Balancing work and family time

FAMILY life in Singapore remains strong, with a vast majority of married and single people reporting satisfaction, according to a survey on social attitudes. But just over half felt that work demands ate into family time more than they liked. Significantly, the jump in the share of those who thought so was highest among men, from 44 per cent in 2009 to 58 per cent in 2013.

Complaints about a lack of family time must be seen in perspective. They reflect changing aspirations, and in this case, men's growing realisation that they need to share the caregiving load. But if Singaporeans desire more family time, they must be ready to make trade-offs, including taking up the flexi-time arrangements that more businesses now offer. Those who put family above their careers must be prepared for their colleagues, who are more work-focused, to enjoy faster promotions or raises.

However, workplace cultures, too, need to change. Technology now enables workers to do far more on the move. Employers thus need to shift away from using physical presence and face time as a proxy for work done, especially when it comes to knowledge workers. In turn, that would free employees to work from where they need to be, making it possible for them to meet family commitments and join in activities that matter to a spouse or children.

But workers on their part must be responsible in how they use this freedom. The onus is still on them to get their work done, meet both deadlines and performance targets, and not expect colleagues to pick up the slack. They also need to take ownership of how they use their time, and be proactive in discussing their needs and requests with bosses and human resource personnel. That is more constructive than laying the blame for a lack of work-life balance on one's employer.

Besides childcare, the other dimension of family life that will grow in significance, as society ages, is care for the elderly. Smaller nuclear families and a rise in the number of singles mean that the strain on working-age caregivers is set to rise. That is why the Government has embarked on its first study on the extended family, and the extent of care and support that it can provide. The good news is that families remain close-knit, with ties extending to relatives. At the same time, the pace of work is unlikely to slow; it may well increase. There will be professional and personal pressures with which to contend, and individuals will have to find the balance that suits them best. Society's growing appreciation of work-life balance will be a source of support, allowing people expanded space in which to make personal choices.