptions apply, of course.
While there is much to commend (and critique) about each of these approaches, it is apparent that the raison d’etre of these policies is to enable employees to take back control over their time.
It should therefore come as little surprise when Colourette Cosmetics, a Philippine cosmetics company, recently raffled off five additional days of paid leave as part of its suite of prizes during its office Christmas party, the move received overwhelmingly positive responses on TikTok.