Parliament: Employees need support to cope with challenges of working from home, say MPs

The greater support for working from home may mean greater opportunities for mothers seeking to re-enter the workforce. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - With the continued need for social distancing in Singapore, many employees have had to adapt to working from home, which comes with its own set of challenges, said several MPs on Thursday (June 4).

The need to focus on helping workers adopt new ways of working and being productive while working from home were highlight by at least three MPs: Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC), Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) and Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC).

They also pointed in Parliament, during the debate on the Fortitude Budget, the importance of boosting resources for workers' mental health during these troubling times.

Ms Tan, referring to an April 29 article in The Straits Times, noted that the Singapore survey found that many face a series of challenges that affect their productivity and mental health. Almost half of the more than 2,700 people polled said their productivity declined while working from home.

The reasons range from the practical, such as the inability to access resources that were readily available in the office and the presence of family members, to having to work longer hours.

For young parents, Mr Yong said the challenge is balancing their work with helping their children with home-based learning and taking care of elderly parents.

On top of that is the stress and great uncertainty they face amid the bleak economic outlook.

Underlining the importance of having a mentally healthy workforce, he said: "Compliance to safety may be compromised if workers are not able to focus at work."

He also noted that Singapore's total expenditure on mental health makes up less than 5 per cent of the Health Ministry's annual operating expenditure.

Also, the country has an average of only 4.4 psychiatrists for every 100,000 people, far lower than the 15 per 100,000 ratio in most of the developed countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

" I therefore urge the Government to invest more resources on mental healthcare as insufficient support could lead to dire consequences, especially in this prolonged period of uncertainty, anxiety and fear," Mr Yong said.

Mr Choo pointed out that vulnerable households, like single-parent families, may require more help and support.

The MPs also pointed to the lessons learnt from telecommuting, particularly about gender norms and caregiving duties.

The circuit breaker has forced "many of our families to experience first-hand, and more than ever before, the maniacal task of balancing work, household and childcare duties", said Mr Choo.

The challenge is not new to many women, he added, noting that flexible work arrangement has been framed as support for caregivers, especially women on maternity leave or with young children.

"We have framed it that women need more support. Covid-19 has torn up such a frame. It is still true that they need more support. But that support must be a family-based one with men strongly leaning in and making that change," he said.

"The post-circuit breaker and Covid-19 workplace will not and must not be the same," he added.

He also said that many companies such as Facebook, Twitter and large banks are preparing to build resilience in their workforce by having some telecommute permanently.

Perhaps, it also help them reap savings from reducing city office rentals and lost productivity from commuting, Mr Choo added.

The same right to flexible work arrangement should be considered in Singapore, he added.

These potential upsides were echoed by Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) as well.

The greater support for working from home may mean greater opportunities for mothers seeking to re-enter the workforce, he said. "The strong uptake of digitalisation and support for telecommuting will provide opportunities job-seekers in previous generations would find it hard to imagine."

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