Singapore and the UK: Flexi-work and well-being

Singapore and the UK: Flexi-work and well-being

(First of two parts)

Reputed for its efficiency and productivity, Singapore is now at the forefront in Asia of caring for employee well-being. From Dec. 1, 2024, all employers are mandated to consider employee formal requests for flexible work arrangements (FWA), according to a tripartite working group.

Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang, Singapore National Employers Federation honorary secretary Edwin Ng, and Assistant General of the National Trades Union Congress Yeo Wan Ling started threshing out guidelines in September 2023 and announced the results two weeks ago.


READ: Work-life balance–the CEO’s Holy Grail


Singapore guidelines, patterned after the UK and other countries, use a broader definition of FWAs beyond the hybrid or remote work patterns spurred by the pandemic, to include lesser-known arrangements involving flexi-load, staggered work, part-time stints, and job sharing.

How does the process work? Interested employees submit a request to the employer in writing, stating the type of FWA, duration, and reason. Employers study the requests, focusing on business factors like cost and feasibility (which can be grounds for rejection or appeal).

Interestingly, distrust of FWAs (which is, anecdotally, the main reason why many Filipino companies spurn them) is NOT a valid reason for rejection.

READ: Why government should go for work-from-home option

Just because you do not believe that your people will work well if they are not right under your eagle eye, just because you do not think that your people cannot collaborate unless they are physically in the office, are NOT grounds to reject their appeal. In fact, many global studies show the opposite—FWAs have increased productivity in many fields of business.

I wrote about family businesses in the Philippines that experimented with remote and hybrid work, to the satisfaction of all (see “Implementing hybrid work in family business,” Oct. 22, 2022).


FWA, already a law in the UK, is a model for Singapore. The UK government defines FWA as “a way of working that suits an employee’s needs.”

Aside from remote, hybrid, part-time, or flexi-time work, the law includes job sharing (“two people do one job and split the hours”), compressed hours (“working full-time hours but over fewer days—for example, a 9-day fortnight, [when] an employee has a day off every other week and works longer hours on the other days”), annualized hours (“the employee has to work a certain number of hours over the year but they have some flexibility about when they work, [with some] core hours which the employee regularly works each week, and they work the rest of their hours flexibly or when there’s extra demand at work”), staggered hours (“the employee has different start, finish and break times from other workers”), phased retirement (“default retirement age [is] phased out [so] older workers can choose when they want to retire, [which] means they can reduce their hours and work part-time”).

Arrangements in the Philippines

In the Philippines, due to blistering heat, classes are suspended in vulnerable areas, even if our students urgently need to up their literacy and numeracy. Shifting the school calendar back to the old one is wise. Power outages are a persistent menace. Traffic is horrendous, wasting endless hours, sapping energies, impacting pollution and global warming, and destroying mental and physical health.

All Filipino employees should have the option for staggered hours, compressed hours, or flexi-time, at the least.

“All employees have the legal right to request flexible working,” says the UK law, such as “a change to the number of hours they work, when they start or finish work, the days they work, where they work”—starting from their first day on the job.

“Employers must deal with requests in a reasonable manner, [such as] assessing the advantages and disadvantages … discussing possible alternatives … offering an appeal process. If an employer does not handle a request in a reasonable manner, the employee can take them to an employment tribunal.

“An employer can refuse an application if they have a good business reason for doing so.”

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(Next week: Flexible work arrangements in the US) Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” at Lazada or Shopee, or the ebook at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected].)

TAGS: All in the Family, flexible working

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