Dialogues planned to find work-life solutions for new parents

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and Mrs Heng at the "promise tree", where fathers penned their promises to their families while mothers and children wrote notes of appreciation for them, at a Father's Day celebration held at OCBC Square at the S
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and Mrs Heng at the "promise tree", where fathers penned their promises to their families while mothers and children wrote notes of appreciation for them, at a Father's Day celebration held at OCBC Square at the Singapore Sports Hub yesterday. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

DPM Heng remembers how, as a young couple, he and his wife struggled with work-life balance

As a young couple, one of the biggest struggles Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and his wife faced was learning to achieve work-life harmony.

To help find solutions for young parents who face similar problems today, he said, the Government will soon be launching a series of dialogues to be helmed by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.

This is on top of measures such as introducing paternity leave in 2013, which gives fathers more time with their children, Mr Heng said. From 2017, paid paternity leave was doubled to two weeks.

The Deputy Prime Minister spoke yesterday at a Father's Day celebration jointly organised by the Centre for Fathering, Dads for Life and Mediacorp. It was held at OCBC Square at the Singapore Sports Hub.

"One of the greatest struggles of (having) a family is learning how to balance work and spending time with your children. My wife and I struggled with that a lot when we were working," said Mr Heng.

"It was great that we had neighbours, family and friends who helped us look after our kids when we were young."

Mr Heng, 57, and Mrs Heng, 56, chief executive of the National Heritage Board, have a daughter and son who are now in their 20s.

 
 
 

"Employers should also be thinking about how the workplace can create better work-life harmony for all our dads and mums," he said.

Data from the Manpower Ministry shows that in 2017, Singaporeans worked an average of 45.1 hours per week, or 2,345.2 hours that year.

This figure is higher than that in places notorious for their overtime culture, such as Japan and South Korea, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Ms Judith Alagirisamy, acting head of research and development of Focus on the Family Singapore, said more flexible working arrangements need to be implemented - and utilised - in workplaces.

A real culture shift will take effort from both employers and employees, she added. Employers should treat work-life integration measures as a means to improve efficiency, while employees should keep communication lines open even while working remotely.

"When working adults have good work-life integration, there will be less stress and anxiety, and they can be more present and available in both spheres of work and home."

Mrs Teo said in a Facebook post yesterday: "Everywhere, workplace and cultural norms matter a great deal on whether dads feel empowered to take paternity leave... Our expectations of each other shape behaviour much more powerfully than policies."

"This is why I think this topic deserves and demands our collective thinking and actions," added Mrs Teo, who has three children.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an Instagram post: "Fatherhood has changed in many ways since the days when I first became a father... Modern dads are taking up and enjoying all the different roles of parenting."

PM Lee, who has four children, added: "However, some things will never change - a father's responsibility to provide and care for his children and ensure that they grow up to be good people."

 
 

Mr Heng, speaking yesterday on the importance of partnership in marriage and parenthood, said: "It takes a village to raise a child, and at the centre of the village is a family.

"If the family is close and cohesive and everyone does his or her part, our children will be brought up in a very safe environment."

At the same event, Mrs Heng talked about her husband's role as a father: "From taking a stroll together when I was carrying the children to being right there by my side when I delivered... to teaching them how to read and how to ride a bicycle, how to become a better person.

"It has always been a very close partnership, right from the beginning, and I am very thankful for that."

One of the fathers at the event was Mr Mark Tan, 37, who works in sales and marketing. He was with his two-year-old son and his wife Bel Oon, 35, who also works in sales. He said he made sacrifices for the family, such as not having a car in order to save money and leaving his previous job in public relations so he could have more family time.

He was a stay-at-home dad for 18 months when his son was younger.

"I would use the term family-life balance rather than work-life balance. Family is first for me," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2019, with the headline 'Dialogues planned to find work-life solutions for new parents'. Print Edition | Subscribe