Longer work hours may be unavoidable for business continuity amid Covid-19: Employers

27 Jan 2022

Straits Times, 27 Jan 2022, Longer work hours may be unavoidable for business continuity amid Covid-19: Employers
SINGAPORE - As the Republic grapples with the Omicron variant of Covid-19, employers and observers say that workers might need to put in extra hours to ensure business continuity, even as some of them may be under strain amid a blurring of the line between life and work.

This is due to the variant being more contagious - though less severe - thus potentially sidelining a significant proportion of the workforce.

With one in two Singapore workers already putting in more hours at work since the pandemic started, according to a survey commissioned by The Straits Times in January, the existing life-work imbalance may deepen with the Omicron wave.

The survey, in which more than 1,000 respondents participated, also found that middle managers bore the brunt of most additional workload, with six in 10 reporting putting in extra hours at work compared with about five in 10 for junior staff and senior management, reported ST on Monday (Jan 24).

The top reasons respondents cited for that imbalance were difficulties drawing boundaries with work-from-home arrangements, increased tasks such as more paperwork, and covering for colleagues who have quit.

Boundaries can be hard to draw in a work-from-home environment because the office environment provides structure, routine and separation between work and home, Dr Jaclyn Lee, chief human resources officer at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, told ST on Wednesday.

"Travelling to and from work provides a mental break and winding down from office affairs," she added.

Mr Sim Gim Guan, executive director of the Singapore National Employers Federation (Snef), told ST: "In the event that their co-workers are absent due to sickness, stay-home notice or self-isolation, existing workers may have to pick up the slack to ensure business continuity."

Both Dr Lee and Mr Sim suggested that employers minimise communication after work hours.

Mr Sim said Snef helped a group from the Alliance for Action for Work-Life Harmony to develop a template for an after-hours communication policy that employers can adopt.

Released last September, the template includes sections that outline the responsibilities of employees and human resources managers. For instance, human resources managers should ensure employees are not "unduly penalised" when they are unable to respond to work-related matters after-hours.

Challenges employers face include crafting human resource policies that balance between operational needs and preserving work-life harmony, said Mr Sim.

"Sometimes, even though their employers have such policies, employees may think that their performance appraisal may be affected if they do not respond after working hours," he said, adding that setting clear expectations is required for these policies to work.

A spokesman for the Public Service Division said agencies in the public service are encouraged to implement "focus days" without planned meetings, which allow officers time to focus on deep work and learning, as well as designating low-tempo periods for officers to take leave to rest and recharge.

Said the spokesman: "As the Public Service moves towards embracing hybrid work in the Covid-19-resilient future, the issue of blurring work-life boundaries could become an issue if not managed carefully."

Mr Ang Yuit, vice-president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said middle managers bear the brunt of coordinating among employees who are working different hours throughout the workday, as these employees juggle personal responsibilities, such as childcare, with work.

Nonetheless, longer working hours are not a permanent solution, he said, adding that small and medium-sized enterprises should formalise staggered work hours and adopt a goal-based approach to management, rather than focusing on the number of hours spent on a task.