Work-Life Balance Laws and Policies in Singapore: A Guide

Last updated on June 23, 2021

woman happy while working on laptop

What is Work-Life Balance?

Work-life balance refers to the division between working and familial or leisure activities. Apart from the term “work-life balance”, there is also another term called “work-life harmony”, which refers to the state where an individual is able to achieve both professional and personal goals. In the working world, work-life balance policies are often used to achieve this.

This article seeks to explain the rationale behind work-life policies, introduce the existing work-life balance regime in Singapore and provide some recommendations that you, as an employer, could adopt for your business. It will cover:

Why Implement Work-Life Balance Policies? 

Work-life balance policies could range from flexible working arrangements, such as working from home, to including leave schemes for employees (more on this below).

On that note, a work-life balance policy will be highly beneficial not just to employees but employers as well.

For example, when employees work from home, their transportation time will be reduced. This means that employees can spend the additional time with their friends and families, pursue their own activities or hobbies or have more rest. Employees will therefore experience greater comfort and well-being, thereby alleviating stress and preventing burn-out.

In turn, their efficiency and productivity will likely be increased as employees find themselves having more energy and motivation to work. This debunks the popular myth that more time at work means more work is done. The reality is the contrary – more time spent at work does not necessarily equate to more work being done.

Furthermore, employees with good work-life balance may also be more committed as they may not have to compromise their personal goals for professional ones. This can reduce absenteeism and employee turnover, in turn helping employers maintain a stable and trained workforce.

Organisations that implement work-life balance policies will also become more attractive to talent who appreciate that their well-being is prioritised.

Is It Compulsory for Employers to Implement Work-Life Balance Policies?

The Employment Act (EA) is Singapore’s main labour law that provides for the basic terms and working conditions for employees covered under the EA. Some of these terms also help facilitate work-life balance for employees, such as entitling them to a certain number of days off every year in the form of days off on public holidays, annual leave and sick leave.

There are also additional provisions under the EA that apply to certain types of employees, and help them further achieve better work-life balance:

  • Workers who are at least partly engaged in manual labour and earn a monthly base salary of below $4,500, and employees (who are not workmen or in a managerial or executive position) with a monthly base salary of below $2,600, have special entitlements under the EA. These entitlements include a weekly rest day, a limit on the number of hours of work per day, week or month and overtime pay.
  • Female employees who are pregnant or have given birth are entitled to paid maternity leave. There is also a prohibition on dismissal during their period of absence.
  • Employees who are parents and who have worked for their employers for at least 3 months are entitled to at least 2 days of paid annual childcare leave if they have children under 7 years of age.
  • Children (i.e. persons who are below 15, but above the minimum age of 13) and young persons (i.e. persons above 15 but below 16) are not allowed to work for more than a certain number of hours per day. They are also entitled to a break if work exceeds a certain number of hours, not including other restrictions on their location and conditions for work under the Employment (Children and Young Persons) Regulations.

How Can Employers Implement Better Work-Life Balance Policies in the Office? 

The above legal obligations stipulated by law are only the minimum that employers must adhere to. However, as seen earlier, there are compelling reasons to improve the work-life balance policies in your organisation.

If you would like to go above and beyond and implement additional work-life balance policies or improve the existing work-life balance policies for your employees, you could refer to the guidelines provided by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).

The TAFEP was established by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trade Unions Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) with the purpose of helping employers to build successful workplaces where employees are respected, valued and able to achieve their fullest potential.

One initiative by the TAFEP that may be of help to employers seeking to implement or improve work-life balance policies for their employees is the releasing of the Tripartite Standard on Work-Life Harmony.

The Tripartite Standard on Work-Life Harmony is part of a new initiative by TAFEP that provides a list of progressive and practical steps that employers can take to improve work-life balance. The list includes recommendations on:

Flexible work arrangements

Flexible work arrangements refer to alternative arrangements that involve deviations from the typical or traditional working constraints like strict schedules or locations. Some examples could include working from home or allowing employees to take off-days on weekdays instead of weekends or public holidays.

