The economic downturn brought about by COVID-19 has forced many businesses to implement cost-cutting measures, including pay cuts and layoffs, casting doubt on job security for employees globally.

Notably, in ASEAN, almost nine in 10 employees have felt the need to work longer hours just to keep their jobs. 

The recent UOB ASEAN Consumer Sentiment Study found that 89% of employees in Singapore felt they needed to put in longer hours to avoid losing their jobs, with a similar trend seen in the four other markets included in the survey - Indonesia (92%), Malaysia (90%), Thailand (87%) and Vietnam (90%).

Polling 3,510 individuals aged between 18 to 65 years old across the five ASEAN markets, the study found that compared with their ASEAN counterparts, employees in Singapore also had the greatest concern (88%) that companies will choose to retrench to cut costs amid the economic downturn.

While those in the four other markets were less concerned, more than half of employees still shared the same sentiment - Indonesia (65%), Malaysia (78%), Thailand (77%) and Vietnam (78%).

Zooming in on Singapore, despite their bleaker sentiments on the impact of COVID-19 on job security, a silver lining can be seen, in the form of better work-life balance as WFH becomes a permanent option.

Singaporeans expect work-life balance to improve as WFH becomes a permanent option

Almost three quarters (73%) of Singapore employees expected that work-life balance will improve as working from home regularly becomes a permanent work option.

Further, seven in 10 (70%) of respondents also said their productivity will improve as they have greater freedom over how they manage their working hours.

Singapore's MOM continues to advocate for the implementation of FWAs

During yesterday's Parliament sitting, Minister of State for Manpower, Gan Siow Huang confirmed that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will continue to advocate for the implementation of flexible work arrangements (FWAs).

In response to a Parliamentary question by MP Dr Wan Rizal, on whether the MOM will consider normalising work-from-home arrangements in the post-pandemic period and advocate among companies for more flexibility in work arrangements beyond the current crisis, she said: 

"MOM will continue to advocate for the implementation of flexible work arrangements (FWAs). In 2019, about 85% of employers offered some form of formal or ad-hoc FWAs in the workplace. More than 7,000 companies have also adopted the Tripartite Standard on FWAs. MOM welcomes suggestions to implement FWAs in more workplaces and will continue to share good practices with employers." 

While Minister Gan noted that it is encouraging to see employers continuing to allow their employees to work-from-home (WFH) even as more are allowed to return to the workplace, she acknowledged that WFH is not always possible. 

"We are heartened by the speed at which companies and employees have adapted to the WFH arrangements during this period. Even as more are allowed to return to the workplace, some employers continue to allow their employees to WFH and return to the office only when needed. It is an encouraging sign that more people recognise the benefits of working from home, and that it is becoming part of the 'new normal'.

"At the same time, we recognise that WFH may not be feasible under certain conditions. These include situations where workers have to be physically present at the workplace to operate machinery, or where there are challenges in working from home due to unconducive home environments." 

A hybrid working model at UOB

At UOB, to enable its people to maintain healthy work-life balance through flexible work arrangements, the bank has been developing a hybrid working model in which employees in eligible roles have the option to work in the office or remotely. 

It is currently testing scenarios, redesigning its physical workspaces and enhancing its digital infrastructure to ensure its people thrive in this new normal of work. 

Further, to support the success of its people, UOB is also planning virtual engagement sessions to prepare them for the transition and creating training programmes for managers at UOB to enable them to manage teams in a hybrid work environment.

Dean Tong, Head of Group Human Resources, UOB, said that as companies plan for the future of work and the workplace, the extent to which they apply flexible work arrangements will form an important element to maintaining work-life balance, productivity and engagement.

“The last six months have been one of the most disruptive periods for companies and their employees but by and large, Singaporeans have risen to the challenge and adapted to new ways of working. Now that they have had the experience of a different way to work, many employees are expecting more flexibility in working from wherever they will be most productive and which best suits their work-life needs. Cultivating a hybrid workplace that balances productivity with the flexibility for employees to work from where they choose will be key in helping them to achieve long-term work-life balance and well-being.” 

More than half of Singapore residents worried about mental health and happiness

The impact of COVID-19 on people’s lives has also raised concerns around wellbeing, with 56% of Singapore residents worried about their mental health and happiness.

Additionally, 70% of Singapore employees believed their employers will pay more attention to their staff’s wellbeing as a result of the lessons of COVID-19.

Among respondents, those between the age of 24 to 39 years old (62%) as well as young professionals who are married with children (71%) expressed greatest concern over their emotional well-being.

These two groups of respondents also had the strongest view that their employees will focus more on workforce well-being - 73% of respondents between the age of 24 to 39 years old and 82% of young professionals who are married with children believed that their employees will focus more on their staff’s well-being.

Tong said: "We are mindful that more people are feeling socially disconnected and isolated as they spend prolonged periods at home. As such we are using technology, virtual engagement programmes and digital tools to help our people manage their workload and well-being. Our people have told us that the virtual programmes, resources and support that we provide have helped them to stay engaged and to maintain a positive mindset as they continue to work through these difficult times."

Photo / 123RF

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