Flexible work helped the US avoid a recession

Flexible work helped the US avoid a recession

(Second of two parts)

Last week, we discussed how Singapore recently mandated all employers to consider employee requests for flexible work arrangements (FWA) starting Dec. 1, 2024. Guidelines were patterned after the UK law, which extended the scope of FWA beyond remote or hybrid arrangements to include staggered, part-time and compressed hours, among others.

The only valid reason for employers to turn down such requests would be business-related, such as “extra costs that will damage the business, the work cannot be reorganized among other staff, people cannot be recruited to do the work, flexible working will affect quality, flexible working will affect performance, the business will not be able to meet customer demand, there’s a lack of work to do during the proposed working times, the business is planning changes to the workforce.”


Employers must communicate their decision to employees within two months. Knowing that employers may reject requests just because they do not trust their people to work well unless they are micromanaged in the office, Singapore gives employees the option to approach their union or the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices. Errant employers may be given a warning by the Ministry of Manpower. The UK government gives employees the right to a tribunal if employers “did not handle the request in a reasonable manner, wrongly treated the employee’s application as withdrawn, dismissed or treated an employee poorly because of their flexible working request, [such as] refused a promotion or pay rise, refused an application based on incorrect facts.”


Even in the US, where work laws are not as encompassing as in Europe, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recognizes the importance of flexi work to the economy. Women aged 25 to 54 set a record in workforce participation in 2023, says Joanne Lipman of Yale University in “Time Magazine,” and became the economy’s “secret weapon … one reason why the recession that just about everyone predicted hasn’t happened.”

“The strong labor force participation of women workers and the strength of the economy are intertwined,” Yellen tells Lipman. Aside from child tax credit and other factors, “also important is the increased flexibility of the workplace that came as a result of the pandemic.”

In the US, about 40 percent of employees work remotely at least one day a week, says Stanford University economist Nick Bloom. “A big driver of [the labor force] is likely the ability to work from home, particularly for women and for workers with a disability, who have seen some of the largest rises in working rate.”

“That’s why it is so confounding that companies are dismantling flexible options,” says Lipman.

Lest employers balk at FWA requests, Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang says, “We have a tight labor market in Singapore and the employers themselves actually know that if they want to attract the talent to join them, or retain the good people in the company, they have to be competitive and they have to be progressive. This is a more effective approach in developing workplace norms around FWAs, compared with a punitive one.” “All job types in all industries, with creativity, will be able to be re-engineered such that it creates a trust culture for workers as well as employers when it comes to the introduction of FWAs,” he adds.

“Flexibility helps corporate bottom lines too, because employees are less likely to quit,” says Lipman. “Replacing just one employee can cost twice as much as their salary, after factoring in recruiting and training costs, according to Gallup.”


Well-thought-out FWAs are good not only for employees but also for employers, and the workgroup touts evidence of Singapore companies that are successfully implementing them. For instance, a senior finance manager in Radha Exports, known for its Valu$ and ABC Bargain Centre chain stores, begins and ends work later to avoid the rush hour, even if Singapore gridlock is only a fraction of ours in Manila.

Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her print book “All in the Family Business” at Lazada or Shopee, or e-book at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected].

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