The benefits of flexible work arrangements lie not only in the flexibility of location, but also the working hours and workload. With flexible work arrangements, employees will be able to allocate time more efficiently for their work and non-work tasks, including completing house chores and helping family members. This will help employees focus during their work as they are less likely to be distracted by how they are going to complete their non-work tasks.

If you are concerned about possible downsides of flexible work arrangements, you could consider starting with a trial. You could also communicate your expectations clearly and upfront so that your employees will know what they are and will be able to meet them.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced substantial inconvenience, it has also shown that employers are able to implement flexible work arrangements. As life returns to normalcy, employers can still maintain a certain level of flexible work arrangements, like working from home or offering remote working for one or more days per week.

Apart from the increased employee comfort provided by offering flexible work locations, hours and workloads, implementing flexible work arrangements also helps employers to be prepared in case crisis events or emergencies that may require remote working occur. For example, if employees are unable to go to the office due to a pandemic or security lockdown.

The TAFEP has provided some guidelines for employers to understand how they may better implement flexible work arrangements here. Although these guidelines are not legally binding, they might be helpful to understand or implement flexible work arrangements.

You may also read our other article to learn more about implementing Work From Home policies in Singapore.

Leave schemes

Employers can also consider offering additional leave schemes beyond what is mandated by law. Such leave might be paid or unpaid. There could be compassionate leave, eldercare sick leave, leave for special occasions with children and/or marriage leave. To boost morale among employees, there could also be birthday leaves, personal days off and study and exam leave.

More generous leave schemes provide employees an avenue to fulfill their personal goals. This translates to your employees having greater satisfaction with their jobs.

The happier and more satisfied your employees are, the more motivated and hence productive they may be at work. They may also perceive that their employers understand their needs and therefore become more loyal to your business. This will certainly help your business in the long run.

Employment support schemes

Employers can also consider implementing employment support schemes. Such schemes help employees manage the aspects of their lives beyond just work and may better motivate and engage employees at their workplace. These schemes may include offering:

  • Family-related gifts, subsidies and services: Gifts in the form of hampers, vouchers, cash or red packets could be given to employees when they are sick, hospitalised, getting married, pregnant or if they have given birth recently. This will encourage employees by showing them that their employer cares for them beyond their work.
  • Health-related benefits: These might include subsidised health screening, gym memberships or mental wellness benefits like counselling or mentorship programmes. Healthy food like fruits could also be given to employees. Such health-related benefits will generally boost the health and fitness levels of employees. Improvements in your employees’ physical, mental and emotional health can help enhance their stamina and concentration and also allow them to worry less about their health. This may lead to higher and/or better work output.
  • Social/recreational activities or areas: These could include company outings for birthdays or anniversaries or creating employee lounges. These social activities or areas could help employees relieve stress and foster bonding among employees, which allows them to become more motivated and cohesive as a working unit.

To learn more about the various types of schemes or benefits for better supporting employees, this article may be helpful.

A management member could also be appointed to advocate for work-life balance. He/she may also review the effectiveness of their measures via surveys or focus group discussions.

Government Support for Helping Employers Implement Work-Life Balance Policies

Employers looking for government support in implementing work-life balance policies can consider applying for the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG).

The PSG is a scheme administered by Enterprise SG that supports Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) looking to enhance their business processes by adopting certain IT solutions and equipment. With the grant, businesses may be able to invest in online collaboration tools that facilitate remote working arrangements.

The deadline for applying for the PSG is 31 March 2022 and you may learn more about the scheme on the Enterprise SG website.

While a “perfect” work-life balance may not exist, little changes can go a long way. Ultimately, implementing work-life balance policies might be one of the best investments for your business.

Regardless of whether you are looking to ensure compliance with the existing legal requirements for facilitating work-life balance in Singapore or seeking to implement new work-life balance policies, consulting an employment lawyer may be helpful.

The employment lawyer will be able to consider the legal obligations pertaining to work-life balance under the EA that your business must meet. He/she will also be able to take into consideration the human resource needs of your business and advise you on the most effective measures to help your employees achieve optimal (or, at the very least, adequate) work-life balance.

You may get in touch with experienced employment lawyers in Singapore here.

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