Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Change mindsets or change technology for work-life balance?

Don’t blame technology for the difficulty in achieving work-life balance. Right mindsets, right attitude, plus the respect of individual privacy are the right approaches towards work-life balance.  Technology is just a convenient excuse as companies (as educated by the government) only look at the productivity improvement rather than the humanity when promoting work-life balance. 

Work-life balance in Singapore is promoted from the business viewpoint (and to the advantages) of the companies, employers, and businesses. One of key incentives is that companies who promote work-life balance can achieve higher productivity from their employees.  Of course, when productivity is concerned even the employees are resting at home, however committed they are but with the access of technology (computer, internet, Smartphone etc), employees are expected to provide instant feedback and information to the companies.   Under this mindset, whether there are gains or benefits to the employees, it becomes secondary. 

When encouraging businesses to take up work-life balance policies and strategies, the government stresses on the gain on productivity improvements and cost savings.  It is similar to their usual practice of chasing economic growth and neglecting the human touch.   Hence, it is not surprise to read news like:

SINGAPORE - The majority of employees in Singapore struggle to achieve work-life balance, due to the widespread use of technology.
According to a study by global recruitment & HR services provider, Randstad, more workers feel obliged to answer emails and calls outside of work hours, as they are connected through smartphones and the Internet.
The Randstad Workmonitor Report for Q1 2012, released today, polled 405 employees in Singapore.
It found that seven in 10, or 71 per cent, receive calls or emails outside regular office hours.
Sixty-seven per cent receive work-related calls or emails when they are on annual leave.
Nearly half, or 45 per cent, said their employers expect them to be available at all times, or '24/7'.
The number is higher for those who are between 45 and 54 years old and for those aged 25 to 34 years.
Sixty per cent of workers feel they fall short of their own expectation if they do not respond to an email or phone call immediately. (channelnewsasia, 6Mar2012)

Blaming technology is aiming at the wrong target. If the companies can consider the private life of their employees, respect individual privacy and personal life, then employees will not have to struggle for work-life balance just because technology makes things more convenient and easy.

In the mindsets of the companies (as influenced by the government) , they practice work-life balance because the government tells them productivity will be improved and so even away from office, employees are still supposed to be contactable and answerable.  If not, productivity, efficiency and effectiveness of the companies will be affected as the management has to wait till employees are back to office or take their free time to reply.

This is typical PAP mindsets.  Work-life balance, green energy, family friendly workplaces/shopping centres, childcare, eldercare etc, all are promoted under the economic binder.   The latest message is “don’t make the young pay more taxes”.   The argument is if we want to have more social benefits for the poor and disadvantaged people, the young generation will have to pay more taxes.  They still refuse to accept this as a social investment.  And this is another way clever way to divide the society between the young and the old.

Money, profit, cost saving, and productivity are always the motivators for promoting government policies.  If an employee cannot reply via emails or smartphones, then there will be a loss in productivity.  Due to non-immediate reply from employees, companies will suffer a negative cost savings as they need to wait for the reply.  And waiting is a cost, no more a saving or no more productivity gain for the companies.   This is why employees feel obliged to reply immediately even they are committed to personal matters. And to the companies, this is a required condition that they are implementing work-life balance. 

Unfortunately, for those executives who can bring their work home and have the opportunity to look after their children or parents as a work-life balance, the profit orientated companies will, of course, want to contact them for updates, replies and feedbacks even they are at home. Work-life is supposed to improve the productivity so even at home there is necessary to provide information to companies. Otherwise, there will be a drop in productivity. In addition, our respect to privacy is not as high as in the West.   

A step further, technology related work-life balance is just a partial solution as it cannot cover the entire workforce and all industries.  People working in the manufacturing, construction, even catering and casino will find it difficult to have work-life balance.   

Again, the lower income groups will mostly like not use technology in their work, like using computer and internet to work at home.  Work-life balance is quite remote to them as they cannot bring their work home. With or without technology, with or without work-life balance, their life goes on as usual.

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