Joanna Koh Hoe, CEO, Focus on the Family Singapore, Judith Xavier, Family-life specialist and Jin Sung, ID Architects Executive Director recently went on 938Now’s ‘Talk Back’ segment with Daphne Lim, Keith De Souza and Paul Sng, to share their thoughts on work-life harmony. Here are the highlights of the interview.
Daphne: Government operated schools and pre-school centres will be closed on teacher’s day, 31st of August, Friday. Are you encouraging your staff to make more arrangements to spend time with their families this weekend? And how can employees actually help to foster stronger family ties?
Paul: Is there a gap that’s being noticed right now that needs to be addressed perhaps in terms of employee engagement? What would you deem ‘employee engagement’?
Joanna: Employee engagement is, when staff are not just sitting at their desk. It’s about being on the job, not just physically but mentally and emotionally. I think the emotional aspect of it is really important when it comes to families because we know that when a person or an employee has problems at home or on the personal front, it affects their work performance to some degree.
Employee engagement actually relates to factors like talent attraction, talent retention, and of course absenteeism at work. It’s related to productivity, efficiency and company loyalty. If you want an employee who’s really loyal to the company, you really need to know how to engage your employees at work.
Keith (To Jin Sung): On the ground as a business, I know you are very for employee engagement, but how engaged are the employees?
Jin: To foster that engagement, I think we have to first make it a priority, and find time to engage the individual. I try my best to set an example to the company…meet some employees and just talk. And if we do notice issues that we need to address we try to engage them, through deeper conversation.
Keith: Does it feel a bit contrived when you first started it?
Jin: That’s a good point because we actually decided not to do it by ourselves as a management, as an employer. We actually set out a SRC (Staff Recreation Club). So they chose the leader. There are volunteers who really want to do something about it and we give them room and space to start initiatives.
Paul: I understand you have a specific tool kit that you use called ‘Meet My Boss’. How did that come about?
Jin: We were encouraged by Focus on the Family to adopt the ‘Meet My Boss’ toolkit. The session was really good, and we have a lot of help from Focus On the Family. The tool kits helped a lot for us to plan, as well as create the take-away for the parents and children. They had a lot of fun throughout the whole session. All the kids gathered ID tags and sketchbooks, and even a ‘passport’ for the boss to endorse.
Daphne: How much can a weekend like that actually change things? Is that really going to change the culture very much?
Judith: The more we speak to employers, we find that they want to have these work life initiatives, but they don’t necessarily know where to start and that’s why we’ve come up with ‘Meet My Boss’. It’s meant to be a ‘Bring Your Child to Work Day’ with a difference. There’s the parent-child bonding element to it, the parent and child get to do an activity and make memories together, and they get to do it in the office. So this is an opportunity for our kids to come in and see what do mommy and daddy actually do at work, and get to meet our colleagues.
And, as a mom myself, I found that this was really useful because having this community at work means that our kids also get to feel like part of the bigger picture. It’s like our little village that helps us in our parenting as well.
Paul: We’ve established that employee engagement and healthy work-life balance are essential of course. But are there enough companies recognising this importance?
Joanna: Definitely more. If you bring your kids to work and maybe even your spouse, and they see what you’re doing, then they believe in what you are doing. If the kids see mom or dad working from home, there is a little bit more understanding accorded. That support, that positive feeling actually gets translated into the workplace and I think that’s where Jin Sung has experienced it. The employee feels that the employer cares for them, not just because they are producing, but because they are people with needs, with family, and with personal lives.
Paul: At the end of the day, bottom line is still important. What’s your advice for companies like that, especially like SMEs where your labour force, you staff is rather small.
Joanna: There’s actually a business case for this. Judith and I are both trained work-life consultants and we’ve been letting companies know that there is a good positive bottom line when you invest in employee engagement, in work-life. Not just as a practice or policy, because you can have policies on paper but it doesn't translate into culture. But when you have a culture like in ID Architects, where obviously the boss cares enough to invite the family and children into the workplace.
Keith: You know business is business and work needs to be done, the bottom line needs to be met. There would be some occasions when life encroaches a bit too much. And what happens in that situation?
Judith: Yes, and that happens too…that’s exactly what these work-life initiatives are meant to help, because there are a plethora of things you can do. Like eldercare leave and so on. So it’s not just parents who benefit from work-life initiatives.
Joanna: I mentioned culture just now. As an employer, there’s always this concern right? If I introduce all these work life practices and policies, after a while my employees are not going to be working. At Focus on the Family, we’ve been taking an employee engagement survey for the past few years and we’ve been pleasantly surprised. We came out on the employee engagement score, scoring 90%, and on the work-life balance index score, we actually scored 97%. This is definitely much higher than the national average, which is around 60%.
As a charity there’s just so much we can pay our employees, but we realise that we want to take care of employees’ own families even as they are trying to help other families thrive. As an employer, they know that we have the commitment to also look into their own family life needs. Staff come in because of recommendations from friends or word-of-mouth. They heard that Focus on the Family is very family-friendly, and we save a lot of money on recruiting and retaining talent.
Daphne: Jin Sung now from ID Architects, let’s talk about the culture that you guys created in the office.
Jin: It is never easy to change culture. I think trust building is part of the process of team building. We realise that the more we care for their families, the more employees care for the company. So my company encourages the husband and wife to work in the company together. We believe when both husband and wife are in the same company, they will make sure the company will not sink! (Laughs) So, and we have quite a number of couples working in our company and one couple just had a baby recently.
Paul: What if you are from the perspective of the employee? Feeling disempowered because you think that they’re not going to take this on?
Judith: I think it’s great to have an honest conversation with your immediate boss or with HR. I think as employees, it’s actually very helpful to your bosses when you say, “This is what I need”. Chances are more that they’ll have a discussion with you.
Paul: But also important as that is how you present this as well. I think in most cases people go in with the mindset of complaints, rather than complain plus a solution.
Judith: The first thing to do is to really think about your work-life needs. What exactly are the challenges? For example, one person might say that they’re working really long hours. The frustration usually doesn't come from just working long hours. It’s because you don't have time for the things that matter. Do you want time with your children? Then, maybe you need to be looking at flexible working arrangements.
Daphne: I think the interesting thing is that singles will be left out when it comes to work life but actually singles have work life needs too.
Joanna: When Focus on the Family Singapore first started, when our whole work-life policies, practices and all that, majority of our staff were actually aged 35 and below. Today we have quite a good mix across the life stages. There needs to be some kind of personal ownership from the employee, don't just wait for the boss.
Of course it does help if the employer is enlightened, and I do think that most companies are headed that way, when thinking about what makes a good employer, or good brand. Work-life is one of it. According due regard and respect for an employee’s family life needs, relational needs, that speaks a lot to the employee. Andif we are looking at people as our greatest asset then it makes sense that we invest in them.
Want to organise Bring Your Child to Work Day, but not sure how to engage your employees and their kids? Download your free 'Meet My Boss Toolkit' to get recommended activities for the day.
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