How flexi-work gave mum of one confidence to have another baby

Thanks to the support of her employer, she finds herself working more efficiently while being present for her children's milestones

Working mum Pauline Xu says flexible work helps her to be present for the milestones of her children, two-year-old Nathaniel and three-month-old Olliver. PHOTOS: PAULINE XU

As a child, Ms Pauline Xu spent just one day a week with her parents, and the other six at a nanny’s house.

As a result, she resolved not to be a “weekend parent” when she had children of her own.

Yet, when she became pregnant in 2020, Ms Xu, 39, knew it would be challenging to realise this target. Friends often recounted stories of working late and going home, only to find their children already asleep. 

But thanks to the flexible working arrangements (FWAs) rolled out by her employer, she is now achieving her parenting goals: spending plenty of quality time with son Nathaniel, two, and breastfeeding and bonding with three-month-old baby Olliver. 

Ms Xu works for express delivery giant FedEx, which formalised hybrid work after seeing its benefits during the Covid-19 pandemic. Staff work two days in the office – including a “collaboration day”, where all members of a team are expected to be present – and telecommute three days a week.

This simple change has unlocked a bevy of benefits for Ms Xu, a people operations specialist, who is married to colleague Hansern Toh, 32, a compensation and incentive design specialist. The couple tied the knot at a small, live-streamed ceremony at their Bedok home in 2020.

By cutting out the hour-long commute to the FedEx office located near Changi Airport on telecommuting work days, the pair can manage childcare duties easier, are present for more of their children’s milestones – such as Nathaniel's first steps – and enjoy more time together as a family.

“Jostling with the peak hour crowd can be a tiring affair. By the time I reach home at 7.30pm, I’m happy to see my son after a long day – but when I’m tired, it is easy to lose my temper with him, as he is in the terrible twos,” Ms Xu says. “The energy saved on commuting made us better, more present parents, and still allowed us to perform at work.”

She even credits FWAs to the couple’s decision to conceive a second child. “If we had to return to the routine of five days in the office, we may not have had the second child, or we would have put it off till much later,” she adds. “The close bond we had with Nathaniel made us confident that we could manage a second baby.”

8 in 10 chose hybrid work

Over 400 non-front-line operations team members in FedEx are eligible for FWAs since the company formalised hybrid work in May 2022. More than eight in 10 opted in, and Ms Xu is one of them.

The firm first rolled out hybrid work in 2020 amid lockdowns, where it found that team members were achieving the same productivity levels while telecommuting.

It then conducted preference surveys for permanent hybrid work in 2021, with over 80 per cent of team members expressing support, says FedEx Express managing director Eric Tan. 

Nearly 90 per cent of the company's non-front-line operations team members have since opted in for hybrid work, and the firm has seen a jump in the number of applicants for job postings, Mr Tan says.

While front-line operations team members are not able to telecommute, instead, they are offered a choice of days off, with those on rostered shifts allowed to swap time slots with peers to suit their needs.

FedEx’s support for its team members’ work-life harmony extends to pastoral care, with managers conducting weekly well-being check-ins with them.

Ms Xu used these calls to raise her struggles with morning sickness when she was pregnant. “On the days I really couldn’t cope, I’d drop my manager a message before resting for an hour or so,” she says. “My manager was very supportive and advised me to take some time to rest.”

For managing director Mr Tan, showing flexibility to team members and understanding the unique circumstances of flexible work help create a caring environment and reinforce the company’s “people first” policy.

“It builds mutual trust and understanding. We want to make sure our team members have the necessary support from management, and to make exceptions – such as more WFH days – on a case-by-case basis so they can cater to their personal needs,” he says.

This employee welfare approach has ensured that FedEx is consistently recognised as one of the top employers in Singapore. According to survey data compiled by research firm Statista in partnership with The Straits Times, the company is among Singapore’s top 20 firms in 2022 in terms of working conditions. 

The average tenure is over a decade, with high employee engagement rate in 2022 of 85 per cent, says Mr Tan. “Now that things are getting back to normal, many companies have reverted to their previous working arrangements, but we know that this is the way forward for us,” he adds.

As for Ms Xu, she believes the pandemic “was a blessing in disguise” for parents like herself. 

“Most parents I know see a dip in performance, and experience guilt when they go back to work,” she says. “But FWAs allow me the flexibility to plan my time better, so I can focus, contribute more at work, and still be a happy mum and wife.”

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