Empowering a more diverse workforce in Singapore with FWAs

Workplaces in Singapore should cultivate a culture of support and empathy for employees who are also caregivers.
By: | June 26, 2024

What does it mean to have proper flexible working arrangement (FWA) discussions with your employers? For many, it might just be a case of working from home but for employees who are also caregivers, FWAs may be a solution to an issue they face.

However, in a recent CNA article, employees interviewed expressed scepticism about the success of FWAs, believing that recently released guidelines around FWAs do not sufficiently address the concerns of caregivers who want to be part of the workforce. For caregivers already in the workforce, a lack of support from colleagues and managers can compel them to quit to fulfil their caregiving duties.

With most caregivers being women, traditional family structures and the perception of the role women play further exacerbates the challenge of getting women back into the workforce.

“(The) recent news (regarding flexible work) highlights a crucial gap: ensuring a supportive work environment,” said Sugidha Nithiananthan, Director of Advocacy, Research and Communications, AWARE Singapore, an advocacy group for the advancement of women’s rights and feminism.

Speaking to HRM Asia, Nithiananthan explained how resentment from colleagues unfamiliar with FWAs can create a culture of distrust and hinder productivity within the organisation. This often stems from a perception that employees who request and can have FWAs receive preferential treatment or are less productive, forcing others to pick up the slack.

To this, Nithiananthan says that it is essential to explain and share that FWAs are not just good for those who are caregivers, but also vital for older employees and disabled people.

She explained, “When colleagues view FWAs with suspicion, caregivers, most of whom are still women, face a double burden of juggling work and caregiving and navigating the misperception of unequal effort, impacting their confidence and career progression.”

Snide remarks from unsupportive managers, or a generally hostile work environment, can drive employees to leave their jobs, resulting in prolonged unemployment for those who need to work. For organisations however, it can also mean losing good employees.

“Organisations must foster a culture of empathy,” Nithiananthan said, suggesting the use of open communication workshops to help demystify FWAs and highlight their benefits for everyone within the organisation. “Promoting results-oriented work cultures over rigid presenteeism allows flexibility without compromising performance.”

However, she also cautioned organisations to not focus solely on FWAs as a one-stop solution.  “FWAs are just one piece of the puzzle. Offering on-site childcare or partnering with childcare providers, encouraging open communication within teams, and providing paid eldercare leave and equalised parental leave further support caregivers.”

READ MORE: Japan mandates flexible work options for parents

Creating a supportive work environment will empower caregivers, which will benefit individual employees and strengthen teams so that Singapore’s diverse workforce potential can be fully unleashed, Nithiananthan concluded. 

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